How this apprentice got a head start in his career

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Apprenticeships can provide an important step on the career ladder for young people and career changers. Starting out as a trainee accountancy apprentice can be the beginning of a long and varied career in finance and can provide unrivalled opportunities for on-the-job skills development.

Ryan Franklin is a Chartered Management Accountant ACMA, CGMA and Finance Business Partner at Virani, a food manufacturing business. He experienced the benefit of being employed as an apprentice at the start of his accountancy journey. He found being sponsored by an employer gave him the chance to learn on the job and study for his accountancy qualifications in the evenings and weekends. He has since recruited a number of AAT apprentices in the companies in which he has worked.

Learning on the job

“In the workplace, you get challenges and problem-solving scenarios that you don’t get from the classroom,” he says. “My own career path started in 2007 when I was sponsored by my employer to start on my CIMA qualification journey. I saw the value of having been given that opportunity as a young person to join the workforce and gain experience on the job. AAT is a great way of doing that, and in my role as a manager, I have taken on a number of AAT trainees on apprenticeship schemes.”

Ryan is now a chartered management accountant, having trained with CIMA. He started as a tax collector at HMRC (in the former Customs & Excise department). Ryan originally qualified with CIMA at entry level certificate (similar to AAT entry level), studying in the evenings and weekends to build up his theoretical knowledge.

He moved jobs and worked his way up from being a Credit Controller, Assistant Accountant and then Finance Manager at TC Landscapes, a landscaping business in Northampton, over a period of nine years.

He then moved to accountants at The Fabulous Group as finance manager, where he employed Oliver Simpson, an AAT trainee accountant, on an apprenticeship scheme.

AAT apprenticeships work well

“I took Oli on in 2017 at a time when we were developing the business at The Fabulous Group,” Ryan says. “He worked in the finance function, processing day to day transactions, drawing up monthly management accounts and working on statutory reports. We were a growing team, and we wanted to add an entry-level person who would fit with our culture and objectives.

“The AAT qualification pathway leads to future professional qualifications and accountancy skills, and I have taken on several AAT students who worked with us and gained their professional qualifications.”

Oli Simpson is now AAT Level 3 qualified and is studying Level 4 whilst working as an apprentice accountant in Leicester within the bookkeeping team at Torr Waterfield. Ryan says he was impressed by Oli’s desire to progress, willingness to work hard and ambition to pursue a career in accountancy and finance.

Gaining hands-on experience

“Oli wanted to get a head start in his career in accountancy by starting as an apprentice. We had an open office, and he worked with us, which meant that he could get lots of experience and mentoring, as well as time to study. He had studied Maths A level and benefited from having the practical experience at work which supported what he was learning in his studies in AAT Level 2.”

Ryan chose Oli because of his maturity and enthusiasm as a school leaver, and the two have stayed in touch even after both moved on to different employers.

“Apprenticeships provide a great start for young people and offer value for money for an employer,” Ryan says. “On the one hand, you are bringing in fresh young talent, someone who is accustomed to learning and being examined and who wants to continue their studies and gain a professional qualification. Young people can bring a fresh perspective and a new dynamic to a team. They have different skills, outlooks and opinions and are often very tech-savvy.

“From an employer’s point of view, many businesses benefit from the lower salary cost of an entry-level member of staff. Depending on the size of your business, you may receive reimbursement from the government, so there’s a financial as well as a strategic incentive to give a young person this opportunity.”

He says he looks for apprentices who can fit well with the existing team and the workplace culture and who have the set of relevant skills to work collaboratively from the beginning. They need to be good at communicating by email or on the phone and be prepared to work towards their qualifications.

What was the onboarding process?

“As with any business or employee, a smooth onboarding process and induction is key to make a new starter feel welcome, part of the team and put their role in context,” Ryan says.

“Online registration for the Apprenticeship Service (in order to secure Government funding) is straightforward for an employer and even easier if engaging with a specialist Apprentice Recruitment organisation who can guide the business through this. Choosing a reputable and registered training provider is also important.  Depending on the size of a company, often there is no cash cost to an employer for training fees as these are organised and claimed directly by the provider.”

He says that success for any new starter comes from integration into the team, role and company culture. 

“Oli was determined to do this from the outset (we come back to those important personal characteristics) and was able to follow instructions, directions and learn both inside and outside the workplace. Joining a classroom environment was not alien as Oli was a recent school leaver.”

Regular touchpoints and reviews

Ryan had periodic review meetings with Oli’s training provider to report on his progress. Oli remained with The Fabulous Group and the 12-strong finance team there for around 18 months, completing his AAT Level 2 before seeking further opportunities with another firm. The Fabulous Group had a wide range of national clients in retail, hospitality and charity, so Oli was exposed to the different operating models of a variety of firms. Oli, who is now 23, says his AAT training has been invaluable, and he is passionate about his job as an accountant.

“I always had a head for figures and was fascinated even as a child watching my Dad, who had his own business, put together an Excel spreadsheet,” he says. “My uncle is also in business, and from a young age, I was interested in what made businesses work and also in managing my own pocket money and my own finances.”

He is close to finishing his AAT Level 4 qualification and has already passed his synoptic exam. “I did A levels in Accountancy, finance, business and IT,” he says, “and I found my accountancy knowledge to be really useful when studying AAT Level 3.

“I can 100% recommend AAT to school leavers, and the earlier you begin your training, the better,” he says. “I am now working in the bookkeeping department and working on management accounts. I have an apprentice of my own to mentor now. Joining an SME to do your AAT training is a perfect way to get into accountancy practice and learn on the job. When I reached AAT Level 3, I could double my salary within two years. It is a great career with good prospects, and I am really glad I chose this route.”

Ryan’s guide on what to look for in an apprentice

  • Someone prepared to invest in themselves, who is self-disciplined and capable of balancing study and work
  • An independent learner and self-starter because a day a week is not enough to get all the extra reading and exam practice, and they will need to study in their own time
  •  Relevant skills include the ability to use technology, numeracy, technical accounting knowledge and a willingness to keep up with CPD
  •  Integrity and honesty, a professional attitude to work and learning and the ability to be flexible
  •  Confidence to face challenges and to work collaboratively with colleagues

Further reading:

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

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