Top tips for succeeding as an apprentice

In the first of our three part series, we heard from two apprentices about how their apprenticeship shaped their careers.

Next, we talk to a further two apprentices about what they’ve gained from their studies and the tips they’d give others looking to take on an apprenticeship.

How have the skills and behaviours (non-technical) elements of the apprenticeship helped you develop your career in accountancy?

“These elements of the apprenticeship have opened up my eyes to what I have achieved during my apprenticeship by reminding me of the challenges that I have faced and how I overcame them, and also how far I have developed in such a short space of time,” says Jonathan Ralph MAAT, Accounts/Audit Senior at Menzies LLP.

“The skills and behaviours have helped me to reflect on everything I have learned as an apprentice and identify the areas I need to improve on, finding practical ways to develop my skills. I believe they have helped me to adapt from college to professional life and I think this has been recognised by my team” says Jemma Nicholls, GMS Tax Technology Apprentice at KPMG. 

Any tips for balancing workloads and studying for a professional qualification?

“I would say that a fundamental skill that is required for this is planning and prioritisation. When at work (especially around exam periods) it is essential to keep on top of your workload, by establishing clear expectations with managers and clients. This will ensure that when the priority is the exam, managers understand that you will require your own time to carry out the required studying, rather than certain pieces of work that can be done at a later stage” says Jonathan.

“Balancing workloads alongside study for a professional qualification can be challenging as both require a significant amount of work. It is important that you are in frequent contact you’re your team or line manager to let them know the deadlines you have. Providing them with a schedule of your upcoming exams for the next few months is a great idea so that everyone is aligned and aware of key dates and how they might be able to better support you during periods of high pressure. Planning is essential to effectively manage workloads” says Jemma. 

What value do you feel the AAT qualification brings to the Apprenticeship programme? 

“The qualification itself drills a certain level of responsibility into its learners, by reinforcing some key behaviours such as the ethical principles, but also provides fundamental theoretical topics to allow learners to carry out their day job to a high standard” says Jonathan. 

“The AAT is a highly regarded accountancy qualification which opens a number of different opportunities post qualification. Such a broad qualification allows for apprentices to gain overall knowledge to give them better perspective and understanding of issues in practice” says Jemma. 

What advice would you give to Apprentices to help them develop a first-class portfolio?

“Complete reflective statements on the key skills and behaviours on a frequent basis, by adding real life experiences to different statements as soon as they happen so that they are fresh, which should allow you to express how you felt and how you achieved/overcame such experience,” says Jonathan.

“Plan when you are going to write first drafts, make amendments and collate feedback.  It may seem like you have lots of time, however, this goes very quickly and it is important to be proactive and use the time wisely. Consider how long it will take to collate feedback and request your manager’s appraisal and plan accordingly well in advance” says Jemma.

Which resources in MyAAT did you use to help you prepare for EPA?

“Green light tests were particularly helpful for practice on calculation questions as they would provide a comfort level on the traffic light system on each topic, but also showed workings on how to get to the right answers,” says Jonathan.

“In preparing for synoptic, I found going back over green light tests were useful as well as completing as many of the practice exams and possible to become more familiar with the content – I found that the more comfortable you are with the format and layout of the exams can have a real impact on exam confidence” says Jemma.

What did you find most difficult about developing your portfolio and how did you overcome this?

“The most difficult part I found to be the large reflective statement combining all skills and behaviours. This was because I was struggling to reduce my word count down to the work limit of 3000. To overcome this I initially drafted the whole statement, read through it a couple of times, to try and cut out and improve as much as possible” says Jonathan.

“In preparing my portfolio the most challenging thing was knowing how much detail to include and understanding when I had covered a point enough. I went back to what I had learned from writing my reflective statements and the importance of being concise and this allowed me to analyse my feedback and pick a few of my best examples to include. Taking a step back and self-reviewing what I had written gave me a fresh perspective and allowed me to focus on the aims and produce a portfolio in line with the requirements” says Jemma.

What was the best piece of advice you received from your Skills Coach or Line Manager when you were approaching End Point Assessment?

“I come from a football background so when it comes to approaching a task, I don’t like the whole “good luck” thing, I prefer someone saying “step up and don’t be complacent”. When I was approaching my EPA my training manager said something along those lines, as it is something we had discussed previously and I have used it as a motivation tool” says Jonathan.

“The best piece of advice I received from my skills coach was highlighting the importance of planning and using time wisely. Set a clear timeline for yourself of what you are going to achieve and at what point” says Jemma. 

What are your top tips for Apprentices approaching their end point assessment looking at both the reflective and synoptic element of EPA?

“The tips they gave me for the final exam and also the guidance from colleagues who also went through the EPA process, showed me that it is possible and that I am more than capable of getting through it, if the right level of work is put in” says Jonathan Ralph MAAT, Menzies LLP.

“Make use of the AAT online materials as much as possible, often these are similar to the live exam and will help you better understand the types and style of questions you will be faced with. For the reflective element of the EPA, remember to be concise and demonstrate how well you have performed over your apprenticeship by writing about examples which cover multiple skills and behaviours” says Jemma Nicholls, GMS Tax Technology Apprentice at KPMG. 

Any words of encouragement for Apprentices that are nervous about their End Point Assessment?

“As long as the work that is required is put in, any doubts are communicated/addressed promptly and all resources that are provided are utilised to their utmost capacity, the EPA is doable and is something when complete you can be proud of,” said Jonathan.

“The end point assessment can be a daunting task as it is a key element of the level 4 qualification. Remember, you have overcome challenges to get to this point and you have done a great job so far. This is the final stage in the qualification, keep going and all your hard work will pay off!” says Jemma. 

Further reading:

Hannah Dolan is AAT Comment’s Content Editor.

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