In the wake of new government schemes to encourage the uptake of apprentices, accountants weigh up their hiring options.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Summer Statement announced a number of measures to get people back into work and reduce the number of job cuts made by businesses as the furlough scheme ends and trading conditions remain tough.
Among these measures are the Kickstart scheme, more funding for work placements for 16-24-year-olds, and payments for businesses that hire apprenticeships. The schemes break down as follows:
- The Kickstart scheme will create six-month work placements for 16-24-year olds on Universal Credit and deemed to be at risk of long term unemployment. It covers 100% of the relevant National Minimum Wage, plus employer National Insurance Contributions
- The government will provide £1,000 per trainee to employers that take them on. Eligibility has been expanded to include young people with level three qualifications or below
- The government will pay £2,000 per apprentice under 25 and £1,500 to those over 25 to any employer taking on apprentices, in addition to the £1,000 given for apprentices aged 16-18
Views among accountants of these schemes are mixed, but mainly muted. It seems unlikely that it will influence any hiring decisions. The good news is that firms are hiring, though there are some challenges around onboarding new staff and apprentices remotely.
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We’re taking on apprentices, but not because of the government scheme
Toni Hunter, partner, George Hay Chartered Accountants
We would generally be completing our recruitment process ready for our juniors to start in September, in line with academic years. We haven’t been able to follow our usual process because of lockdown, and we have been discussing whether we should start recruiting now. Our view is that we’d have a good pool of people to pick from right now.
Take up at universities is likely to seem riskier at the moment. Many young people have left school without proper results. A nice, stable job with an apprenticeship could be a very attractive option. So we’ve decided to press ahead and continue as normal.
We’ve also got to think about our long-term strategy. If we leave too big a gap between apprenticeships, everybody becomes qualified, no one wants to do the low-level stuff, everybody wants a career and progress up the ladder, but they can’t, because there’s no one beneath them. So we’re taking on a junior in each office this autumn.
The government’s apprentice help scheme doesn’t really make any difference. It might cover some admin costs, but it won’t make any business take on an apprentice that wouldn’t have done so already. It’s just not enough.
Next steps: The focus for us is to work out how we train people when they aren’t in the office, as there’s a lot to be gleaned from working with more experienced people.
Verdict: It’s still worth taking on apprentices, though there are challenges ahead when it comes to remote working.
The pandemic has levelled the playing field for hiring experienced accountants
Farha Jamadar, finance manager, Todd Doors
Where we are looking to recruit is for more specialised roles, where you can get more bang for your buck, rather than data input or generic accountancy roles. People who can analyse the information and bring more value to certain areas of the business.
This could help us expand as a business and navigate these crises much easier, while also easing the burden on me. We’re taking the time now to look at what we need, what processes we can do in-house, and what roles would be the most valuable to the business. We’re not in a position to recruit yet, but mainly because we’re building the ideal role that will be the optimum fit for the business.
The job market has now switched to an employer’s market, so we have a better chance of filling that role with someone who has the skills that we want. For example, someone with experience in management accounting and costs analysis.
I’ve heard an assumption from other finance managers that the calibre of candidates will be more varied. They’re expecting to get more from the people they’re hiring. It certainly levels the playing field for smaller companies like ours.
Next steps: We’re going to continue to build a picture of what the business really needs, with a view to recruiting in the near future
Verdict: The pandemic has given us the opportunity to build more tailored roles on our team
Apprenticeships will be on hold in the short term – experienced accountants are in demand
Paul Donno, director, 1 Accounts Online
We’ve had a very successful apprenticeship scheme over the past few years, so now we’re thinking about how we deliver that with a more flexible workforce. That’s our big thing at the moment. Do we put a hold on getting in new apprentices until everything settles down and we have staff in the office to supervise them?
Within the next 12-24 months, we would be looking for people who have been in practice for a number of years, so that we won’t have to supervise them as closely and they can work from home.
We’re going to move towards a more flexible workforce in future. Potentially that’s a shame, because I want to find a way to get apprentices on board. That’s how I got started.
We’re trying to understand the workflow when people aren’t always in the office. That’s our base model. Our next hires will likely be an AAT bookkeeper or accountant – someone who is an all-rounder because we’re bringing in more work.
I think we will see a reduction in apprenticeships in the short term across the sector. I don’t think the government’s help is enough of an incentive for people to take them on. The Government needs to do more. I’m not sure how practices like ourselves can bring apprentices on at the moment.
Next steps: The plan is to build up our numbers so that we have enough of a rota to take another apprentice on.
Verdict: There is definitely a need to recruit in the accounting sector, but apprentices will miss out.
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Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.