In this article, David Malthouse looks at the key skills gained in an apprenticeship and reflects on his own personal experience of training to become an Accountant.
I wish that I had been an Apprentice!
I am a qualified Accountant; having completed my ACCA exams 20 years ago. Since then, I feel that I have had a successful career in the Accounting industry. These days, I run my own business and have an amazing team that I have the pleasure to work with every day.
Looking back to my first training role, I remember working really hard to achieve my qualification and was so proud when I passed my final exam and could say that I was a qualified Accountant.
The qualification opened doors for me at work and allowed me to move up to the next rung on the career ladder; that is where the real learning began!
Now when I look at what I do on a day-to-day basis and the skills that I use, very few of them came from my accountancy qualification. Very rarely do I calculate a deferred tax liability or put together a money market hedge!
Some of the key skills that have made a difference in my career are:
Key Skill 1 – Communication Skills
Every day I must work with my team, with employers, with apprentices. Every person is different and knowing how to communicate with each of them is so important to ensure the right message is being put across.
Key Skill 2 – Problem-solving
No-one told me that being a business leader would mean that every day would generate more problems! I sometimes feel that my job is “putting out fires”, the reality is that as a business leader everything stops with you. Being able to solve problems quickly and have empathy for others is a skill that has taken me a long time to develop.
Key Skill 3 – Negotiation
Everything seems to be a negotiation; employers, apprentices, suppliers all want to make sure they are getting what they need. Making agreements that everyone can work with is such an important skill. I used to see every negotiation as a “must-win game”. Now I want a more collaborative solution, and if the other party wants to “win the deal” is it really a problem if I let them feel like they have won?
Key Skill 4 -Strategic Thinking
As a business leader, you need to be thinking about 5-10 years in the future. Decisions that I make now will impact my teams lives for the next decade. This used to feel like a huge burden. I recognise that there are nearly 20 people who rely on my business to pay their rent, to feed their families, to go on holiday. I have learnt to deal with this pressure in different ways, and it has been a real challenge. One thing that I have to make sure of is that my business evolves to ensure that my team today, and my future teams, will have job security and have engaging, stimulating work.
Key Skill 5 -Team working
When I started working in accountancy, as long as I got MY work done I went home happy. Now I do very little day-to-day work but I have a team that I work with. Understanding the team’s strengths and allowing them the space to express themselves is a skill that has taken a long time to understand (and is still a work in progress).
Key Skill 6 – Saying NO
What a tough lesson this has been. My natural reaction is to say yes, particularly with clients. I almost had to re-wire my brain to accept that sometimes I have to say NO! Now I am happy to say that I will not work with a business, particularly if they only see an apprenticeship as a way to save money (and don’t see the value of the new apprenticeship standards).
Key Skill 7 – Resilience
Starting a business is tough. Despite being in front of people every day, speaking with clients, suppliers etc, no-one tells you how lonely it is. I have the best business partner I could dream of (in my wife); despite sharing everything with her, it is still difficult! We had years of working ridiculous hours and making losses. Being focused on the vision for the business is so important. You have to recognise that the early challenges are only ‘bumps in the road’ that you need to get over to achieve that vision!
Why I’m envious of our apprentices
All of these skills I “learned on the job”. I made lots of mistakes and got lots of things wrong. My tuition meant I was taught brilliantly to be a technically proficient Accountant and then had to figure the rest out on my own. I know that most other accounting professionals of my generation feel the same.
I am really envious of the Apprentices that we now train. They are not just learning how to be technically great, but they are also learning the skills and behaviours that I had to figure out for myself over the last 20 years. The comprehensive Apprenticeship Standards are going to help shape the future Finance Leaders of our businesses.
If you want to be part of these changes and want to look at how the Apprenticeship Standards can transform the talent in your finance function please get in touch with me: DavidMalthouse@firstintuition.co.uk
To read more about our apprenticeship programmes, please click here