Since the introduction of the Level 3, 4 and 7, accountancy apprenticeship standards have seen huge uptake by employers. They are now the most popular way of supporting accounting trainees studying AAT, ACCA, CIMA, and ICAEW.
The Level 2 standard has so far proved to be far less popular, with many employers ‘fast-tracking’ students through the Level 2 Certificate in Bookkeeping or even using direct entry into Level 3. For bright and diligent students, it was often unnecessary to complete all papers of Level 2, rendering the Level 2 apprenticeship standard irrelevant for many. However, all of that now seems likely to dramatically change.
The Level 2 apprenticeship standard may now become the preferred entry point option for many employers hiring school and college leavers. This is a result of different factors coming together at the same time to create the ‘perfect storm’ for supporting wider adoption of Level 2 apprenticeships. Including the timing of the introduction of the tougher new AAT qualification (Qualifications2022), which has less duplication of content and more core material covered at Level 2, coupled with the educational impact of the pandemic and loss of exam exposure for coming cohorts of new starters.
The ‘perfect storm’
Three main factors are coming together at the same time to create the ‘perfect storm’ that increases the relevance of Level 2 apprenticeships.
- The new AAT Qualifications2022 which has dropped much core content to Level 2, less duplication across levels, and now has harder exams at Levels 3 and 4
- The impact that lockdown has had on opportunities to develop basic employability skills
- The lack of formal exam exposure young adults have had at GCSE or A-Level
AAT’s syllabus change to Qualifications2022 will bring with it the removal of repetition of the syllabus content between levels. Level 2 will introduce a topic, Level 3 will expand on it, and Level 4 will put it into practice. This will make it harder for trainees who come in at Level 3 or 4 to understand key themes and concepts that they have not covered previously. Levels 3 and 4 are also expected to be more challenging to assist in the transition to Level 7. Students will therefore struggle more if they are pushed straight into Level 3 unless they have a strong background in relevant A-Levels.
All AAT students recruited from September 2021 onwards will be affected by the syllabus change at some point.
No exam exposure
The lack of formal GCSE and A-Levels for two years gives further reason for students to sit Level 2 exams. This is true even for those with an Accounting or Business Studies A-Level as they will not have sat formal exams in those subjects, so will not have developed the skills for preparing and sitting high-pressure exams. Level 3 under the new syllabus will start with a bigger and harder exam than before. Starting at Level 2 will give students the opportunity to take smaller exams that are slower and easier. Easing them back in will help build confidence in their ability.
The pandemic has resulted in increased isolation and a lack of opportunities to build interpersonal skills. Many school leavers have missed opportunities to gain essential soft skills through part-time jobs and being a part of school activities. Such as organising plays, captaining sports teams, volunteering, work experience, and attending careers advice talks. As a result, skills and behaviours essential for the workplace like communication, organisation, time-management, and general confidence have suffered.
Some examples of how part-time jobs can prepare young adults for the workplace:
- Attention to detail. Developed by checking stock at the start of a shift and cashing up at the end of the night
- Communication. Developed by taking orders from customers, ordering extra stock from suppliers, facing difficult customers, or sharing problems with a manager
- Using systems and process. Developed through working the till, taking payments, etc.
- Personal effectiveness. Developed when having to turn up on time and clear tables or serve customers quickly
- Customer focus. Developed when apologising for delayed service and compensating with a free item or discount, checking on customers that they are enjoying their food or need assistance, up-selling food/ drink/ other products
The increased emphasis on skills, knowledge, and behaviours building in the Level 2 is now needed more than ever. This will give students who have not had part-time jobs and extra-curricular activities the opportunity to develop soft skills and business skills and therefore a chance to plug some of their skills gaps. This will give a better foundation for starting a career.
Summary – why choose a Level 2 apprenticeship:
- Emphasis on skills and behaviours building for an introduction into the workplace
- Embedding knowledge building blocks early on for the new Qualifications2022
- Easier introduction to professional assessments for students who may not have sat formal exams for two years
- The whole programme can be funded with the apprenticeship levy, including AAT membership and assessment fees
- If trainees do all units at Level 2, it’s worth considering the funding available if done as an apprenticeship. It will add 6 months or so to the programme but could save a lot of cost from the incentives
- Apprenticeship incentives of £3,000 per learner if they are recruited before the end of September
- Build confidence early on in a career
- Attract to a broader range of talent giving greater diversity to your talent pipeline
As a result of the ‘perfect storm’, employers will need to think carefully about what level they start their recruits. There is more need to consider new starters on an individual basis rather than taking exemptions where available. Employers will have to be more certain of what individuals have achieved and look at what is right for each student to ensure they do not struggle and skills gaps are not left.
As the effects of the pandemic on candidates become clearer, coupled with the harder Qualifications2022, we predict more employers utilising Level 2. Whilst some employers may be put off by Level 2 as it will take an extended time to complete AAT, others may find it beneficial to have a longer period of time before trainees qualify. However, all employers will be facing these changes and those who decide to continue to fast track may find they suffer further down the line.
Fast track students will need additional support and more learning time from their employers and training providers. The Level 2 entry point may be a preference for the short term until the impacts of the pandemic have passed. However, employers may find they prefer it.
Find more information about the Level 2 apprenticeship standard, including a flowchart for fast tracks, here: Level 2 Apprenticeship.
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Get in touch
First Intuition can help advise the appropriate route and entry point for individuals. Get in touch if you would like some more information on Level 2 and apprentices in general.