Accountancy Apprenticeships: The Past, Present and Future

Apprenticeships continue to have a revolutionary impact on the way young accountants enter the sector. They offer a multitude of benefits for the employers who train their staff with them and the students training on them.

Gareth John, Director of First Intuition, hosts a discussion looking at the way apprenticeships have changed over the last few years, what intake patterns have emerged in 2023, and what further changes we can expect to see in the next year or two.

The past, present and future of apprenticeships

Accountancy Apprenticeships: The Past, Present and Future

Apprenticeships continue to have a revolutionary impact on the way young accountants enter the sector. They offer a multitude of benefits for the employers who train their staff with them and the students training on them.

Gareth John, Director of First Intuition, hosts a discussion looking at the way apprenticeships have changed over the last few years, what intake patterns have emerged in 2023, and what further changes we can expect to see in the next year or two.

This article shares highlights from the session where guest speakers, listed below, joined Gareth John to discuss apprenticeships past, present and future:

  • Past: how apprenticeships have impacted the way that entry-level trainee accountants are recruited, supported and developed
  • Present: up-to-date insight into the most recent intakes across the different apprenticeship levels relevant to accountancy
  • Future: what the coming months might look like from a funding and policy perspective with a looming general election

Speakers and panelists

You can watch the recording of the session by clicking the button below.

Apprenticeships: The past, present and future

Apprenticeships: The Past

In 2017 there were two major changes to apprenticeships that have influenced their success in the accountancy sector today:

  1. The apprenticeship levy was introduced
  2. Move from apprenticeship frameworks to apprenticeship standards

Aspects of modern apprenticeships:

  • Knowledge Skills and Behaviours (KSBs) are a focus. These represent the core attributes an apprentice must have in order to be competent in the occupation they are working in
  • 20% off the job learning requirement
  • Gateway rule of 12 months and a day
  • End point assessment (EPA)
  • Apprenticeships are now more accessible as more people are eligible to study with them. This means there is more variety of people studying from different ages, qualifications, and academic backgrounds

What impact have apprenticeships had?

Apprenticeships have had a huge impact on the accountancy sector. The number of apprenticeships in First Intuition’s (FI) classrooms has increased from 5% to 85% over five/six years and there has been a 53% growth in apprenticeships at FI across all levels.

In accountancy, there has always been the tradition of developing people through the qualifications. However, apprenticeships have increased the recognition that soft skills are just as important as technical skills.

The introduction of these soft skills and behaviours into programmes has allowed learners to start a whole self-development journey which also benefits their employers, by helping to create the leaders of the future. This includes helping build confidence in learners, increase their communication skills with internal and external stakeholders, and build resilience by regularly receiving all types of feedback.

Apprenticeships have changed the approach the majority of firms do their training. It has mainstreamed on-the-job training and the ability to focus on learning and progression in the workplace throughout a course.

Apprenticeships have also increased engagement with school leavers and helped diversity by making qualifications more accessible to people of different ages, backgrounds and education levels. This has helped with diversity and social mobility in the accounting sector.

There has been a big change in perception surrounding apprenticeships for students and, more slowly, parents, who are a big driving force behind engagement. People are beginning to see apprenticeships as a viable alternative to going to university. Many are even opting for them despite receiving places at universities.

Apprenticeships: The Present

Today, the AAT reports a ‘really good representation across all levels of AAT’. It is harder to engage at Levels 2/ 3 although this is increasing. Mainly due to the value of soft skills and behaviours becoming more acknowledged and changes to funding. Changes around funding criteria have a big impact on the uptake of apprenticeships and therefore the way people are working in the industry.

The post-covid generation is finding it harder to get into the workplace due to a lack of confidence. As well as a lack of soft skills and experience in a working environment. A lot of young adults therefore don’t feel ready for the next step in the workplace because of the missed opportunities during the pandemic. Employers therefore need to create more access to support and help to build resilience in these young adults. Whilst Managers and staff now need a broader set of skills to manage mental health.

Employers can make it easier for students to get their first jobs by helping them demonstrate the skills they do have. Inspirational pieces from ‘near peers’ can be effective in helping young people see accountancy as a good career to go into. Furthermore, employers need to focus efforts on understanding how the workplace is changing. This includes harnessing changes such as the introduction of new technologies like AI.

There is still a big need for better engagement with apprenticeships. Focus areas need to be on parents who have a big influence on their children’s higher education routes. The focus also needs to be on schools that are often struggling with guidance on apprenticeships. This is a current challenge for employers on how they can help continue to raise awareness around the value of apprenticeships.

The removal of the cap of 10 for non-levy employers has helped increase apprenticeship uptake. Employers are no longer limited and can hire as many apprentices as they need. This has helped contribute to the fantastic enrolment rates seen by FI.

Apprenticeships: The Future

UCAS predict over 1 million applicants to university by 2030. This outweighs the number of places available. Apprenticeships are therefore necessary as an alternative route to further training and higher education. UCAS has started providing guidance and information about apprenticeships on its website. Including displaying apprenticeship vacancies alongside university courses.

UCAS are continuing to develop their website to make it easier to get information about apprenticeships. They aim for parity across all systems by 2025. Including application forms for apprenticeships alongside university application forms. As well as a form of clearing for apprenticeships if applicants are not successful with securing university places. UCAS are also working on providing a vacancy board where employers can list their vacancies and the platform matches suitable students for the roles.

Changes to government funding, promises to fix the system and uncertainty in the political landscape can create reluctance in employers to enrol their employees on apprenticeship programmes. Due to the upcoming UK election, there is likely to be a turbulent 12 – 18 months ahead before the reality of any changes sets in. SMEs are more susceptible when there are changes to funds as many are non-levy payers. There is still a huge disparity between what is raised for levies supporting apprenticeships and what is spent on them.

Trailblazer groups helping to create accountancy qualifications expect changes to level 2. As well as a new version of the standard following recent changes to level 3. Level 4 is in review and out for consultation whilst level 7 is also in the process of review. This is to make qualifications up-to-date and more relevant to today’s workplace, particularly in sustainability, wellbeing and technology. Funding bands are also being reviewed to be updated to better reflect today’s roles and employer’s needs.

Useful Resources

2023 FITT Forums 

Apprenticeship resources

How to make the most of National Apprenticeship Week 2024

Find all of First Intuition’s upcoming events here.

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