What a difference 30 years makes!

First Intuition’s Tim Howes has now been in the accountancy profession for 30 years!  We recently caught up with Tim to see what changes he has seen in accountancy training over this time.

What a difference 30 years makes!

First Intuition’s Tim Howes has now been in the accountancy profession for 30 years!  We recently caught up with Tim to see what changes he has seen in accountancy training over this time.

Roll back 30 years to 1990: ‘Ghost’ was the highest grossing film of the year. Sinead O’Conner was at the top of the charts with ‘Nothing compares 2U’. The fall of the Berlin wall a few months earlier was leading to the reunification of Germany. Elsewhere, the world of Accountancy training was taking onboard a young, recently qualified ACA. One who had narrowly avoided slipping into the world of insurance as one commonly did in the day in and around Norfolk. So, what changes have we seen in the ensuing 30 years? There have been many!


Firstly, and continually, there has been extensive development in technology. Back in 1990, fax machines were the new world order. You had ‘made it’ if you had a Nokia 3310. The classroom was a different place entirely back then. It wasn’t uncommon to still use a blackboard and chalk for courses. The overhead projector and acetate rolls soon moved in. The stains on your fingers changed from that of yellow chalk to a rainbow of permanent ink. The evolution of smart boards, tablet laptops and the internet have transformed everything. The ability now exists to move around in a classroom and to bring the outside world within. Despite a short ‘death by PowerPoint’ blip, the technological advances have fashioned our approach. The use of real-world illustrations and live data make for a far more engaging learning experience. Interactive audience apps add to engagement. Exam syllabi have all been updated to reflect the importance of technology in the workplace too.

Learning styles

Society’s entire attitude to and understanding of learning science has meant an evolution. In 1990, you had a book or file and if you were lucky you had a tutor too. You sat and listened, whether that was right for you or not (not that you knew). Today we recognise that there are a multitude of preferred learning styles. This has led training providers to develop a variety of approaches to study in response. In addition, we recognise now the variety of challenges to learning faced by many. Dyslexia and Dyscalculia for instance are better understood. Formats of printed and electronic material provided to learners have evolved in this light. Flexible time allowances and other arrangements now facilitated by the examining bodies have emerged. All of this was unheard of back in the day.

Delivery platforms

Allied to the technological advances referred to above, lectures can be delivered online to timetable daytime or evening.  In the UK and now worldwide. Lectures can be re-watched later removing the need to take notes live at the expense of not hearing what was said next. Recorded products sit alongside the more traditional home study approaches. Classrooms too have become a more conducive environment, delivery is more collaborative and inclusive, meeting the needs and preferences of each individual. In today’s challenging position, technology has meant continuity that would have been impossible 30 years ago.

On demand exams

The workplace has become an ever-increasing demand on time in those 30 years. This has led to employers and students needing greater flexibility in sitting examinations. Technological advances have assisted in the shift of mindset, with more and more exams becoming available to be sat on computers on-demand. This has presented a unique disruption to the training providers in the sector. Traditional course delivery models had been firmly rooted around the set exam sessions. Institutes now require their exams to be sat on computer and so training providers have needed to reflect this in their approach. Simple, but crucial adjustments followed in the classroom. Ensuring sufficient access to power supplies for student IT equipment. Ensuring a robust Wi-Fi provision for access to media and exam resources, mock papers and so on. Course delivery too has adapted to facilitate flexible exam sittings. 365 course start dates a year. Credit accumulation rather than sit all and pass all or else fail the lot has shifted the goalposts.

Apprenticeships and funding

Last, but by no means least, changes in who we see training, with who and how this is funded. I have seen a clear shift from a male dominated classroom to pretty much the reverse at the current time. We have seen the evolution of Technician level bodies and qualifications such as the AAT. This has itself facilitated a shift from traditional routes into the profession. Once a domain for graduates alone, now tapping in to the talented population of the school leaver. This is something employers were taking on board long before the funding changes clicked in. Then BOOM, along came NVQ’s, Apprenticeship Frameworks and then the Apprenticeship Levy. The Digital Apprenticeship Service (DAS) and the new Apprenticeship Standards have shaken the mix again.

Apprenticeships and the Levy have changed the traditional training landscape. They have fashioned an evolution in the packages of training now being delivered. Focus moves away from solely on the technical qualification of the various institutes. Now there is a much more rounded picture of the skills required of the accountant of today and importantly, of the future. Greater emphasis has emerged on analytical and interpretive skills, on communication, making change and managing it, on leadership and team working, insight and persuasion. Training providers have had to evolve to deliver this complete package. To now work with apprentices and employers to ensure that this development can take place both on and off the job. Ensuring proper opportunities are available within the workplace and as necessary within the provider delivery package.

The Levy has made a real change. Not always a positive change for some. The experience of the DAS has probably distracted attention from the real positives being created. The Levy has provided a level playing field for SME’s looking to attract talent. Provider developmental programmes for trainees today were once the domain of only the biggest employers. Today, through proper funding, these are now more affordable thanks to the government co-funding of Apprenticeship Standards delivery for SME’s.

30 not out – On final reflection and in summary

Over the last 30 years I have observed ‘double entry’ shift to ‘data analytics’. I’ve seen ‘intelligence become artificial’ whilst rigid becomes flexible. Perhaps most importantly, ‘selective has become inclusive’. There has been a seismic shift in the working environment and society in general. Disruptors have been many and challenging. Change is good for the right reasons and change there has been, in the most part for the right reasons. It has been a real rollercoaster of a journey, surfing the wave of the web and adapting to new challenges. I have had the pleasure of talking with and delivering programmes to many people in that time. All these people have of course become a little older, wiser and many carry senior positions in our clients today. Like me, a little less hair in some cases, a few more ‘creases’ in some cases. A few extra pounds here and there and some less too, but all moving forward with the times. What a difference 30 years has made.