Gareth John, Chief Executive of First Intuition Cambridge comments on the scale of change in apprenticeship uptake in the accountancy industry and reasons for this, as well as why now is the best time to sign up an apprentice.

I have been training accountants for nearly 25 years, and in that time the biggest change I have seen in our industry has been the dramatic uptake in apprenticeships since 2015. Just five years ago only around 5% of new learners studying with First Intuition were apprentices, today it is more like 80%. What was once a niche aspect of our business has now become the norm. Every single class we teach now contains apprentices, and some classes are made up entirely of apprentices. This considerable change has come about for a number of reasons but is mainly due to the additional skills training in place for apprentices, the extra structure and support they have to their studies, and the financial benefits to businesses.

Better skills

Not only do accountancy apprentices learn the core technical skills they need to do their job, but they also develop wider soft skills and behaviours that are equally essential to career success in the industry. Skills that are built into programmes include communication, commercial insight, problem-solving, strategic thinking, resilience, teamwork, negotiation and leadership, all of which can take non-apprentices years to develop through experience alone.

Support in building interpersonal skills is particularly important for young people right now, where the pandemic has resulted in increased isolation and lack of opportunities to build such skills. Many school leavers have missed opportunities to gain essential soft skills through part-time jobs and being a part of normal school activities, such as organising plays and captaining sports teams. We covered this topic in greater detail in our virtual webinar ‘onboarding the COVID generation’ Furthermore, apprenticeships are a great way to upskill existing staff which will be important if firms cut headcount.

Better structure and better support

It can be easy for trainees to come off track with their studies when they are not part of a structured programme to help them progress reliably. Apprenticeship programmes offer robust structure and support for learners through a close relationship with their assigned Coach who offers personalised support and helps ensure they are on top of their studies. As a result of this, apprentices tend to move through their qualification faster and with higher first-time pass rates. This benefits businesses as trainees learnt knowledge and skills translate into their work quicker and more effectively.

Financial benefits

Using apprenticeship funding to pay for accountancy qualification training can save many thousands of pounds in course fees. As well as the 95% government subsidy of the training costs for non-levy employers, there is also an employer’s National Insurance exemption if the apprentice is aged under 25. Levy paying employers can utilise their levy pots.

A particular reason for the shift in apprenticeship uptake during the pandemic has been the generous government financial incentives available for businesses who recruit trainees as apprentices. These incentives were recently increased and extended for the second time, making them even more appealing. For eligible apprentices aged 16 to 18, employers will receive £4,000 if they start employment between 1 April 2021 and 31 January 2022. For those aged 19 and over, employers will receive £3,000.

It is also worth being aware that non-levy employers can now reserve apprenticeship funds up to six months in advance. This means that employers who do not pay the Apprenticeship Levy are already able to reserve funds for their Spring intake of new starts.

There has never been a better time to support apprenticeship programmes

The detrimental impact of the pandemic on jobs has meant apprenticeship incentives for businesses are better than ever as the government encourages companies to recruit and develop staff. This coupled with the skills gap of young adults shortly entering the workplace and financial restraints on businesses means there has never been a better time to sign up apprentices.