Why the value of apprenticeships should not be overlooked

The war on talent has never been more pronounced, with access to labour one of the biggest concerns for businesses in the region over the next 12 months.

Set against a backdrop of labour shortages and a widening skills gap, more and more businesses are exploring the option of apprentices as a means of bringing talent into the fold. As we mark the 16th annual National Apprenticeship Week (NAW), it provides us with a perfect opportunity to shine a light on the value that apprenticeships can bring – not only to businesses, but to individuals too.

This year’s theme is ‘Skills for Life’. The aim of NAW is to shine a light on how apprenticeships can help individuals to develop the skills and knowledge they need for a rewarding career while, at the same time, enabling businesses to develop a talented workforce that is equipped with the skills for the future.

Finding the value in apprenticeships really is a two-pronged approach. Not only is it important for businesses to realise the impact apprenticeships can have on recruitment, productivity, and growth, but there is a vast, untapped pool of talent yet to realise the potential that exists – particularly in professional and financial services sectors, where there are a number of misconceptions about availability and opportunities. So what are the common myths that surround apprenticeships?

Apprenticeships are for people who do not perform well academically

Our apprentices do the same training and learn the same skills as our graduate trainees. We ask our apprentices to have at least three A-Levels grade C or above (or equivalent qualification) and GCSEs in Maths and English at Grade 4 or above (or equivalent).

An accountancy apprenticeship does include technical training and exams, but it also gives the opportunity to learn on the job while developing other practical skills and spend time with more experienced colleagues within the business. As such, it may be a good option for those who enjoy this type of learning in addition to purely academic studies.

Apprenticeships are not available in professional industries like accountancy

 Whilst some jobs and professions require a university degree before entering, accountancy isn’t one of them. Each year BDO and other accountancy firms offer apprenticeship roles to school leavers that involve four years of work and study to become a qualified chartered accountant, without the need to go to university.

Apprenticeships don’t give you the same opportunities to progress as a university degree

School leaver apprentices actually qualify a year sooner, than if they had gone to university and the majority of our trainees have the opportunity to do a Level 7 apprenticeship, equivalent to a Master’s degree.

Apprentices get all the most boring tasks

Our apprenticeships are designed to help those taking part to learn the most practical and technical knowledge as possible. So, from day one, our apprentices get involved in a wide range of tasks which will differ dependent on the area of the business and team they work in.

Tasks might involve meetings with other teams around the business, visiting the site or office of the businesses we work with, or taking part in different types of training or team building.

Apprentices have to study and take exams outside of working hours, so it is much more time consuming than university

It is true that an apprenticeship does require those taking part to balance a full-time job, study and other commitments, which does require a certain level of organisation and ability to juggle different deadlines and priorities.

At BDO, our apprentices are given time off work to study for and take part in their exams. All our employees also have paid holiday each year and the opportunity to purchase extra holiday days if they wish to.

Many of BDO’s people started their careers as apprentices, including myself, our Managing Partner and other members of our leadership team and partner group, so it certainly isn’t a barrier to career progression.

In fact, there is huge value in apprenticeships – the key is opening up people’s minds to the opportunities that exist across many sectors and professions. Once you take that step, there really is no turning back. Just ask our recent cohort of school leavers at BDO. In a recent survey, an overwhelming 91% of said they were glad they chose an apprenticeship, with 89% saying they would recommend anyone who is interested in working in accountancy or professional services to apply for an apprenticeship.

That’s why BDO is hiring more than eight apprentices to join its city centre offices in Norwich, Ipswich and Cambridge this September. In addition to the apprenticeships, we have also opened up applications to our ‘Explore BDO’ programme. This three-day virtual insight programme, aimed at young people in years 10,11 and 12 from less privileged backgrounds, gives an insight into what a career in accountancy might look like and is designed to improve access to accountancy and social mobility in the UK.

Sarah Lock is a partner at accountancy and business advisory firm, BDO LLP.




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