Accountancy profession targets A level school leavers

With thousands of students around the country receiving their A levels results today and starting to make decisions about their future, the accountancy sector is keen to set out the attractions of building a career in the sector through trainee programmes

For some time now, a university degree has no longer been the only path into the profession, with the Big Four accounting firms all offering apprenticeship programmes and other options for school leavers, while mid-tier firms are building up non-graduate training programmes.

Claire Bennison, head of ACCA UK, said: ‘There are still misconceptions over the value of apprenticeships, particularly in how they compare with the university route – categorised as being the option for less able students.

‘Apprenticeships represent a legitimate route into the accountancy profession, where they carry a huge value among employers. With an ACCA apprenticeship, apprentices will have access to further study, either through an undergraduate degree or a master’s degree.

‘For a variety of reasons, going to university may not always be the best option for school leavers. Many students want to enter work at 18 and feel an apprenticeship will get them into a good job, without incurring any student debt. This can be with a local firm, or indeed elsewhere by taking advantage of the accountancy profession being socially mobile.’

Deloitte’s Brightstart programme offers 300 students the chance to gain professional qualifications while being fully immersed in a job. The firm hires over 1,500 students per year from its schools and undergraduate entry routes, into 22 office locations across the UK.

Elaine Atkinson, head of resourcing at Deloitte, said: ‘Today is a significant day for hundreds of thousands of students who now can decide what to do next.

‘A Deloitte apprenticeship can be the first step in an exciting career, working on projects that have a real impact to our clients’ businesses. We teach all the skills and knowledge needed to do the job.’

Apprenticeships and options allowing students to combine university courses with blocks of paid work have gained in popularity in recent years, aim concerns about taking on student debt and a desire to improve social mobility.

Grant Thornton UK has announced its school leaver intake is on the rise.  The firm has offered 80 school leaver positions as part of its 2019 trainee intake. This is almost a 10% increase compared to 2018 (74) and more than four times the number hired in 2011, where 19 joined the firm.

School leavers now represent around a quarter of Grant Thornton’s total trainee intake across the country. They join the firm for a five-year programme during which they work with a cross-section of clients whilst also studying for professional accountancy qualifications. School leavers at the firm first complete relevant higher apprenticeships before going on to complete professional chartered accountancy qualifications.

New skills

Deloitte is also launching Pathfinders, a new programme for gap year students, starting 9 September 2020. Twenty students will join Deloitte between school and university for a nine-month technology-based placement in Deloitte’s consulting or tax practice. They will have technology-focussed roles, either through working with technology clients or contributing to digital projects.

Dimple Agarwal, Deloitte’s managing partner for people and purpose, said: ‘Pathfinders is a new and exciting way of bringing talented students into Deloitte and filling the growing skills shortage in software development. We want to provide the opportunity for students to learn new, in-demand skills.

‘We want to create a more diverse workforce, bringing strong representation of society into the workplace and a diversity of thought. We’re looking for people from a range of backgrounds and with different experiences.’

Agarwal also pointed out that attitudes to jobs are changing fast and the expectations of younger generations on how they will enter the workplace and how they build a career can be markedly different from previous generations.

‘Our recent millennial survey found that 56% of Gen Zs are hopeful they will reach their career ambitions. Priority should be placed on building their skills and continuous training to keep this generation engaged,’ Agarwal said.

This point was reinforced by Chris Downing, director of product management, accountants and bookkeepers at Sage.

‘The working landscape for accountants is changing and for students collecting their A-level results today, the traditional role of the number-crunching bookkeeper has to evolve. Our research found that eight out of 10 practices are planning to recruit from non-traditional backgrounds, and six in 10 don’t believe traditional accountancy training will be enough to run a successful practice by 2030.

‘To gain competitive advantage, firms will need to focus on relationship building, technological literacy, business advisory and project management capabilities.

‘Creative and personal skills in graduates will help their future employers navigate the changing landscape and provide the consultancy that customers desire – so the new crop of school leavers should aim to grow their skills and market themselves on that basis.’

This approach is likely to resonate with young people. A survey conducted by BAE Systems found 47% of 16 to 24-year-olds believe they will work in a role that does not currently exist, and less than one-in-five think they have the skills required to future-proof their careers.

In response to the study BAE used a panel of futurists and technologists to predict the job roles likely to exist in 2040, and the subjects which could provide skills for those jobs.

It included roles such as an AI ethicist, who would be responsible for ensuring artificial intelligence – now increasingly used in audit processes -- was underpinned by robust ethics.

Pat Sweet

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