School leavers across the UK have received their A-level results and accounting firms are more prepared than ever for the rising number of apprenticeship-seekers.
UCAS figures show that there has been a 1% fall in university acceptance from 2018 to 2019, with A-level scores falling across the board. Only 25.5% of UK entries received an A or A*, according to the Joint Council for Qualifications—the lowest percentage since 2007.
School leavers without unconditional university acceptances will now have to choose between clearing or seeking out apprenticeships, and many firms have already seen a rise in trainee applications prior to A-level results day.
At RSM, for example, 400 students have joined its annual trainee program, with 71 of the recruits being school leavers.
Victoria Kirkhope, national HR and development director at RSM, said of its trainees: “They are supported by a modern apprenticeship scheme and an internal training programme that is designed to support development from entry through to Partnership.”
Research published by Indeed shows that some of the largest recruiters of recent university graduates were PWC and KMPG, both of whom also offer apprenticeships for school leavers.
PWC has also chosen to seek talent from both school leavers and university students, offering in-school apprenticeships at three universities.
However, with the decline of students studying for a degree in accounting and the cost of university rising each year, data suggests more school leavers are seeking out certified accountancy placements in 2019 than in recent years.
Seeking non-degree talent
As more firms establish accessible apprenticeships, a new wave of diverse talent has the opportunity to join the workforce. In a recent study commissioned by AAT, 40% of 16 to 24-year olds surveyed placed importance on financial literacy.
However, only 52% of respondents were willing to complete a university degree, leaving nearly half of the UK’s Generation Z talent ready to be accepted to programmes, apprenticeships and staff positions.
Capitalising on that talent, Grant Thornton was able to offer 80 school leavers positions in its 2019 trainee intake – a large growth compared to its 19 school leavers in 2011. Joining the firm for five years, the school leavers complete apprenticeships, study for qualifications and work across a series of clients.
For students aiming to avoid student loans, these apprenticeships are an accessible way to establish themselves in the industry.
Glenroy Dacosta, who joined the company’s school leaver’s programme three years ago, said: “The apprenticeship route has allowed me to pursue the career I’ve always wanted and opened doors that I thought were firmly shut to me.”
With more students choosing to forego university and head straight into the industry, there is a trend for firms to place explicit importance on seeking applicants from varying backgrounds to help diversify their workforces.
Chris Downing, director of product management, accountants and bookkeepers at Sage, said: “The working landscape for accountants is changing and for students collecting their A-level results, the traditional role of the number-crunching bookkeeper has to evolve.
“To gain competitive advantage, firms will need to focus on relationship building, technological literacy, business advisory and project management capabilities.”
Plan for the future
Research from Sage found that 80% of practices plan to recruit from non-traditional backgrounds, with 60% believing that traditional accountancy training will not sustain successful practices by 2030.
“The ACCA is already evolving its qualification to take account of the changing skillset, but as a profession, we also need to think about how we evolve the way we train accountants in a holistic way — understanding how to work with and get the best out of people,” Downing said.
Targeting leavers from a diverse range of backgrounds, Deloitte’s apprenticeship programme ‘BrightStart’ is offered to 300 students across the UK as an alternative to university, with an additional gap year programme set to launch in fall 2020.
Deloitte’s managing partner for People and Purpose, Dimple Agarwal, said the firm’s goal was to create a more diverse workforce, bringing together individuals with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.
For school leavers looking to secure a place on an accountancy programme, Downing advised them to invest in all available training.
“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,” Downing said.
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