What employers look for when hiring an AAT apprentice

Tanya Hamilton, a partner at McBrides Accountants LLP, said the firm, who normally hire about two apprentices every year, look for “someone who has the willingness to learn, who is enthusiastic and has researched a bit about what they would be doing.”

The ideal candidate would be “adaptable” and “mature”, she added. “They’re very integrated into the team from day one so they form part of the team that’s working for that client,” explained Hamilton.

“They won’t necessarily be doing client facing work straight away, but they will quite quickly start dealing with emails. We’re always building them up to that point where they will be out working with clients but not put in the deep end working on their own.”

The benefit to McBrides was to find candidates “from a young, raw age, when they’re very willing to learn and very adaptable. I think they complement the team as they have a range of skill sets and generally their IT skills seem to be better than people who have been here for a while,” she said.

On the other side of the coin, apprentices benefit from “high level experience” and being full included in the team. “They get good training and good support,” said Hamilton.

How to seize the moment as an apprentice

AAT apprentice Damilare Oladunni found his current apprenticeship at Hays Recruitment through an “insight day”, where he was invited back for an interview.

But he described the initial search for an apprenticeship with the Leadership through Sport and Business Initiative as being a bit like “speed-dating.”

“A group of employers came to our office and they were in different rooms so you literally go and they ask you questions for ten minutes and then you go into the next room,” he said.

Becoming more than a student

Oladunni was attracted to Hays’ office environment, where he felt it would be easy to settle in. Two months on, he feels like he is “part of the team”, with his colleagues making sure he is included in all their activities.

“It’s an apprenticeship, but it’s not much different from a full-time job,” he said. Among the key skills he rates as important are professionalism and flexibility.

“There might be some jobs or tasks from your line manager that you don’t particularly want to do, but be open, do it anyway. You don’t know where a certain thing is going to lead to, or where that skill could take you,” he offered. “Be open to everything and just try your best, giving 100% every time.”

Oladunni advises other AAT students looking for an apprenticeship to seize every opportunity. “Everybody has their idea of where they want to work, but I would say be open to everything,” he said.

We can get to know each individual and give them the great career development support that they need

Why should you be the chosen one?

Oladunni is the first apprentice in his office. Other companies, however, have a regular intake of AAT apprentices, and view the scheme as highly beneficial to their work.

Miller Insurance Services LLP in London take on AAT apprentices as regularly as possible.

Verity Stroud, Learning and Development Advisor, said that the company looked for a candidate who “is motivated and has a clear sense of why they want the opportunity that we’re offering.”

“We’re interested in someone who has done their research and obviously thought about it, and looked around at the opportunities and can see that what we’re offering could be a good fit for them in terms of what they would be looking for in a role,” she added.

Stroud commented that the firm already viewed people who chose an apprenticeship over university as showing “an amount of mature single-mindedness”.

“At the moment it’s still not, alongside university, a firmly established alternative choice. I think it’s becoming so but depending on the level of career service that they get from schools and the influence that their parents might have, sometimes it can take quite a lot of maturity,” she said.

Benefits of apprenticeships

In terms of qualities in its apprentices, Miller looks for “raw potential as much as possible,” Stroud revealed.

A lengthy application procedure, involving online assignments, team tasks and interviews identify, communication, deductive reasoning, attention to detail and problem solving skills.

“Broadly we’re looking for people who have potential in those kinds of things that we look for from anybody that’s joining us, and an affinity to our values as well because they’re very important to us,” she said.

As with McBrides, apprentices who work for Miller are “a permanent member of the team from day one,” added Stroud.

The obvious benefit to the apprentice is that “they’re doing a very relevant qualification that’s well aligned to the skills, knowledge and behaviour that we need them to develop in the role,” she said.

“That’s what’s appealing about it, because they are growing and developing in a way that is aligned to what we need and obviously they get the industry recognised qualification as well,” said Stroud.

“It’s an enhanced package that they’re getting, so it’s accelerating their development.”

Life after apprenticeships

The company also strives to support the apprentice’s professional growth, she stressed. “We have a dedicated team..and because of our size – we are medium-sized organisation – we can get to know each individual and give them the great career development support that they need,” she said.

“We look after our people in terms of helping them to develop their career and also some of the benefits we offer. We’ve got a good work/life balance. We promote agile working so everyone has a laptop, which helps them have good flexibility around where they work,” Stroud added.

“So we have a whole package of what people might be looking for, and give the right opportunities and progression and flexibility that people often want.”

The National Apprenticeship Awards are now open for entries – AAT is encouraging apprentices and their employers throughout the accounting and finance industry to apply.

Nicola Smith has spent a decade reporting for The Sunday Times on both the European Union and South Asia.

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