Date09 Feb 2022
Danielle Walmsley talks about how apprenticeships have solved problems and boosted business – along with her own career.
Everybody knows the role of an apprentice involves learning – but not everyone expects apprentices to be making an impact by solving pressing business problems, bringing colour to company culture or ascending to lofty roles. However in leading accountancy firm Azets Coventry office, Partner Danielle Walmsley regularly sees apprentices developing innovative solutions for problems encountered by senior colleagues and generally making an impact.
“We definitely see our apprentices as future leaders,” says Danielle. “Any growing business needs to be investing in this.”
Azets currently have a network of over 160 offices in the UK and internationally. Having become a top ten accountancy firm just 18 months ago, the firms views apprentices as playing an important role in its expansion plans, employing over 400 apprentices nationwide. In an industry where recent research has shown nearly three-quarters (74%) of accounting firms are suffering because of a lack of skilled workers, apprentices can be part of a long-term strategic investment.
“I started as an apprentice. Now I’m a partner managing them and constantly seeing the benefit they bring.”
One area they are making their presence felt is in technology.
“As we adapt to new software, occasionally some of the apprentices ask ‘Why are you doing that when you could be using this [system/app/hack], which could save you hours of time?” says Danielle.
It’s a big boom for Azets, especially as the company and its clients – just like many other businesses during the pandemic – are in the process of speeding up their digital transformations.
“This new generation are like a sponge when it comes to new technology: you can just give them a new system, and they’ll get their head around it instantly,” says Danielle. “As accountancy goes digital, and we teach our clients to do the same, the skill -sets these apprentices have right now will be invaluable and because apprentices are immersed in the nuts-and-bolts of the company from the very outset of their careers, they develop an innate understanding of how that firm works.
“When apprentices combine their on-the-job training with a hard work ethic and professionalism, you’ll often find that they progress quickly,” says Danielle. Putting accounting knowledge into practice within a working environment often yields great results when you’ve learned it from day one, hands-on within the company itself.”
Danielle believes Azets’ young apprentices benefit the firm in other ways too.
“Our company culture is thriving because of our apprentices,” she says. “They bring a breath of fresh air, helping to create a team environment by making people more upbeat and happier, having a laugh and a joke. They’re also really proactive about socialising, getting involved with team-building, volunteering and social committees.”
Danielle knows all too well about the advantages of accounting apprentices: she was previously one herself. In 2008, Danielle gingerly stepped into Azets’ Coventry office as a 16-year-old apprentice, having already decided not to study A-Levels.
“It was a shock; I’d gone from pocket money to earning a £7,500 salary,” she remembers. Within two years Danielle had moved out of her parent's house, having bought her own home. Career wise, her progression was just as rapid. As Azets grew I grew with it, going from an office junior, to being a partner of a large office and managing my own client bank and bringing in new apprentices,” she says. Part of Danielle’s wide-ranging remit today includes managing several of the Coventry office’s 25 apprentices (the office takes on three-four apprentices every year).
The new apprentices at Azets are typically school-leavers, starting at AAT Level 2 and reaching Level 4 after 18 months. During this time they’ll get exposure to Azets’ clients, plus learn about tax returns, VAT and corporate tax. After that they can progress to Level 7 through ACA. However, the primary goal for Azets, just like many other firms offering apprenticeships, is for the apprentices to join the firm as accountants one day.
“Our intention is for the apprentices to be our employees; they’re not just there for the term of their apprenticeship, and that’s it. 1/3 of our roles are filled with internal promotions,” says Danielle, who notes most of the trainees remain with the firm.
Helping apprentices realise their full potential may require some inspirational management. Having role models within the firm who they aspire to be like – is invaluable. says Danielle.
We provide apprentices with regular support by offering constant feedback and refreshing their continuing professional development (CPD).
“Sometimes apprentices don’t see their progression because they’re just doing their job,” says Danielle. “It’s only when you sit apprentices down and say, ‘Last month when you started this job, you couldn’t do this task but now you’re helping others on it’, that it makes sense and they get a confidence boost.”
“Because we view our apprentices as future leaders, I want to be involved with them on a day-to-day basis and ensure they’re on the right path,” says Danielle. “It’s worth it: if you invest the time, they’ll support you for as long as their career continues.”