With advances in technology, all job roles are changing. And this is especially true for the accountancy sector where increased automation of basic accounting activities has led to a significant shift in the skillset required by junior accountants.
In the past, strong mathematical ability was seen as an essential requirement for aspiring accountants. Even now, when we are giving information, advice and guidance to people looking to start a career in accountancy, it is very common for individuals to state that it is their love of, or ability in, maths that has led them to want to pursue this industry.
But in a workforce survey of employers, the largest skills gap identified by accounting firms was actually customer service. Even junior accountants need to be able to liaise with clients and communicate effectively, particularly now that much of the basic mathematical and book-keeping elements they would have undertaken in the past are automated through various software platforms. Accountancy firms recognise the value in this type of ‘soft skill’ but are not necessarily able to attract candidates who are highly developed in this area.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are desirable qualities or non-technical skills that improve productivity, efficiency and communication in the workplace. They include problem-solving, team work, time management, leadership, and communication skills, amongst many others.
In a report by McKinsey Global Institute, they stated:
“Workers of the future will spend more time on activities that machines are less capable of, such as managing people, applying expertise, and communicating with others. They will spend less time on predictable physical activities and on collecting and processing data, where machines already exceed human performance. The skills and capabilities required will also shift, requiring more social and emotional skills and more advanced cognitive capabilities, such as logical reasoning and creativity.”
Soft skills cannot be taught in a traditional classroom setting, but this doesn’t mean that individuals, including junior accountants, cannot be support and enabled to develop these skills.
How can you develop your junior accountant’s soft skills?
Soft skills are developed through experience and in many cases junior accountants will gradually develop customer service and other soft skills over a period of time. But there is a way to accelerate this development within a structured framework – with accounting apprenticeships.
Apprenticeships in accounting provide not just AAT knowledge, but the training and support to develop the skills and behaviours needed in this industry, now and into the future. Throughout the apprenticeship, the apprentice is able to focus on the soft skills that accounting employers have identified as essential, to actively seek out experiences which will enhance this skillset, and to reflect on these experiences and what they have learnt which can then be applied in future scenarios.
In addition, whilst soft skills are often seen as largely intangible, here at Damar we have developed our Profiler tool, which the employer, apprentice and coach use to map where the apprentice is against the required skills and behaviours at review meetings at the start of the apprenticeship, and throughout. This allows both the apprentice and the line manager to tangibly measure soft skill development and identify areas for further improvement.
Are there other advantages?
There are many other advantages to using apprenticeship training within accounting teams:
- Productivity: The productivity gain of a trained apprentice is £10,000pa and £1,670pa whilst the apprentice is in training (Centre for Economic Research).
- Quality: 75% of employers engaged with apprenticeship training report benefiting from ‘better quality of products or services’ (DfE).
- Retention: On average, apprentices remain with their organisation longer than graduate recruits, giving longer ROI.
- Recruitment: The average apprentice costs £2,305 to hire, which is £2,400 cheaper than the average graduate hire (Institute of Student Employers).
If you are looking to develop your accountancy team, by taking on a new recruit or developing the skills of current employees, please get in touch. We would be delighted to talk to you about how our apprenticeships can help develop your junior accountant’s skills, behaviours and knowledge to increase your team’s customer service levels, productivity, quality and retention.