ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

Are apprentices the answer to the talent question?

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 02 Feb 2024

Apprenticeships offer employers a cost-effective way to upskill employees, improve staff retention rates and boost diversity. As National Apprenticeship Week begins, find out more about ICAEW’s apprenticeships, what’s involved and the funding options available.

According to research from the National Apprenticeships Service, employing apprentices can do more than address skills gaps – many organisations reported increased productivity and service quality, as well as improved staff morale and retention. 

For businesses and accountancy practices wanting to offer apprenticeships in accountancy, ICAEW has created two programmes, which are available in England: 

The Level 4 apprenticeships is an entry-level programme, equivalent to the first year of a bachelor’s degree. The programme typically takes 18-24 months and upon completion the apprentice holds ICAEW’s Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business.

The Level 7 apprenticeship is equivalent to a master’s degree, taking around 36-48 months to complete, with trainees gaining the full ACA qualification.

Employers interested in offering ICAEW apprenticeships first need to become an ICAEW Authorised Training Employer. The next step is to select a tuition provider to work with, who will help to design a programme of training that meets the needs of the organisation and the off-the-job training requirements. 

Off-the-job training doesn’t necessarily mean ‘outside the workplace’, just that the work is not part of the apprenticeship’s normal duties. This can include online learning and practical training, learning new systems, shadowing or studying for the ACA.

For the Level 7 qualification, employers also need to be able to provide relevant work experience. This does not have to include audit experience, but should cover at least one of the following: accounting, audit and assurance, tax, financial management, insolvency, or information technology. 

Who can become an apprentice?

One common misconception about apprenticeships is that they are only available to school-leavers. While employers can find that working with local schools can provide a useful talent pipeline, the reality is that anyone over the age of 16 can undertake an apprenticeship.

Often existing employees make up a significant proportion of trainees and can help support retention while ensuring the development of skills important to the organisation.

Similarly, there may be confusion over what qualifications are necessary for an apprenticeship. The only formal qualifications needed prior to the final assessment are Level 2 qualifications (GCSE pass) in Maths and English. However, ICAEW suggests that the Level 7 apprenticeship is best suited to those who have achieved A-levels or a Level 4 qualification previously.

Funding options

Large organisations with annual wage bills of more than £3m will be paying the apprenticeship levy and can access support accordingly, but smaller employers often don’t realise that they are also entitled to financial support. 

Organisations that do not pay the apprenticeship levy can access funding via a government-employer co-investment. In these instances, employers make a 5% contribution and the government pays the remaining 95% up to the funding cap.

This means up to £7,600 of government funding for a Level 4 apprenticeship and £19,950 for a Level 7 apprenticeship. 

Additional funding may also be available depending on individual circumstances of the apprentices and the organisation. 

More support from ICAEW

For organisations considering offering finance apprenticeships, ICAEW has published a range of useful information alongside the details of our own training programmes.

Together with an explanation of the funding options available and a step-by-step guide on setting up an apprenticeship, we’ve got top tips on how to recruit apprentices and build relationships with local schools and colleges.

We’ve busted key myths about offering the Level 7 apprenticeship, including the idea that offering an apprenticeship causes extra work for trainees and doesn’t offer flexibility for employers, particularly those in industry.

Finally, you can read more about the reality of offering apprenticeships with case studies from Bupa and Foxley Kingham Chartered Accountants.

Case study: Bupa

International healthcare provider Bupa takes on several Level 7 apprenticeships via placements each year. The programme has been designed to give apprentices a broad and varied introduction to the business. 

Graduates rotate on an annual basis, often spending a year in internal audit or risk, or outside head office in the wider UK business, to give them a different experience from the pure finance teams.

Kate Sweetland, Senior Manager, Early Careers and Capability at Bupa, works closely with the finance teams to minimise disruption when apprentices need to be out of the office on study leave or sitting exams. 

“We’ve been doing this for five years now, so our managers know to expect our grads to be out for chunks of time,” she explains. “We try to time it as well as we can – making decisions on exactly when they sit their Certificate and Professional Level exams, for example.”

Read more

You may also be interested in

ICAEW apprenticeships
Man in a dark suit
Grow your own talent with ICAEW apprenticeships

Solve your organisations’ recruitment, retention and succession planning challenges with ICAEW apprenticeships.

Find out more
ACA for employers
Group of people looking up at the camera
Train the next generation, train the next you

Train the next generation of ICAEW Chartered Accountants. Train the next you. Become an Authorised Training Employer today.

Find out more
Choose your career
 Work meeting in an office
Why be a chartered accountant

Chartered accountants don't just spend their lives confined to their desks. They sit on the boards of multinational companies, advise governments and support charities and businesses.

Find your route