Foxley Kingham has been successfully training ICAEW Chartered Accountants for more than 20 years. Founded by two friends in 1968, the Luton-based practice now employs almost 80 staff, serving 1,000-plus clients across Bedfordshire and the South East.
Since joining the firm in 2008, Crystal Boston, now one of six directors, has been involved in the annual recruitment programme. “Over that time, the process has evolved as the qualification has evolved,” she says. “It’s had a very good success rate. Around 80% of the people we’ve taken on and trained in the past 15 years are still with us, and a number of them now sit on the management team.”
The firm recruits between two and four ICAEW Level 7 Accountancy Professional apprentices each year, typically school leavers, in a structured programme that has been refined over time. “We always strive to get them to qualification from school,” Crystal explains. “We don’t take people on just to fill a gap – when we recruit, we look for individuals we think can go all the way to become a fully qualified chartered accountant.”
Though they have employed graduate trainees in the past, experience has shown that A level school leavers make the best apprentices. “Accountancy is like driving: you can learn all the theory, but until you’re actually sitting in the car, you can’t do it,” Crystal says. “We like to take on individuals who are ambitious, who want to strive in something professional. We put them through a very thorough, structured programme that we’ve developed over the years, and we’ve found it works very well.”
Bradley Cox joined Foxley Kingham in 2015, and qualified as an ICAEW Chartered Accountant last year. For him, the opportunity to train with a local firm straight from school really appealed. “I looked at some of the big London firms, but I didn’t feel they were the right fit for me,” he explains. “I’ve lived in Luton my whole life, and the culture at Foxley Kingham seemed nice. The apprenticeship route has been better for me – if I’d done a degree, I think I would be a few years behind where I am now.”
Training with Foxley Kingham typically takes between five and seven years. New recruits complete a first year of AAT Level 3 before moving on to the ICAEW Level 4 Accounting Technician Apprenticeship, which combines work experience with the ICAEW Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (ICAEW CFAB), followed by the ACA Professional and Advanced Levels. “There are clear, distinct sections,” Crystal explains. “The first year enables the apprentices to get a feel for it and see if it’s what they really want to do – and us to get a feel for how they work. Then we move them onto the next qualification, the Level 4 apprenticeship, with work suited to that level, before putting them up through the next key stages of the ACA qualification via the Level 7 apprenticeship.”
“The apprenticeship allows that time to develop the skills we need in our organisation – logic, problem solving and a lot of interpersonal skills”
The Level 7 apprenticeship provides the perfect grounding, she believes, particularly for the spectrum of work required in a firm with a range of clients from individuals right up to large audit businesses. “When we hire trainees, we want them to become part of the furniture. The apprenticeship allows that time to develop the skills we need in our organisation – logic, problem solving and a lot of interpersonal skills,” she says. The ACA was a clear choice over other accountancy qualifications. “We believe the institute is very prestigious. It offers a higher standard of qualification, and of ethics training. We pride ourselves in the work we do, so we want to be aligned with that reputation.”
As a result, the firm has chosen to focus solely on the ACA. From a practical point of view, this also helps ensure a continuity of training, especially with just a handful of apprentices taken on each year. “We have someone training at every level, so there’s always someone above you to help you and someone below you to be helping,” Crystal explains. Bradley agrees: “When I joined, there were people above me I could go to if I needed help,” he says. “Now I’m qualified, I can help the trainees, whether it’s questions about work or study.” Even the layout of the office is planned to facilitate this culture of learning and support, with trainees, semi seniors, seniors and managers all sitting together.
Current and former apprentices play a key role in recruitment at Foxley Kingham, offering prospective trainees the insight and experience of those closer to their own age. Rather than waiting for new recruits to find them, the firm actively sources students by engaging with a network of local schools, giving talks, attending careers events and hosting mock interviews. “People aren’t just looking in the paper for an advert anymore – you need to stay relevant and you need to stay visible,” Crystal says. “That constant awareness of where people are looking and what people want is really important. We’re always evolving the process to ensure we get the best possible candidates coming through.”
In recent years, that has involved talking to students earlier, in Year 10 or 11, to build knowledge – and debunk myths – about the profession. By the start of Year 13, the recruitment drive is in full swing, with applications opening up for the following September intake. Interviews are happening earlier too, with new recruits often confirmed six months or more before they join. “We don’t hard sell ourselves,” Crystal says. “We talk about accountancy and the apprenticeship route, and what training with ICAEW can mean for that individual. Very little is actually focused on us as a firm. We find that’s much more impactful.”
I’ve been here for eight years now, and it’s always been a good place to work. I’ve gained so much in terms of knowledge, skills and confidence. People have invested so much in me, and I hope I give it back.
Foxley Kingham’s investment in finding and training the right apprentices is reciprocated in staff loyalty – turnover is low, and morale high. “I’ve been here for eight years now, and it’s always been a good place to work," says Bradley. "I’ve gained so much in terms of knowledge, skills and confidence. People have invested so much in me, and I hope I give it back. I've got no reason to leave anytime soon."
This loyalty directly benefits the firm’s clients, and keeps them coming back. “The clients stay because we stay,” Crystal says. “However much people believe accountancy is about numbers, really what you’re dealing with is people’s lives. We work with clients whose business is their livelihood. And to understand that and be able to connect with them means that you build trust, and can provide them with the advice they need – and then they come to you.”
For Foxley Kingham, the Level 7 apprenticeship offers a strong, structured foundation in all aspects of accountancy – but one that is still flexible enough to create a training programme that’s right for the firm and its clients. “We really believe that in order to do accountancy you need that grounding – but it’s not a rubber stamp approach,” Crystal says. “The ICAEW apprenticeship has been the right thing for our staff and our clients. It’s the best of the bunch."
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