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Author: ICAEW

Published: 29 Jun 2023

Recruiting and training ACA apprentices is a new venture for industry leader apetito – but one that’s proving highly valuable.

For market-leading food producer apetito, it was the launch of the UK government’s apprenticeship levy in 2017 that inspired a new line in training ACA apprentices. Founded in Trowbridge in 1928, family-owned business Waldens Wiltshire Food was acquired by the German group apetito in the mid-1990s. Both companies were frozen ‘meals on wheels’ pioneers, and today apetito serves two distinct markets: direct to consumers under the well-known Wiltshire Farm Foods brand; and a B2B business provides complete catering solutions for hospitals, care homes, nurseries and schools.

The site in Trowbridge is home to a finance team of around 40 people. Senior Commercial Finance Manager and Qualified Person Responsible for Training Andy Marshall has been with the company since 2009 – around the same time that apetito became an ICAEW Authorised Training Employer. “Someone came to us from a large accountancy firm and wanted to continue their studies, so we signed up to be an accredited training provider at that point,” he explains. Over the next decade, one or two others qualified in the same way, but there was no official ACA training programme for finance recruits until 2019.

The apprenticeship gave us a different avenue to recruit and develop highly skilled people. Particularly in finance, it can sometimes be challenging to attract the right kind of talent to somewhere less central like Trowbridge, so it’s given us another route.

Andy Marshall, Senior Commercial Finance Manager and Qualified Person Responsible for Training

All large employers with a wage bill of more than £3m must contribute to the apprenticeship levy, regardless of whether they use the funding or not – so it made sense for apetito to use the opportunity to invest in its people. “We already had a well-established graduate scheme, but early on in the levy coming into play there was definitely a desire business-wide to use the apprenticeship and take advantage of the benefits it would bring,” Andy explains. “The apprenticeship gave us a different avenue to recruit and develop highly skilled people. It was something we hadn’t considered before,” he says. “Particularly in finance, it can sometimes be challenging to attract the right kind of talent to somewhere less central like Trowbridge, so it’s given us another route.”

They planned to recruit one finance apprentice, and ended up taking on two: Fabian Hanslik, who recently qualified as an ICAEW Chartered Accountant at the age of just 20; and another, Ben Reeves, who is partway through his ACA training. Fabian completed a BTEC in business and AAT Level 3 before joining apetito in September 2019. “I’ve always been interested in finance – I would get involved in household budgets when I was young, and I volunteered as a finance administrator – but studying for the AAT qualification inspired me to become an accountant,” he says. “The ACA was definitely on my bucket list, but I didn’t expect to be able to do it right after finishing college.”

Fabian was open to opportunities in industry or practice, and was attracted by apetito’s history and reputation. “It’s very established and prestigious in the region,” he explains. “It’s also a very sustainable and ethical company, which of course makes it a good place to work.” With no previous experience in training apprentices, “We’ve adapted as we’ve gone along,” Andy says. “Initially we wanted to get Fabian and Ben experienced in various aspects of the finance function, to spend a few weeks or months in different areas before focusing in on one team and role.”

Now settled into his role as a financial accountant, Fabian completed his final ACA exam in November 2022. Due to Covid, almost all his tuition was online, something he says worked well for him. “I enjoyed the flexibility of doing online rather than physical courses. You don’t have to worry about catching trains or travelling to college for tuition, you can simply study from home.” He is making use of post-pandemic workplace flexibility too, with the opportunity to work from home a day or two a week. “The option to work from home and the office allows me to balance the cost of travelling with the benefits of maintaining contact with colleagues in the office.”

The breadth and depth of the ACA qualification has proved the perfect foundation for Fabian’s day-to-day role. “Working in financial accounts, I’m largely responsible for statutory compliance, things like preparation of financial statements, as well as taxation,” he explains. “It’s also useful having access to all the ICAEW resources, such as webinars and the library. It’s a really solid source of knowledge that I can always refer to and refresh my memory.”

There are clear benefits for apetito, too, having the highly skilled professionals the ACA creates within the team. “That different entry point and skillset complements the organisation,” Andy says. “I did my ACA many years ago, and I’ve moved around between different financial control and commercially focused roles. We like having variety within the business, and the different experience and angles the various professional qualifications bring. And obviously from a financial accounts point of view, it plays to the ACA’s key strengths in terms of reporting, tax, compliance controls and audit.” The qualification also develops key management accounting and data analytics skills, along with the expertise to influence an organisation’s sustainability goals – something that is a priority for apetito.

The ACA training offers more than just technical knowledge, though. “I believe I improved my soft skills,” says Fabian. “The biggest thing for me was confidence: I’m more willing to talk in public and more confident giving presentations.” Balancing work and studying over the past three years has also put his organisational and time management skills to the test. “It definitely wasn’t easy, but I like challenges, so I enjoyed juggling those two responsibilities,” he says.

When it comes to managing the apprenticeship, the work/study balance has been a learning curve for the business, too, admits Andy. “It was challenging when Fabian was at the peak of his studies – and rightly needing to be focusing on that – and it coincided with month ends and those sorts of financial pinch points,” he explains. Despite the challenges, though, training more ACA apprentices in the future is something he is open to: “There are clear advantages in terms of the training and support and development, as well as using the levy.”

Training ACA apprentices may have started as a financial decision, but for apetito it is delivering value in numerous ways – from attracting the right calibre of people, to creating well-rounded professionals that are an asset to the business.

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