Founded in 2008 as a start-up accountancy practice, Blu Sky now has 400 clients across the UK, with a total number of 23 staff members at its North Shields head office. A winner of multiple awards, including Independent Firm of the Year at the North East Accountancy Awards, the firm specialises in the SME marketplace, with the majority of its clients being tech and digital services businesses.
As a small practice firm with a wide range of clients, every staff member at Blu Sky is fundamental to its success. By training employees on the ACA through the Level 7 Apprenticeship, the firm is developing accountancy professionals whose innovative thinking and commercial skills consistently add value to clients’ businesses.
Apprenticeship training opens up opportunities
Blu Sky works with a variety of clients, ranging from tech start-ups and digital services specialists to more traditional businesses. What they all have in common is their ambition to grow and their commitment to innovation – values that Blu Sky identifies with. Jon Dudgeon, co-founder of Blu-Sky, believes that the best way to grow the business and develop staff is through training. However, being a small firm, the company struggled with finding the balance between studying and working and therefore had to put off its plans for internal training.
The launch of the Level 7 Accountancy Professional Apprenticeship removed this obstacle. Access to government funding allowed the firm to support its students and having some of the fees covered made up for the lost time in working hours. This, combined with a real interest from staff to train on the ACA, led to the firm recruiting four trainees – twice as many as they had anticipated before the apprenticeship.
Jon led on the process of becoming authorised to offer ACA training. He commented: "Lorna Hansell, the regional ICAEW Business Development Manager, was very supportive and she helped us set everything up. She kept in touch throughout the process and ICAEW representatives came to our office to talk to us and our students."
Investing in people through the ACA
The firm relies on its people to deliver excellent services, so it’s essential that each staff member fits into Blu Sky’s vision, and are rewarded for their contribution. This is why the firm chooses to promote internally and provide employees with training that will help them grow into more senior roles.
In terms of incorporating ACA training into the firm, Jon commented: "If someone who has joined the firm as a support accountant shows a good sense of commerciality in the first 18 months, they are promoted to accountant-level and receive ACA training. As this is a big investment for both the firm and the individual, the trainee spends six months in their new role before starting their ACA exams – this ensures they are at the right level in terms of their experience and their ability to balance work and studying."
Beyond technical expertise
The breadth of the ACA exams ensures that trainees look at all aspects of the business. Those exams that are more commercially focused, such as Business Strategy, have been the most relevant to the trainees’ work and to the firm’s business objectives.
While the content of the exams adds to the trainees’ technical knowledge, it’s the overall emphasis on skills development that has made a difference to the way trainees deal with their work and with their clients.
Success through technology and professional scepticism
As a cloud-based firm, where everything is app or browser-based, Blu Sky strongly relies on technology, so staff need to know how to use it confidently and sensibly. From dealing with business plans, client data and other confidential information online, to the way they represent the firm on social media, Blu Sky employees need to have a strong understanding of ethics – something they develop through the ACA.
The ACA encourages trainees to not just know how to do the job, but to find ways to do it faster and better, adding value to the firm simultaneously by being innovative and challenging processes.
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