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Holland and Barrett

Author: ICAEW

Published: 26 Jul 2019

Authorised Training Employer, Holland & Barrett, uses ACA training to create adaptable professionals, develop technical knowledge and recruit and retain top talent.

Company profile 

Holland & Barrett is one of the leading health and wellness retailers in the world, with 8,000 employees and 1,300 stores in the UK and internationally. Boasting 40 years of consecutive growth, the organisation is the largest in Europe, supplying a wide range of vitamins, minerals, health supplements, specialist foods and natural beauty products.

Best known for its innovative, ethically-sourced products and its commitment to sustainability, Holland & Barrett takes corporate social responsibility seriously. This includes providing stakeholders with reliable and transparent business information - which is why, in 2018, the company turned its focus to its financial reporting department. By investing in ACA training, the organisation filled its shortage of financial accounting skills and is building a team of people who challenge processes and introduce new ways of thinking. 

Recognising a gap in financial reporting skills within the business, Katie Lee, Senior Financial Reporting Manager, believed that training staff internally would help resolve this, whilst creating a career development path for employees. Katie chose the ACA because of its reputation as a qualification that develops well-rounded professionals, as well as providing trainees with chartered accountant status. 

Gaining authorised training employer status

Becoming authorised to train was an easy, straight-forward process. After contacting ICAEW, a local Business Development Manager visited Holland & Barrett’s offices to go through the requirements with them. Katie explained: "Allison Saunders, the regional BD manager, gave us useful background information on the ACA. We talked about what we were trying to achieve as an employer, what the student wanted and how we could fit the qualification into our organisation."

Once the company had a solid understanding of how the ACA would work with their goals, a second visit followed. Katie commented: "It was an informal conversation, but it helped us demonstrate how we are ethical in our business and how we take training seriously by outlining the trainees’ journey towards becoming qualified."

The organisation immediately recruited two graduates – one in Management Reporting, and the other in Sales and Banking. 

Helping students achieve their potential

In her role as ACA Training Manager, Katie supports students with their exams and career goals. At the start of their training, she has conversations with them about what their interests are, what they want to achieve and what they hope to get out of the qualification. This approach helps Katie understand what professional development and subsequent training is suitable for them.

As students progress, the organisation encourages them to look for learning opportunities outside of their department to ensure that they gain a varied and rounded experience on top of their exams. For Sally Hernon, one of the two trainees, having the opportunity to work with other teams has contributed to her development. "I am open to learning more about what everyone else is doing and to see if I can pick up any ideas from them that would be helpful for my own work."

In terms of supporting trainees, Katie commented: "All students have compulsory quarterly catch-up meetings with their mentors. During these reviews, we discuss what exams they have coming up, look at the practical ladders and what experience they have gained. We ensure we cover the ethical parts as well by identifying any issues, and encourage trainees to speak to an independent adviser, if necessary."

For Katie, the success of the training also depends on the dedication of the students. "It’s important that they take responsibility for their own studies, keep focused and stay committed to their career and study plan."

Beyond technical knowledge

Some of the most useful exams cover topics such as taxation, financial and management reporting, and assurance. The reporting knowledge enables trainees to produce a set of statutory accounts, and the exams provide them with the opportunity to see a side of accounting that they would not necessarily have seen outside of the qualification.

For the trainees, developing these technical skills, especially in assurance, has led to a deeper understanding of their work. Thanks to the depth and breadth of ACA training, they know how to get to the bottom of any issues that arise, and identify what they need to do to correct them. 

Whilst the main reason for offering ACA training was to bring more financial reporting skills and technical knowledge into the organisation, the qualification has had a larger impact on the trainees’ development, and the business overall. As Katie explained: "The ACA helps trainees develop a range of soft skills – especially the way they communicate with stakeholders, their team and with management. This, in turn, ensures they get to the root of the problem by asking the right questions, the right way."

Introducing new ways of thinking

The technical side of the qualification provides the organisation with more staff that possess the right level of technical knowledge. It also provides the trainees with the confidence to know the right way of doing things and when it’s appropriate to question existing processes. This allows them to critically assess their own work and have the conversations that really help the business.

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