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In many jurisdictions, the accountancy profession faces talent-sourcing challenges. The challenges are caused by various issues including societal shifts such as shrinking workforces and competition from other professional and career pathways that might be perceived as rewarding and relevant to the talent needs of organizations.
The result is an inadequate supply of professional accountants with the skills required to fulfill finance and accounting needs in business and the public sector and an inability to enable sustainability and digital transitions (see Professional Accountants as Business Leaders and Value Partners).
Professional apprenticeship programs are an opportunity to widen access into the profession. They have been gaining momentum in various countries to address the skills gap in an ever-tightening labor market in which available workers are often lacking the right skills to fill vacancies. An apprenticeship serves as an alternate pathway into a role that normally requires a specific degree or professional experience by providing motivated, high-potential individuals with the required training, professional skills development and experiential learning.
Apprenticeships can provide school leavers or graduates with an “earn while you learn” pathway to acquiring a professional accountancy qualification, attracting people who wouldn’t otherwise become a professional accountant through the more traditional route. They are also an opportunity to help individuals reskill or make a mid-career switch and provide those in finance functions who are not members of the profession an opportunity to develop their skills to become strategic business partners and value enablers.
At its March 2023 meeting, IFAC’s Professional Accountants in Business (PAIB) Advisory Group considered accountancy apprenticeship schemes in business and the public sector as a way for the profession to think differently about how to expand its membership and respond to the talent management needs of companies, and people who want to increasingly learn in vocational settings.
To respond to the talent crunch, the group discussed lessons learned from jurisdictions or professional accountancy organizations (PAOs) with apprenticeship schemes and identified these factors were key to establishing and maintaining an effective apprenticeship model:
- A clear value proposition supported by a branding and marketing campaign that outlines the benefits of an apprenticeship as a viable and recognized training and career pathway into the accountancy profession. This needs to be well communicated and targeted at:
- Individuals seeking higher education and considering career options.
- Those advising potential candidates, including parents, as well as counselors and careers advisors working in schools, universities and colleges.
- Potential sponsoring employer organizations.
- Government engagement and support, including:
- Funding and national policies and programs that incentivize organizations to participate in apprenticeship schemes.
- Collaboration, for example, AICPA-CIMA worked with the US Department of Labor to establish the Professional Apprenticeship for Finance Business Partners.
- Strong partnership between PAOs and employers to ensure:
- A well-designed program in terms of content and a delivery platform.
- Industry-driven competency identification tailored as much as possible to business demands and expectations of the roles of finance and accounting professionals with a curriculum that best meets their needs.
- The apprenticeship scheme is part of an enterprise talent strategy, offering clear opportunities for progression within organizations.
- The program is flexible and responsive to accommodate evolving market needs, including related to areas such as environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues and data governance and analytics.
- Incorporation of different learning styles, for example:
- Self-paced learning with a combination of program and guidance.
- Peer to peer learning.
- Core technical training provided by PAOs to students before their job placement.
- Hybrid and virtual options to increase accessibility to programs.
- Exploring ways to leverage technology to improve training. For example, an intensive course on commonly used finance software.
- Effective PAO oversight and support, including:
- A designated contact and supervisory resource at the PAO.
- Active monitoring and quality control by the PAO, including an accreditation process for employers and periodic reviews at intervals during the program.
- Establishing certain minimum requirements such as mandatory rotation of the apprentice to work in different areas to gain wide exposure to the business and broader practical experience.
- Networking opportunities and direct PAO support to apprentices.
- Continuous feedback, both from students and employers. For example, hosting roundtables to capture feedback on enhancing the program.
Some PAOs are also offering accounting technician programs as an opportunity for people to learn the foundations of accountancy and meet the demand of organizations for accountancy skills. Such programs also open up access to the profession and can be successful if certain conditions are met such as clearly positioning accounting technician qualification relative to other accountancy qualifications and certifications. IFAC has launched an initiative highlighting the value of accounting technicians as a means of enhancing access to the profession and attracting more individuals to pursue careers in professional accountancy.
There are a number of different pathways needed to attract and retain talent in the accountancy profession to meet the increasing market demand for finance and accounting professionals. An apprenticeship approach is a practical way that can offer huge opportunities for PAOs, employers and individuals.