Worcestershire County Council
Testimonial from Head of Finance and Deputy Chief Finance Officer at Worcestershire County Council - Stephanie Simcox
What made you take on an apprentice?
We are changing the way we work at Worcestershire, with the service undergoing a full review of how we act as one team in order to build the best council finance service we can. We wanted to continue with our plan to develop our finance function to ensure we have succession planning for existing staff, to bring new ideas and energy into the business and to offer a number of people the opportunity to learn whilst they work.
We had this plan pre-pandemic and was delayed for a couple of months at the beginning of lockdown, but we agreed that we needed to offer these posts at a time when the labour market was difficult for those living in and around Worcestershire as well as more widely. We felt that it was likely that the working patterns were likely to remain the way they are during the medium term so if we didn’t do it now then we would potentially lose a year of our development plan.
We reviewed the gaps across the finance team relating to qualification level, succession planning and future proofing the finance service. We have a number of people who are already studying via the apprentice route for AAT Level 4 and for CIPFA but we didn’t have any existing members of staff starting their financial training career at the Level 2 and 3 stages of AAT. We discussed this with our partners at HoW College who confirmed that there were a number of students in their college who were looking for careers in finance at this level and we also undertook visits to sixth form colleges and schools across the county. This assured us that we would have interest in these roles.
What can you offer an apprentice at your organisation?
We offered 10 apprentice posts on a comparable salary to our existing finance assistants which was more than the national minimum for apprentices and a flexible working offer rather than just 9–5 in an office. We offer an excellent career average pension scheme, paid annual leave, study leave to attend college and to take exams and prepare for them, as well on the job training and development. Each apprentice has another apprentice as a “buddy” and a senior manager as a mentor to support their development. They have weekly apprentice meetings where they take turns to chair meetings to give them experience of managing meetings and an opportunity to share ideas, experiences and ask questions of a senior manager who also attends to support them. They have a two year contract with Worcestershire County Council Finance, during which they get experience in four different teams to widen their knowledge and which offers them an enhanced CV.
They work in the areas of financial transactions including paying invoices and collecting debt; pensions and treasury management where they learn about interest rates and borrowing and lending money; central accountancy which includes the year end accounts and setting the council budget; service finance where they get involved in change projects and work with all areas of the wider council services; and audit and fraud where they get chance to look at the council’s systems and controls. They also work with schools finance where they get to work with schools and early years providers on budgeting in the education sector, as well as working with our wholly owned Children’s company dealing with private sector accounting and how this differs from the public sector.
Once they have completed their apprenticeship they will have the demonstrable experience to apply for finance posts not only in the council but within our partner District Councils and other public sector organisations. The County Council finance team has more than 130 members of staff and therefore the opportunities for promotion and securing permanent work is substantial. Once in a permanent role they will be offered further opportunities to study for final level AAT exams and then other qualifications such as CIPFA, Institute of Internal Audit, Business Administration qualifications, Project Management and other qualifications relevant to their particular role.
Would you consider having future apprentices?
We would certainly be looking for apprentices again in the future – probably in 2022 once the current cohort of 10 have progressed through their studying. We may also look at apprentices in the future for Level 7.
Would you recommend an apprentice to other organisations? If so why?
I would absolutely recommend apprentices to other organisations. Support is available through the training route and also financial assistance with their training costs, but above all it allows the organisation to grow and develop and harness talent who may ultimately be the Finance Director of the organisation of the future.
What advice would you give to students looking to become apprentices?
Research the organisations you are looking to apply for, see what their career opportunities are and talk to staff who already work there as well as the managers. Get a feel for the organisation and see if you believe you would be happy there.