National Apprenticeship Week

17 January 2024

During National Apprenticeship Week we shine a spotlight on Emily Neale, one of our most successful apprentices. We also catch up with trailblazer Dan Woodcock to find out how his Solicitor Apprenticeship is going.

Emily Neale, Trainee Accountant, Finance 

Tell us about your apprenticeship journey at Higgs so far

I joined Higgs in 2017 as an Office Assistant before moving to the finance team in 2019 when I began an AAT Assistant Accountant Apprenticeship with Dudley College. This was a Level 3 apprenticeship which is equivalent to two A-Levels. I then moved to an online only Level 4 AAT Professional Accounting Apprenticeship, which I completed in 2023 and meant I had reached the equivalent of the first year of an undergraduate degree. I am currently doing a Level 7 ACCA Accountancy Professional Apprenticeship that I am due to finish in early 2026. Once completed, I will be qualified at a postgraduate level as an Accountant. I’m pleased to say I have passed my first ACCA exam.

What are the main benefits of an apprenticeship?

I’m passionate about apprenticeships and think they are a great way to both learn and gain experience. Two advantages are that I haven’t incurred any debt and have one full day per week to solely focus on my studies. I’m able to put my learning into practice almost immediately by learning about a task on my study day and finding out how we do it here at Higgs the following day. This benefits the wider team as I’m able to take on the responsibility for more tasks, which frees up colleagues’ time to focus elsewhere. Sitting in the firm’s finance board meetings has been a crucial part in allowing me to relate my learning to the context of the wider firm, for example understanding the implications of implementing a new system. 

I feel very lucky with the amount of support Higgs have provided throughout my career so far as well as the investment of time from the finance team. An apprenticeship requires a large investment of time by the apprentice, their colleagues and the firm but is beneficial in the long term and allows knowledge to be exchanged.

Having three different apprenticeship providers has given me three very different learning experiences. During my first apprenticeship, I enjoyed the in-person lessons with teacher support where required. In contrast, my second apprenticeship was online and encouraged me to work more independently – this gave me the confidence to step up to a Level 7 qualification that is also online.

Are there any downsides?

It can be tough juggling both work and study, particularly in the lead up to an exam. Studying is time consuming and will require additional time on top of the weekly study day. However, the outcome is always worthwhile!

It’s important to remain organised throughout an apprenticeship as well as being strict with timeframes to ensure you are well prepared for exams and have completed the portfolio showcasing the skills and behaviours developed.

What do you think makes a suitable apprentice?

Apprenticeships can suit different learning styles because you can choose how to learn based on what suits you best. For example, you can go at your own pace by dipping in and out of recorded materials or you can attend online/in-person live lectures. It is also nice to have the flexibility and choice to sit exams either in-person or online.

An apprenticeship requires focus, organisation and an acknowledgement of the study time commitment. It’s equally as important to be motivated towards the studies and be willing to challenge yourself by taking on more responsibility in order to develop.

Would you recommend doing an apprenticeship to others?

An apprenticeship is a great way to get your career kickstarted if you are set on a particular path, especially if going to university isn’t for you. There are so many apprenticeships offered in different fields that provide an alternative to university and the stigma around apprenticeships being an ‘easy option’ has gone.

As well as gaining professional qualifications, learning through apprenticeships has enabled me to develop so many skills that I will use day-to-day going forward. The 18 months as an Office Assistant, at the beginning of my career, provided me with an excellent foundation and mindset to start studying.

Dan Woodcock, Solicitor Apprentice, Private Client

How is your Solicitor Apprenticeship going?

I’ve really enjoyed my apprenticeship so far. I have just finished my first year which was made up of three semesters, the most recent being contract law. During each semester I have reading to complete, then I take a mock exam and a full assessment at the end (with multiple choice and essay questions). I am also set skills-based tasks by my tutor on a regular basis and the University puts on skills days for us. 

I’m looking forward to another year with the Charity team, and then if possible, I would love to rotate to other departments so that I can get to know different people, teams and ways of working to build on my experience.  

How has being an apprentice helped you so far?

I think the opportunities that apprenticeships offer are incredible, including the security that I don’t have to worry about student debt. The structured approach to study is beneficial for me and my team.  

My team have been so supportive of my journey so far. My apprenticeship tutor is amazing and there for me any time I need help and support. She is always looking to the future and helping me prepare for that now, for example looking at how to build a portfolio and understand the solicitor competencies.  My recent study of contract law has given me greater insight into the work my team does, for example leases of properties that charities hold and how these contracts operate between the charity and the landlord.

What are the day-to-day realities of being an apprentice?

I watch the study materials by myself and there isn’t too much time spent interacting with others apart from the skills days, so although I like working this way I can imagine that some may feel a little challenged by it. 

I have a set study day that works best for my team. I will do as much as I can on this study day but there may be occasions that I don’t complete all the work and need to put in some extra hours. But I don’t mind this at all because I know it will give me the right knowledge, skills and experience and in the long-term it will all be worth it!

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