When it comes to developing people, BDO LLP has certainly nailed its colours to the mast. Five years ago, the accountancy and advisory firm introduced its core purpose 'Helping You Succeed' – a raison d'être that, in the words of its Managing Partner, Paul Eagland, 'unlocked something powerful for our culture'.


"We're a people-powered business," explains Jon Gilpin, Midlands partner who leads on employee wellbeing in the region. "Our clients choose us because of our people who deliver great ideas to help them succeed: for their knowledge, their skills, their technical abilities, their digital mindset, their independence, their objectivity and their diverse characters.


BDO is made up of 5,500 individuals, who each bring something special and unique, and we want to celebrate every single one. Which means our culture isn't something we 'create' from the top – it's made up of daily interactions between our people."


Culture forms a core component of BDO's business strategy – creating an environment where employees are encouraged to be themselves, inspired and challenged, collaborative and successful.


The emphasis on encouraging young talent to be a part of that culture is very clear. According to BDO's most recent culture report, 'Our Culture Story', there was a 20% increase in the number of school leavers and graduates applying to the firm's trainee scheme, rising to 10,800 applications, with 400 new trainees set to join the firm later this year.


Given that Paul Eagland joined the profession straight from school in 1987, after working in Walthamstow Market and choosing to join the workforce rather than go to university, it's little wonder that BDO places a firm focus on social mobility.


As the first major accountancy firm to offer the higher apprenticeship in audit, BDO has expanded its long-established school leaver programme, which is now aligned to the Level 7 Accountancy/ Taxation Professional Apprenticeship standard.


Upon completion, trainees will qualify as an ICAEW, CIOT, CIMA or ACCA member and will also hold a Level 7 Accountancy/ Taxation Professional Apprenticeship, which is the equivalent to a master's degree.


One employee who joined BDO's apprenticeship programme in September 2017 is Usman Hussain. At 21, he is currently working as a Junior Tax Associate at the firm's Midlands office. Having completed A-levels in maths, business studies and economics, he decided to follow the same career path as the Managing Partner, going straight into the workplace from sixth form. He is due to take his final exams in November.


"In accounting, there are many different routes to gaining the right qualifications – avenues that don't necessarily require you to have to go to university," says Usman.


"For me, the apprenticeship programme has enabled me to get hands-on experience, while gaining the technical knowledge I need, combined with managing clients and handling a significant portfolio. It was definitely the best option."


That portfolio is made up of 200 clients – a number that doesn't seem to faze the 21-year-old Junior Tax Associate. "On a day-to-day basis, I can deal with anything from personal tax issues, covering income tax and capital gains tax queries, as well as considering suitable tax structures that enable our clients to arrange their financial affairs in a more efficient manner. We also deal with annual personal tax returns, which means our busy season is generally between November and the end of January," Usman explains.


Those clients range from partnerships to sole traders, to wealthy individuals or clients who may not even be UK-resident but have UK tax implications to consider. "Every day is different," he says.


Usman typically works with a manager and partner on each of his client accounts, as well as carrying out cross-departmental work, particularly when it comes to corporate tax issues. However, the support network is far reaching.


In partnership with Kaplan, one of the largest training providers in the UK, Usman has a talent coach, who he sees every six weeks in between classes that cover technical areas of tax and apprenticeship skills such as project and time management. The apprenticeship scheme complements a clear BDO framework to guide employees' personal career development.


Called 'Achieving My Potential' (AMP), it gives people a set of criteria that underpins their journey through their lifetime at BDO. Usman's journey is followed by a Counselling Manager, one of a 1,000 in the firm, and a 'Buddy'.


"This is usually someone more senior who you can speak to about any issues," he explains. "But you can pick up the telephone and speak to anyone as there's a comprehensive support structure and environment if you have any concerns."


In January 2021, Usman will get his final results when he hopes to become a Senior Tax Associate. Would he recommend an apprenticeship? "Yes, absolutely," he insists. "If university isn't right for you then this is definitely the best option."


And the future? "In the long-term, I see myself working within the private client department - taking every opportunity as they come and following the next steps, in terms of promotions," Usman says. "At BDO, it's very much about being yourself."


With an employee engagement score of 66% in the Midlands, Usman is not alone at BDO.

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