Stephen Bunting, a qualified accountant and tax advisor, established Fiscale R&D Tax Credit Advisors in Haverhill, Suffolk in early 2014 along with business partner John Mayhew. Since then, the business has already recruited five employees and has two more in the pipeline. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that its very first employee, Madeline O’Mahoney, was also its first apprentice and she has recently been named Apprentice of the Year at the ONE Haverhill Apprentice Awards. Stephen chatted to us about running an apprenticeship within a small business and the qualities Madeline brings to the team.
Photo caption: Left to Right: Stephen Bunting, Technical Director; Madeline O’Mahoney, Apprentice and John Mayhew, Executive Chairman of Fiscale R D Tax Credit Advisors.
“We’re specialist tax advisors with clients that range from start-ups to companies with £60 million in turnover so the scope is wide and our work varied. We wanted to recruit somebody who was young and willing to learn and we wanted to provide structured training for them. We felt an apprenticeship was the best route for that.”
Stephen and John approached ONE Haverhill, a government-funded community budget scheme, to get the recruitment process underway. Karen Chapple, the scheme’s Youth Skills Manager was instrumental in matching Madeline to her new employer, as Stephen recalls:
“Initially, we wanted an apprentice with A Levels, which Madeline doesn’t have. However, Karen came to us and said ‘I have this young woman who’ll be ideal for you. She doesn’t meet your specifications but you should see her and you’d better offer her a job quickly before someone else does!’ Madeline didn’t fit any of our criteria to be honest, but both John and I had a good gut feeling about her and she has exceeded all our expectations.”
As it turned out, Karen was absolutely right about Madeline, who was just 18 when she started work and the first of her two apprenticeships:
“Madeline did a general business apprenticeship through West Suffolk College, which she wasn’t due to finish until October but because she’s bright she’s virtually finished it all already. In October she’ll be moving on to do a professional apprenticeship through the Association of Taxation Technicians. Our aim was always, as long as she was capable, to put her through her professional qualifications.”
Fiscale R&D Tax Credit Advisors have since taken on a second apprentice, Kevin Wang, a recent graduate who moved directly into doing a professional accountancy apprenticeship. They intend to take on more apprentices and implement a policy whereby apprentices without A levels do a general business apprenticeship before moving on to a professional apprenticeship, while those who hold qualifications at A Level or above move directly to the professional apprenticeship. So is Stephen concerned about retention and whether apprentices, having gained qualifications within his small business may move on to new opportunities?
“It’s the way you treat people that will keep them. If you treat them well, give them interesting work to do, be an understanding employer, pay well and provide opportunities, then they’ll stay. We pay our apprentices over the basic apprenticeship rate and, after a couple of years, I want our apprentices to be highly experienced, qualified, professional staff bringing value to our business and have a future with us. We’re not just offering people jobs, we’re offering them a career.”
Stephen, believes it’s up to businesses to recognise that apprenticeships are an excellent way to nurture the raw talent of young people who haven’t yet gained formal qualifications.
“I think there are lots of young people out there who perhaps haven’t gone to university but have a hell of a lot of potential. I was over the moon when I heard Madeline had been named Apprentice of the Year, so pleased. She’s worked very hard and she’s brought a lot to our business, even taking my accountancy books home to study in her own time! She hasn’t even been with us a year yet we’ve seen her grow so much – she’s now a confident young professional.”