Home Articles SPECIAL FEATURE: INFLUENCE: OUTSTANDING TRAINING OFFICES

SPECIAL FEATURE: INFLUENCE: OUTSTANDING TRAINING OFFICES

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Some of the most exceptional training offices were nominated based on their recent
performance in re-accreditation interventions, site visits and self-evaluations, as well
as feedback from the SAICA training office reviewers.

Read more about why their approaches have been so successful.

FIRSTRAND

FirstRand’s CA(SA) training programme started in 1998 with one trainee and was initially designed to assist existing employees in qualifying as CAs(SA). Currently, FirstRand has between 25 and 30 trainees

Over the last 17 years, FirstRand’s CA(SA) training programme has become a valuable external recruitment tool. More than 100 CAs(SA) have qualified with FirstRand, many of whom have gone on to have highly successful careers inside and outside the group.

The recruitment process is simple. Psychometric tests are used to determine ability and cultural fit, and then, based on the candidate’s CV and assessment score, one interview is held with the training officer, programme manager, and one or two previous trainees.

FirstRand looks for well-rounded individuals that seek an innovative owner-manager culture, and while great academic results will always be important, leadership qualities, other interests and achievements are also considered.

The trainees start with a three-week induction programme before starting the first rotation. The induction covers basic computer skills and professional skills such as time management, the appropriate business language in emails and meetings, and competency assessments. The programme also includes some of the softer and more intangible aspects of corporate life, for example appropriate behaviour and attire in different corporate and social situations.

The induction programme also introduces candidates to FirstRand’s unique business philosophy, which the group believes is a significant contributor to a performance culture. This philosophy talks to integrity and respect for colleagues and the belief in the empowerment of individuals, accountability, innovation and being a good citizen.  Therefore when the trainees start the first rotation, they do so understanding that they are empowered and responsible to ‘live’ the values of the group and excel in the assessment process. But more than that, they see the training programme as the first step in developing a successful individual brand in a rewarding career.

Academic progress is of utmost importance. So, over and above the usual board courses offered for the ITC and APC, FirstRand provides various study schools to embed the competencies and skills achieved in the various rotations. Trainees are supported by generous study leave.

There is a formal mentorship programme where recently qualified CAs(SA) from the training programme mentor current trainees. This process provides hands-on practical insight into the specific challenges that come with moving into different areas in the group, meeting the SAICA competencies, and generally starting a career. Most trainees also form informal mentorship relationships with line managers or other people they meet while on rotation.

Candidates benefit hugely from the FirstRand programme because the rotations are available across all of our operating franchises; FNB, RMB, WesBank, Ashburton and FCC (the corporate centre). Rotations include various finance areas, internal audit, tax, different risk areas, especially in the credit risk space, as well as front-line areas such as commercial property finance, debt capital markets, RMB Morgan Stanley and corporate finance. Most of the rotation line managers have been involved with the programme for some years and therefore understand the importance of developing the trainees and ensuring that the SAICA competencies are achieved.

As indicated in FirstRand’s recently launched my4in1 campaign, we believe that the success of the FirstRand CA(SA) training programme is largely due to what FirstRand offers trainees: ‘It’s 4 graduates who believe in doing good and doing well. It’s 4 those who take initiative and are driven to be the best they can be. It’s 4 those who prefer making a difference and not just making a buck. It’s 4 trailblazers, dreamers, relentless optimists and those with the vision to take on the challenges of the future. It’s 4-in-1, and if you dream of designing a life path and not just getting a job – FirstRand works for you.’

GRANT THORNTON DURBAN

Accepting the evolution of the SAICA training programme became an investment that yielded superb positive returns for all stakeholders in the Grant Thornton practice

There have been many changes in the profession over the past 15–20 years and the SAICA training programme has evolved substantially. While Grant Thornton Durban initially found these changes cumbersome, both senior management and partners soon realised that change was needed, and the amendments were embraced positively.

KEY DRIVERS
Grant Thornton Durban demonstrates its values and philosophies through the implementation of the six key drivers discussed below.

Managers are mentors
Each trainee is assigned a mentor who is a qualified CA(SA) and regularly attends SAICA trainee regulations updates and refreshers. Mentors meet with the trainees assigned to them at least twice a year to discuss progress with SAICA competencies, how they are coping with studies, performance evaluation, and other general concerns. The firm also subscribes to an open-door policy and trainees have access to their mentor (or any other mentor or partner) at any time. The senior audit teams manage and oversee assignments.
Managers conduct regular monitoring of trainees’ progress in obtaining the required competencies and assessors regularly follow up to ensure that the trainees are up to date with completing the technical and professional skill reviews. The assessors also ensure that adequate examples and explanations are given by trainees for all completed reviews.

Supporting academic (and personal) progress
Grant Thornton Durban is as accommodating as possible with the studies of trainees. For those trainees who are in the process of completing their CTA, the office allows the top-performing trainees to take a three-month sabbatical in the lead-up to the annual final exams. The partnership at the firm makes it a priority to be sympathetic to trainees who are having personal issues that need assistance or intervention such as time off. Trainees show their appreciation by working overtime to make sure that deadlines are met.

Good-quality trainees
When recruiting, we look for trainees that are well aligned to the firm’s culture, because this is very important for ensuring a happy and constructive environment. The Durban office recruits strong candidates who display an excellent work–life balance philosophy across all areas of their lives – not just academic excellence.

Induction
Grant Thornton Durban’s inclusive culture means that the audit trainees are part of the firm from day one. In the light of this, trainees are required to attend national induction in their first week, which includes training in technical skills and soft business skills. Trainees are also trained in the SAICA competencies and the training regulations, which is combined with skills and training that prepare them for the real world of work.

Planning ahead provides vital opportunities
Setting goals and looking ahead helps to instil vital management skills in the trainees. Grant Thornton Durban conducts rigorous planning sessions on a weekly basis. This helps to ensure that trainees are given sufficient industry exposure and gain enough experience to meet their required competencies.
Our entire audit team works closely together on assignments and trainees are included in these teams at all times. The teams collaborate to find solutions for challenges on audit or other assignments together. Involving all team members in the overall assignment as opposed to isolating them to their little section is extremely beneficial to the trainees because it gives them the confidence to speak up and share their views.

Technical updates
Maintaining technical competency is critical for audit trainees. Regular updates ensure that trainees are kept abreast of updates related to SAICA’s training regulations.

CONCLUSION
Grant Thornton Durban is constantly looking at ways to improve the training office, and the team welcomes any input, views or suggestions from the trainees.

 

PREECE & ASSOCIATES

Preece & Associates has been in operation in Kimberley for the past 17 years. It is a one-partner firm that prides itself on offering a close-knit and supportive environment to the trainees that pass through its doors

Recruiting good-quality trainees can be a challenge to a small firm in a small city. Our firm will generally employ individuals who are studying via distance learning. When a position at the firm is identified, we advertise in the local newspaper and review CVs received at the office. We have also tried a local recruitment site on Facebook and offered employment to some candidates who have done vacation work at the firm.

There is a distinct advantage to this, as we get to know the individuals and have the opportunity to evaluate them and their ability to fit into our work environment and current structures.
A formal interview is conducted once a potential candidate has been identified and his/her CV and academic records have been reviewed.

The candidate is evaluated during the interview regarding communication skills, professional appearance and if the candidate will fit in with our current mix of trainees and staff in general.
Our firm’s commitment to professional ethics and behaviour is communicated strongly from our first meeting with a prospective candidate.

On the first day of training, the audit manager presents our in-house induction programme to the new trainees. They are introduced to the firm, IRBA, SAICA, and of course the all-important assessment process. The induction includes inspirational and motivational quotes that we hope will get the trainees off to the right start. A refresher induction is presented a year later and various areas of the assessment process and relevant policies are highlighted. Our trainees, manager and partner are all subject to the same stresses and pressures felt across the industry.

We try as far as possible to ensure the workload is spread, consideration is given when tests or exams are written, and academic support is available when needed. The trainees will often try and help one another, which is encouraged as this not only assists them academically but also embodies the values of the firm and strengthens the communication between colleagues.

We have also attempted to assist trainees who have experienced academic difficulties that could not be dealt with internally. To this end, we contacted Unisa, who sent an academic and life support coach to Kimberley for sessions with our firm and other registered students in the area. We take the development of the training process in the firm very seriously.

When work is done, the audit manager provides extensive training based on areas identified as being problematic while trainees perform their allocated work. This is normally incorporated into our Friday afternoon planning sessions. If possible, trainees are sent on courses presented by SAICA. We appreciate such initiatives and consider them beneficial to our trainees.  Being a small firm, we do not have a head office or group structure that provides us with programmes or benchmarks.

The onus is on us to ensure we fully understand the requirements and that we are using the correct information in the training process. It is a great help to have refresher workshops that highlight the important aspects and changes that have taken place.  As we have a wide range of clients in various industries, we are able to provide a broad range of experience. As part of our competency mapping, we have identified certain competencies that may require simulation.

The competency mapping has been a vital tool in identifying tasks that trainees have performed without even realising it.
We are fortunate to have a dedicated team working to make the training experience fulfilling and rewarding.
Also, we are always open to expanding and improving the process and welcome feedback and ideas – be it from SAICA, the trainees, or our internal administration.

 

AUCAMP SCHOLTZ LUBBE

The staff philosophy at Aucamp Scholtz Lubbe (ASL) reads: ‘We firmly believe in empowering each individual staff member, not only in a professional manner but also on a personal level’

Aucamp Scholtz Lubbe truly care by building personal relationships, providing a pleasant working environment, supporting a work/life balance, and believing in fair compensation. This informs all staff-related strategies, including the management of trainees and the SAICA trainee programme.
We aim to recruit not only trainees that are academically gifted, but also look to attracting those that desire to live a balanced life and that fit with the ASL way of doing things, or corporate culture, as it were.

They form the backbone of our training programme and without their commitment to the processes and structures, the programme would not be as successful as it has proven to be.
We believe that the right start to any journey is what determines its quality as well as its destination, and therefore we invest valuable time and expertise in our induction programme at the start of trainees’ employment at ASL.

Trainees attend an intensive three-week induction programme that focuses on what ASL does, how ASL does things, and how ASL measures the quality of the outputs and outcomes. Various service providers are used to assisting on the technical side of preparing trainees and to ensure that trainees have a good understanding of what is expected from SAICA during their tenure as trainees. The three-week programme is capped by a week of practical or on-the-job training before trainees enter the ‘real; world of work.

Our audit department is structured in such a way that each trainee is afforded the opportunity to interact with colleagues at all levels. Each trainee is assigned a mentor (who is a fellow trainee in his/her second or third year of the programme); reports to a manager who is a qualified CA(SA); and has access to all directors and therefore to a wide-ranging portfolio of clients, business industries and, of course, knowledge and experience. Managers, audit supervisors and third-year trainees attend various courses that help to shape their ability to guide, coach and mentor. In particular, the group of audit managers responsible for the assessment of trainees also attends the annual SAICA assessment refresher course, and three of the directors are qualified assessors.

To ensure that our trainees progress academically and eventually excel in the qualifying examinations, we have partnered with the National School of Accounting (NSOA) to ensure that those trainees still studying toward their CTA qualification do so in the least amount of time. A generous study leave policy whereby leave is allocated on merit enables trainees to prepare thoroughly for the various examinations on their journey towards attaining the coveted CA(SA) designation. We are proud to state that in the past three years our trainees have maintained a 100% success rate in the final qualifying examinations.

In 2013 we embarked on the ambitious task of mapping the SAICA competency framework to align it to the workflow and exposure afforded by ASL. This has enabled us to ensure that each trainee is fully aware of what the expected outcomes in each six-month period are and has provided the peace of mind that the necessary exposure and opportunity to achieve those outcomes are in place. Six-monthly formal evaluations are performed with all trainees, and the structured nature of the process, as well as the already familiar structures in place to evaluate and monitor performance throughout the year, enables trainees to be aware of the level of their performance at all times.

Through employing this structured approach, we believe we are truly empowering each individual while remaining aligned with the ASL staff philosophy.

 

ERNST & YOUNG

At EY Africa, the focus is on effective engagement between professionals and clients. EY Cape Town leads the charge in recruiting and developing high-potential individuals

At EY, we are committed to building a better working world, with increased trust and confidence in business, sustainable growth, development of talent in all its forms, and greater collaboration.
We attract talent and maintain our culture through our employee and student ambassador base, with the philosophy that our current people are the best judge of future recruits. Employees and ambassadors actively refer people to EY from their network; we attract people seeking a diverse exposure to clients across various sectors while being part of an inclusive environment in which they are supported, valued and developed.

From our first interaction with potential recruits, our focus is on understanding who people are rather than merely what they know – we do not employ a set of examination results, but rather an individual with unique experiences and aspirations. Our interview process is designed to be more of a conversation than an examination to give us insight into what motivates and excites the applicant. We host a number of structured vacation programmes throughout the year and these are a key component of our recruitment process. These programmes, which are administered and facilitated by experienced trainees, provide candidates with an insight into EY’s people and its culture while at the same time providing us with insight into the candidate and laying the foundation for easy induction.

Forging authentic relationships across all levels of the firm is intrinsic to how we operate; trainees will often interact with our partners from day one. This provides first-hand experience on how to act professionally and ethically. Upon joining the Cape Town office, our people undergo an orientation process that includes a formal learning component and an overview of the performance management process. As part of encouraging high levels of engagement, performance goals are set annually and progress is monitored against both the SAICA competencies and the EY performance criteria by an appointed counsellor, who provides ongoing coaching and feedback over the course of the training contract.

Our aim is to align the expectations of our people with the opportunity to realise their potential.
Ultimately, our approach to developing our trainees is a blended one, incorporating formal learning, coaching and experiential learning. Formal learning is provided at various stages of the training contract with the main purpose of providing a technical base that allows trainees to benefit fully from their practical experience.

The progress of trainees is reviewed regularly, both regarding core competencies and benchmark expectations of the trainees at a given point in their training contract. Counsellors are assigned to each trainee, and each counsellor is thoroughly briefed, trained and equipped.

Additional coaching may be provided through exposure to specific technical aspects of an engagement, a simulated training session, or providing an opportunity to develop inter-personal skills through taking on a specific role on an engagement.

The most important aspect of a trainee’s development is experiential learning. We aim to provide our trainees with as wide an array of experiences as is possible and our expectations increase as trainees progress through their training contract and take on greater levels of responsibility. We do not segregate our trainees into industries or sectors; while a specialism will inevitably emerge, we expect our trainees to develop skills that are transferrable between sectors, industries and clients. A by-product of this approach is that our trainees are an integrated group of individuals, bound by strong relationships; a network that endures long after their training contract is finished.
Ultimately, our aim is to produce future leaders and provide a best-in-class experience.

This approach is built on the promise of our employee proposition: ’Whenever you join, however long you stay, the exceptional EY experience will last a lifetime.’

 

SHOPRITE CHECKERS

In 1999, Shoprite Checkers was one of the first companies to register as a training office in the Western Cape. The group’s programme has evolved over the years and is still evolving

In the past, the Shoprite Group had found it difficult to attract young accountants, mainly because the retail environment was not considered to be as glamorous as other sectors. Thus when SAICA created the opportunity for accountants to be trained outside public practice, the group leaped at this opportunity.
To our minds, there are a number of prerequisites for a successful programme.

Buy in from the top
The programme runs under the auspices of the finance department, with the financial director fulfilling the role of training officer. We operate a programme steering committee with both the financial and human resources directors as members. This ensures that there is involvement at a very senior level and it also facilitates quick decision-making.
The programme has the support of the CEO and other executives, with the latter seeing the programme as a valuable feeding system of professionally trained accountants.

Recruitment of good-quality trainees
This is the cornerstone of a successful programme. Recruitment is handled by a senior manager in human resources, which ensures that the focus is on recruiting future managers. Shoprite also offers bursaries for prospective trainees to assist worthy candidates with their university education. The group is not neglecting its responsibility for the training of black accountants, and for the past five years we have contributed by offering bursaries to Thuthuka participants.

Trainee assessment process
Work delivered is continuously evaluated by senior line managers. Shoprite has opted to outsource the assessment process to ensure that evaluations are done objectively and utilising up-to-date methodologies. This has the added benefit that all assessments are done in one blow with minimal impact on management’s time.
A senior manager in human resources is responsible for personnel administration and soft skills development of the programme, and also oversees the assessment process.

Helping trainees to make the most of their training period
As mentioned above, the main aim of the programme is to train accountants for Shoprite.
Trainees are therefore rotated through all of Shoprite’s trading divisions, including those outside South Africa as well as head office departments. This has two benefits: the trainee gets exposure to all facets of a retailer, and line managers get an opportunity to meet prospective accountants for their divisions.
Planning and tracking trainees’ experience, both practical and in soft skills
Trainees are encouraged to take ownership of their training from day one. During induction they are advised of all the group’s activities and the exposure they can expect in each area. Trainees meet with a rotation manager to plan exposure to the business.
Even though we strive to find the perfect balance between the business’s needs and trainees’ preferences, their exposure requirements always take preference when planning rotations to the various departments. Rotation periods are long enough to ensure optimum knowledge transfer to trainees and in the process they become instrumental to the departments, especially during peak periods.
They are assisted by senior financial and human resource managers to ensure the desired outcomes are met.

Trainee support
Each trainee is assigned a ‘buddy’ to give them day-to-day guidance. They are also assigned to a mentor – a senior qualified accountant – for further guidance. This includes practical experience as well as the necessary life skills.
The programme has continued to deliver quality candidates as part of the organisation’s talent pool and we look forward to the contribution they will make.

 

MAZARS

Mazars have a focused team of professionals with a broad portfolio of expertise and experience.
Their offering is underpinned by strong project management principles to ensure the efficient design, delivery and measurement of all learning processes

Mazars Port Elizabeth prides itself on having a robust training programme for SAICA trainees and professional staff. Supported by our own internal Mazars University, world-class learning is delivered via a range of channels ensuring the best on-the-job training available.
Below are some insights about our approach to learning and development as well as programmes available.

Recruiting good-quality trainees
Talent attraction remains our biggest challenge as there is only one university in the city, with an honours class of a little more than 100 students. As a result, there are never enough honours graduates to satisfy the requirements of all the professional services firms in the province. This is driving innovation to find solutions to attract talent and is a key area of focus for the firm.
Candidates are attracted to international work experience; this sets Mazars apart as we can offer overseas secondments through our network of offices in 73 countries on five continents.

The induction programme
The Mazars audit induction training programme has been developed to address the challenging transition from academia to the professional service firm world and culture. Our dedicated learning and development team integrates trainee feedback to continually improve the training content, structuring and timing to ensure it meets the needs of the business and the individual. The team also works to ensure that innovative learning solutions are available to trainees so they can access learning at a time and place most convenient to them.

Managers’ skills
Mazars drives a culture that supports mentorship for career development and coaching for performance. These critical concepts and skills are integrated into managerial and leadership training within the practice that commences from as early as the second year. There is an understanding of the apprentice nature of our profession that the most valuable learning happens on the job.

Supporting trainees
Our trainees have the challenge of balancing a highly pressurised work environment and an challenging academic schedule; their work experience supports the application of their theoretical studies. However, in recognition of the complexity and level of qualification requirements, Mazars offers the NSOA support programme to our trainees.

Planning and tracking experience
Mazars has implemented a learner tracking system (LTS) to manage its assessment process. The team incorporates internal values and behaviours into the planning and assessment of learning; this system closes the loop to ensure on-going learning and skills application feedback within and beyond the SAICA competency framework.
Professional ethics and behaviour
A central value of Mazars is integrity. From the point of employment, through training and career progression the skills and messaging for professionalism and ethics is reinforced. Ethics and ethical behaviour are a cornerstone of our business.

The trainee assessment process
Effective assessment, monitoring and support of learning are important key performance indicators (KPI) for our managers and supervisors. Feedback is emphasised and recognised as vital in our learning environment. It allows us to evaluate the impact of training and customise training to address specific areas of development.

Positive participation
Managing trainee discipline and commitment to the assessment process is always challenging. A robust policy and monitoring role is in place in the PE office to ensure we meet these requirements.

Assisting trainees
Mazars has adopted a 70:20:10 approach to learning to ensure we maximise training and development efficiencies. This model ensures we focus on creating the environment that supports workplace learning, as 70% of all learning takes place on the job and under the direction of colleagues and leaders, 20% involves role models, and 10% resides in the classroom. This allows us to continue providing our professionals with best-in-class learning and development that drives career opportunities within our organisation and sector.

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