How to retain your graduate trainees, our guide for smaller accountancy firms

Content Recruiter retaining grad talent

You recruited great candidates, you trained them and now you want to keep them in your business. Here are some top tips to help smaller practices engage their bright, young talent

The resource that is put into training graduates and getting them qualified is especially precious for small- and medium-sized practices (SMPs). So it is important that, wherever possible and where they want to, firms have the best chance of retaining their newly-qualified accountants.

But the market for such professionals is highly competitive so we asked a range of SMPs about how they retain their trainees once they have qualified.

If you would like to read more about attracting graduates to your SMPs to train, check out our guide here .

Have obvious routes to develop and progress. Strong growth has helped accountancy firm Wilson Wright retain top talent by creating a clear path of progression, says partner Warren Baker. The most junior partner at the firm – and some of their senior managers – have come all the way through the ranks, he says.

The breadth of experience that SMPs offer can also help retain young professionals by giving them plenty of opportunities to develop. In three years, graduates at PJCO Chartered Certified Accountants will be – for all intents and purposes – running their own portfolio of small business clients, says Peter Jarman, partner at the firm.

“There are enough graduates… who thrive on the opportunity of having a lot of responsibility for small business owners,” he says. “If you can give them enough juicy work to get involved in and enough responsibility, they lap it up and want more.”

After becoming portfolio managers there are two main routes available to young professionals at the firm, says Jarman. The first is to run their portfolio with additional responsibilities such as training or HR. “In doing that, they are expanding their careers because that is something they become experts in as well as, for example, accounts and tax,” he says.

The second option is to do partner-style work and find new business for the firm. And finally, in cases where the person has wanted to stick to accountancy, PJCO has helped with further qualifications, such as the Chartered Tax Adviser.

Mentoring. Wilson Wright’s mentoring programme has been a real success, says the firm’s head of HR Katy Cobbold. Recently-qualified members of the team are matched with a partner, not necessarily from their specialism, so they can access independent, well-rounded advice at this crucial career moment, she says. This is not just helpful for their top newly-qualified accountants, it also benefits the firm as this is a key moment they could lose their young talent.

The mentoring is part of a wider package that helps them retain graduates, however. “The really good ones do not tend to go anywhere because we have got a structure for them to progress, we have mentoring schemes, really good relationships with them and they have seen other people progress through the ranks,” says Cobbold. “If they do decide to go, it is usually because they want to go into industry.”

Working environment. This has become a big draw for young people, says Nikki Adams, director of Ad Valorem. Her firm has the feel of a tech company, she says: the team recently moved into a new office and the culture is relaxed, with a casual dress code and the ability to listen to music.

Wilson Wright has also invested in a bright, open air office with break-out spaces and a social kitchen area. While the firm is quite small – with around 75 employees – it also invests in employee engagement with forums, social events and quarterly and annual awards where members of the team can win vouchers to go travelling.

“We are aware that to engage with and retain staff, we have to offer them the type of working environment that they hear about and perceive with tech businesses and larger firms,” says Baker.

SMPs can also put an emphasis on work-life balance. “When we are in the office, we work hard. But it is a 9am to 5pm office, not a 7am to a 10pm office,” says Baker. “We want our staff to have a personal and social life, and a weekend.”

Financial incentives. Wilson Wright focuses on salary to retain staff. “We do pay above the market rate for people that are good,” says Cobbold.

But this is not the only financial support that firms offer graduates. Mortgage guarantees and interest-free loans to help young professionals get on the housing ladder is another way PJCO has retained its top talent. Their ideal trainee usually moves back to the area while qualifying and, once they have finished training if they want to set down roots, the firm has helped them.

Every SMP is unique and will need to develop strategies and practices that suit the business and the team. These ideas are designed to inspire and help those looking to retain young talent: if you have an alternative suggestion or tip, we would love to hear from you.

Back to listing