Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

Tim Jones's story

How life as a work-based learning coach has been impacted by COVID-19

Sometimes, a little extra help is needed. All CIPFA apprentices receive advice, feedback and support from experienced professional work-based learning coaches through the duration of their apprenticeship, which typically lasts about three years. 

We caught up with Tim Jones to get a bit more detail on the role of work-based learning coaches, how they assist students and if there have been any changes as a result of COVID-19.

For an apprentice, what does the experience of having a work-based learning coach look like?

Apprentices have four progress reviews a year with an experienced accountant and financial manager, during which the apprentice’s training, knowledge, work experience and progress in developing the required skills and behaviours are discussed. The aim of these reviews is to ensure the apprentice is comfortable with their situation and their progress is on track. The coach will also provide advice on their next steps and challenges ahead. They are also able to help the apprentice with ad hoc requests for information, advice and resolution of issues in between reviews. As the coach is independent of the apprentice’s employer, the apprentice can discuss any aspect of their work, studies or life in the knowledge that this will be handled sensitively and confidentially by the coach.

Does your work extend to supporting employers as sponsors of individual students and apprentices?

Yes. We work with the employers to provide the best environment to support apprentices. This can include advice on the scheme and how to help their apprentices both in the workplace and with documenting their work experience and skills and behaviours. We actively involve managers in the reviews with apprentices and encourage regular one-to-ones with them, so that they can talk through their experiences and how they fit into the bigger picture at work, to support the apprenticeship in between our quarterly reviews. 

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your experience as a work-based learning coach?

We normally conduct at least half the reviews with apprentices in person rather than via video call, but for the time being all reviews are video calls. Apprentices are now very used to this approach as they are using tools such as Microsoft Teams as part of their normal work, so this is working very well. We can of course share documents and the review forms in our "Smart Assessor" system easily as part of this process.

How do you think the coaching model benefits students as they train for an apprenticeship?

The coaching model benefits students as they have access to a separate expert throughout their apprenticeship. In addition to the specifics around completing the requirements for the scheme, the coach can advise and be a friendly ear for any sorts of queries and issues the student has – either to be a sounding board, help resolve the question or know where to pass the issue on. Typically, the coach will work with the apprentice for the duration of the apprenticeship so a good understanding and relationship can be built, which is reassuring for the apprentice.

What skills are needed to be a work-based learning coach?

The coach needs to have a broad combination of managerial experience and technical knowledge from a financial management role, alongside excellent interpersonal skills and empathy, to be able to hear and understand what the apprentice is saying and be able to deal sensitively with any situation.

What's the best thing about the job?

It is very rewarding to work with an apprentice and see their progress and development in so many ways, leading to success in their End Point Assessment and qualification as a CPFA! Establishing a friendly but professional relationship, as part of guiding them through the requirements, makes it very satisfying when you see their well-deserved success at the end.

What’s your main piece of advice for accountancy apprentices?

Start as you mean to go on and work steadily on your modules and workplace documentation so that you do not put yourself under extra pressure later. Listen to your coach when they ask you to document your work experience and act on their feedback, as they have your best interests at heart!

How will students and coaches need to adapt to new working practices in a post-COVID world?

The world of work is changing and you can envisage a lot more work being online, so embrace the technology that allows this all to take place and be ready to work flexibly into the future when there will be a combination of remote and office-based work. Ongoing change is inevitable, so you need to be open-minded and adaptable.