North Tyneside accountancy firm, Blu Sky Tax, has beaten hundreds of companies to be crowned the North East’s ‘Small Employer of the Year’ at the regional final of the National Apprenticeship Awards.

Blu Sky impressed the judging panel by doubling its team and its profits thanks to the launch of its apprenticeship scheme which has resulted in almost a third of its workforce being made up of apprentices.

Blu Sky, based in North Shields, was launched in 2008 by chartered accountant Jon Dudgeon and tax advisor Dave Gibson to provide personalised business advice, accounts and taxation services to SMEs.

The fledgling firm has reported a 40 percent rise in profits and now employs a team of 16, compared to six employees two years ago. The company’s client base in the north east digital and creative sector has also grown rapidly.

The main catalyst for the company’s rapid expansion was a partnership with Access Training that enabled them to recruit and train four apprentices, and they are currently looking for a fifth trainee.

The firm’s directors have been so impressed by the impact apprentices have had on their business that they now only recruits at two levels, instead of three – apprentice and chartered accountant – because they recognise that, with support, apprentices can cover some of the middle tier work.

Since launching its apprenticeship scheme in 2013, Blu Sky has seen efficiency soar including a reduction in its year-end cycle from 12 to eight weeks, while the time taken to process all VAT and management information data has reduced significantly.

Director Jon Dudgeon said: “We’re delighted that our passion for offering apprenticeships has been recognised. We committed to offering apprenticeships to school, college and university leavers, as we know the ethos that they provide is refreshing whilst at the same time they are open to learning new skills and processes, benefitting our operations internally and externally.

“Our longest-standing apprentice Shannon now takes control of a variety of clients, being their point of contact with queries, which is highly rewarding to see how much she’s grown, learnt and developed over the last three years.

“Our apprentices are a key part of our team, without which we would not be able to produce the standard of work that clients have come to expect from Blu Sky.”

Managing director at Access Training, Malcolm Armstrong, said: “Blu Sky really are a shining example of how apprenticeships can bolster the success of an SME in a relatively short space of time.

“Long gone are the days when accountancy apprentices are sat in a corner for a couple of years adding up VAT receipts and making tea. Modern day apprenticeships equip learners with useful workplace skills from day one.”

Malcolm added “Accounting Apprenticeships such as those offered at Blu Sky Tax offer great opportunities for career progression, with many individuals progressing through intermediate, advanced and higher apprenticeships, full membership of AAT and then on to Chartered status (CIMA / ACCA).

Apprentice, Shannon Asiamah, who has been with Blu Sky since 2013 and is currently following a Higher Apprenticeship, said: “I love my apprenticeship because as well as gaining experience and qualifications, I can afford to do everything I want outside of work. Last year I paid for driving lessons, passed my test and bought a car. This year I have paid for two holidays, and I’m proud to say that I earned it.”

Access Training is an award winning training provider based in Gateshead and has helped over 5,000 people start and develop careers. It offers apprenticeships at intermediate, advanced and higher levels in a wide range of occupational areas.

For information call 0191 490 2377 or email info@accesstraining.org