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How to become a Higher Apprentice in Assurance/Audit or Tax

The Higher Apprenticeships in Assurance/Audit and Tax are both pathways of the Professional Services Higher Apprenticeship. These Higher Apprenticeship programmes offer new and exciting career routes into professional services across the accountancy, finance and business sectors.

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The Assurance/Audit and Tax pathways are open to anyone; whether you’re just leaving school, have been working for years, are looking for a career change or seeking to start a new career. You just need to be living in England or Wales and not taking part in full-time education.

Securing a place with an employer on one of these Higher Apprenticeship programmes is a competitive process, so you’ll need to show that you are committed and aware of your responsibilities to both yourself and the company who would employ you. You’ll need to be happy to work as part of a team and individually, and be able to use your own initiative.

What are Professional Services?

Professional services are occupations in the service sector, or service industry, for which you need specialist training. Some roles require a professional licence,  such as architects, engineers, doctors and dentists. Other professional services involve providing specialist business support to organisations of all sizes and across all sectors; this can include tax advice and helping a company with accounting advice and audit expertise.

Professional services are critical to the success of the UK economy, representing 15% of UK GDP, 14% of employment and 14% of exports. People working in professional services help their clients to manage and improve their business. Accountants, management consultants and lawyers all provide professional services to their clients. If you are interested in working for an accountancy firm or within the finance team of another type of organisation, that’s a professional services job. The Higher Apprenticeships in Assurance/Audit and Tax currently provide a career route into audit and tax jobs.

A job in audit could mean that you will be helping companies with their accounts or analysing their financial results for them. If you chose a job in tax, it could mean you will be advising businesses on how to be tax efficient or completing their tax returns.

Finance and business advice drives all organisations, including large private sector company or public sector organisations. Professional services training will give you the skills you need to work anywhere in a business.

What is Assurance/Audit?

Assurance is an independent professional service, typically provided by chartered accountants. It involves providing professional opinions that reduce the risks that come from incorrect information.

Audits are considered a type of assurance service, however they are only designed to test the validity of the financial statements. Under an assurance engagement, accountants can provide a variety of services ranging from information systems security reviews to customer satisfaction surveys. Unlike audit, which is often highly structured, assurance services tend to be tailored to individual organisations. Often managers must make decisions about matters they have incomplete or inaccurate data for, and this increases the overall business risk. Assurance services can be very helpful in reducing this risk and help managers or decision makers make more informed decisions. Having good quality information that is from a trusted source could, for example, help a business to save money, turn round a failing business, save jobs, help an organisation to work more efficiently, make more profit, deliver a better service and/or help a company to improve its reputation and brand image.

A simple analogy which may clarify the above

Consider buying a second-hand car. The seller tells you lots of things about the car, but if you are not a mechanic how do you know whether what they are telling you is true? You pay an independent expert (like the AA or RAC) to come and look at the car on your behalf. They will give you their opinion on whether the things the seller is telling you are true or not. The decision to buy the car is still yours but now you have better information on the car and the integrity of the seller. Thanks to the expert information, you can make a better decision about whether to buy the car or not.

The independent expert would, in effect, have conducted an audit by systematically investigating and testing the various car parts and electronics to make sure that all the car parts were safe, legal and in good working order. This systematic analysis and evaluation then enables them to give an opinion (or assurance) on the car. Because they are an independent expert, and because they have investigated the car systematically and comprehensively, it gives the buyer more accurate and trustworthy information on which to base their decision.

What is Tax?

Tax is an involuntary fee paid by individuals or businesses to support the operation of the government and enable them to achieve their goals. Other purposes might include the redistribution of income from the rich to the poor, or the support and maintenance of public property.

We are all affected by taxation in our daily lives. Most goods and services we buy are subject to value added tax (VAT), and most people have to pay income tax on their earnings. The world of tax is wider even than that: if we sell something for more than we paid for it, we may be subject to capital gains tax; anything we inherit may have been subject to inheritance tax, and we may be entitled to tax credits. Businesses will have to deal with a wide range of taxes, ranging from corporation tax on their profits to PAYE and national insurance contributions on the wages they pay their employees, and VAT on their sales to landfill tax, insurance premium tax and climate change levy, depending on the nature of their trade.

Tax is also subject to change. Every year we have at least one Budget and the decisions made in courts provide frequent new interpretations of tax law. These constant changes mean that there will always be fresh challenges to face. Individuals, partnerships and companies all need competent professional assistance in fulfilling their obligations under tax law, and tax experts are among those who provide that help. They are trained to deal with the whole range of taxes, and to understand the related legal and accounting issues. They can work in professional firms of all sizes, in industry and commerce and in the revenue departments.

Benefits of a Higher Apprenticeship in Assurance/Audit or Tax

  • A real job You’ll be employed by a real employer for at least 30 hours a week for a fixed term of at least 12 months (though it is more likely to be for 18 months to two years) and gain valuable work experience and a professional qualification along the way.
  • Earn while you learn You will receive at least the National Minimum Wage.
  • A real professional qualification As part of the Higher Apprenticeships in Assurance/Audit and Tax, you’ll gain an internationally-recognised professional certificate – ICAEW Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (ICAEW CFAB) - from ICAEW, a world leader of the accountancy and finance profession. (Apprentices following the tax pathway may alternatively choose/be required to undertake the Association of Tax Technician’s examinations and not ICAEW CFAB).
  • A real future On successful completion of the Higher Apprenticeship, you can progress onto the Level 7 Professional Services Higher Apprenticeship, further or higher education, or other qualifications, including Foundation degrees, a range of business and finance qualifications and/or chartered status and membership of a professional body, including ICAEW. It could also open up opportunities for you to progress to more senior roles within your organisation or the wider sector.
  • Stepping stone to chartered accountancy After completing your Higher Apprenticeship you could continue your studies with ICAEW towards the ACA qualification and a successful career as an ICAEW Chartered Accountant.

What will I learn?

You will gain knowledge and skills in three distinct components:

  • technical knowledge: the ICAEW Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (ICAEW CFAB). Alternatively, tax apprentices may choose to be assessed through ATT’s examinations;
  • audit or tax practice as appropriate, which will be gained through work experience; and
  • business skills and competencies (eg, teamworking, communication etc).

Individuals with a good understanding of business and finance are highly valued by employers for any role in any organisation, so the components that you’ll learn will help equip you for a successful career in the professional services sector or the wider business community.

Next steps

Seeking a Higher Apprenticeship opportunity is just like looking for a job, so you will need to keep your CV up to date and well presented as employers can recruit at any time of year.  You need to find employers who are currently advertising Higher Apprenticeship opportunities, and follow the application process specified. There are a number of ways to find opportunities:

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