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Simren’s journey: school leaver to senior associate

9 January 2020: Simren Gill, 22, is a senior associate at PwC in Birmingham who joined the firm on its school-leaver scheme. She tells us what it was like taking a new route into the profession as a Higher Apprentice. Gill also vlogged about her experiences of taking the ACA as one of ICAEW’s Vlog Stars.

Simren Gill

How was it to go straight from school to a Big Four firm and train on the job?

I guess it was a gamble, as the Higher Apprenticeship route was a new concept then. I now realise what an amazing opportunity it was. I gained my ACA by the age of 21, which is before I’d have graduated if I’d gone to uni.

Why did you want to go into accountancy?

I’d done business studies – including a module on accountancy – and I just wanted to find out more about how business and finance worked. I didn’t have family or friends in accounting. 

Did you ever feel you were missing out by not going to university?

You don’t miss what you’ve never had! I know people worry about this, but there’s as much of a social side at PwC as at university. There are clubs and societies – I’m in the badminton club – and parties, such as the Christmas ball that’s coming up. 

The ACA has a reputation for rigour and difficulty. Did you find it tough?

It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was studying alongside graduates, and sometimes felt I was at a disadvantage as they had extra foundation knowledge: I had no exemptions. But that motivated me to work harder.

What parts did you find particularly challenging?

By far the hardest one was Business Planning Taxation, because it wasn’t a numbers exam – more a case of knowing how to advise a client on tax impact. That took me outside my comfort zone.

What advice do you have for school-leavers considering a Higher Apprenticeship?

Be prepared. The jump from A-levels to the ACA is vast, and it’s also a huge change to move into a professional environment. But if you’re committed to making a fresh start, it will pay off. Just keep going.

What’s most rewarding about being a qualified ACA and a senior associate?

I love having the confidence to manage my own clients. And within PwC, I feel I can communicate with people from different networks, even if I don’t have their specialist knowledge.

Why did you decide to start producing a vlog for the ICAEW?

There were so many unknowns when I was 18 and trying to work out my career path. I wanted to reassure, inform and encourage people in that position, and be an advocate for accounting and the apprenticeship.

Has your vlog been well received?

I’ve had a really good response. People have found me on LinkedIn, saying they’ve seen the vlog and wanting to ask more questions. When I said that you don’t have to be in love with maths to have a career in accounting, that resonated with a lot of people.

What does the future hold for you and your career?

I may do more qualifications to further my knowledge and specialise in the areas I enjoy – I’m on secondment to the Technology team at the moment. But after the stresses of three years’ study on the ACA, I’m just taking time to enjoy my work!