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Career coach: Straight from school

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Published: 18 Sep 2020

career coach

The traditional way into accountancy has been via university but the profession is increasingly reaping the benefits of hiring school leavers. Here, three trainee accountants talk to Peter Crush about their career choices

Alesha Vales: Trainee accountant, Goringe Accountants

After school I knew I wanted to work with numbers, so I decided to look at alternative options to university. I spotted a BTEC course at Reading College that carried an accountancy module, and this gave me the confidence to do a Level 2 and 3 AAT course in one year. It was while searching for part-time roles to combine work and study that I saw a bookkeeper job at Reading-based Goringe. 

Instead of hiring me for the role, they asked me to join their school leavers’ junior accountant trainee apprenticeship. This allowed me to finish my AAT Level 4 that year, 2014. I then began my ICAEW training, which I’ve been doing for the past three years. 

The apprenticeship was a fantastic way for me to combine working at a firm and studying. Goringe has been hugely supportive. The firm already has experience of training school leavers doing AATs. They saw beyond my pure academic grades and gave me a chance, and although I’ve taken something of an alternative – perhaps slightly long-winded – route, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

As Goringe is a small firm, its training programme has enabled me to gain practical experience and knowledge of different departments quickly. So much so, I now have my own group of clients. I get two days’ study leave a month, but if I work extra hours before and after official start and leave times, I can build up an afternoon off to study for my exams, and my managers are completely understanding and supportive of this.

Annabelle Simmonds: Accountancy trainee, EY

I’ve never been someone who planned to be an accountant, and for much of my time at school I assumed university was the route I’d take. However, when I created the #700STEMChallenge competition while in Year 12 (with its goal to get more young people into science), I met two people who changed my mind. I enlisted two former EY apprentices to act as judges. They gave such an inspiring speech at the prizegiving ceremony that I decided I would turn down an offer I already had at Imperial College, London (doing physics!) to join EY’s School Leaver Programme. 

It’s a four-and-a-half-year programme to achieve our ACA qualification. At the end of the process not only are we ICAEW-qualified, but we are accredited as having reached Level 7 [the equivalent of a Masters], in accountancy and taxation. 

The structure of the programme means we study for the 14 exams with five to seven days in college, and use our own time to prepare. Mostly I work full time, while learning at the same time. We don’t rotate throughout the business. Instead we stick to our existing team, which for me is insolvencies and business restructuring. When I do formal study, I mix with others who have joined from school, as well as graduates. The only difference is that I’ll be qualified much earlier, by the time I’m 22. EY treats you as someone who is starting a career rather than just a job. 

Even though I’m only just completing my first year, my ambition is to qualify and work my way up to partner level. This has been a fantastic way of getting into this profession.

Connor Ellwood: Trainee accountant, Price Bailey LLP

I knew from an early age that university was not for me. I’ve always enjoyed maths and initially I was interested in going into finance. However, while searching for apprenticeships last summer, Price Bailey’s school leaver scheme came up and I changed my mind: I decided to apply, and began in August 2019. 

Price Bailey’s scheme offers an accountancy apprenticeship up to Level 4 – the equivalent of university level. Then you start your chartered accountancy training. In theory, this way I get to start my ACA qualification in 18 months rather than spending three years at university - although this year’s been affected by COVID-19, so I’ll be taking a little longer. 

My main day job is preparing year-end accounts, and so far some of my modules – such as the financial statements one – have been very closely aligned to what I do daily. My employer is providing great support, giving me my own mentor. Whenever there’s a college exam coming up, I study a day a week in the six to eight weeks leading up to it. The module-based approach gives you the feeling you’re working your way through your learning sequentially. 

I don’t think there’s a better way to start my career. I’m earning money, but more importantly, I’m gaining real work experience at the same time. I’m really glad I’ve opted for the route I have.

For more about ICAEW school leaver programmes visit careers.icaew.com.