Losing your training agreement doesn’t have to mean the end of your ACA journey. There’s plenty of support available to help you continue on the path to qualification.
Your training agreement is a formal document between you, your employer and ICAEW that sets out the support you will receive from your employer, and what they expect from you in return in relation to your ACA training. It is separate from your employment contract. Training agreements typically last for three years, and most go without a hitch – but why might your agreement end early, and what should you do if it does? Fiona Hodgkin, Director, Client Relationships and Business Development, and Suzanne Heath, Marketing Manager, Conversion at ICAEW, share their advice on next steps.
What can go wrong?
The most common reason training agreements end early is because of exam failure. Your training agreement will detail how many attempts at each exam your employer will support – two is standard for many ACA training employers. If you don’t pass after the agreed number of attempts, your employer can terminate your training agreement, and potentially your employment. Understandably, this adds pressure to what are already stressful exams. “Some employers are still very strict on this,” says Fiona, “but many are more flexible now. A lot of the current student population did A levels and degrees during the pandemic and didn’t sit formal exams, so employers appreciate that it can be even more challenging to sit an ACA exam now than it was before.”
The other reason training agreements end early is when students decide to change employer. “We’re seeing more students choosing to switch during their training periods,” explains Fiona, “often because they’re looking for more money, different experience or a better work/life balance.” However, she cautions, it’s usually better to stick with your current employer rather than move part-way through your training. “There are lots of things to consider, and we would always encourage students to talk to their employer first,” she says. “If you’re moving to a different organisation for a couple of thousand pounds on your salary, think about the extra hours you might be expected to work. If you’re looking for a more varied experience, use your six-monthly reviews to explore how your current employer may be able to offer different opportunities.” Bear in mind, too, that you’ll need to complete a minimum three months’ work experience with a new employer before you can qualify as an ICAEW Chartered Accountant, regardless of how many days you’ve already logged.
If your ACA training agreement and employment are terminated because of exam failure, you will usually be expected to work your notice period, unless there are exceptional circumstances. Losing your job is distressing, especially if it puts you under financial pressure, but remember that caba offers free support to all ACA students. There is plenty of practical help available from ICAEW, too. “Someone from the Institute will be in contact with you within a few weeks to see how we can help,” explains Suzanne. “If you decide you don’t want to continue with the ACA but you’ve completed the Certificate Level exams, for example, we can help you register as an ICAEW CFAB student so that you at least come away with a qualification to your name.”
For those who want to continue their ACA training, there are several options. Start by searching the ICAEW Training Vacancies website for the latest ACA training vacancies. If you set up a profile on the site, you can also upload your CV, which is then available for employers to look at. There are always employers looking to recruit ACA trainees with some exams already completed. Also make sure you look at the website of companies you want to work for, as not all employers post their vacancies on the ICAEW site. Another option is to register as an ACA independent student and carry on with your exams while you look for your next training agreement.
“Beyond that, our Business Development teams are talking to employers all the time, and will know of organisations looking for people who already have some ACA exams under their belt,” says Suzanne. To formalise the process, ICAEW is launching a pilot scheme to ‘match’ employers and students. “Employers looking to recruit will send us their details so that we can say specifically to students: ‘There’s an employer in this town near you. They’d love to hear from you and this is how to apply,’” Fiona explains. “It all happens at the moment anyway with the information local Business Development teams have, but this is going to be more formalised. We’re excited to see how it works.” If you’re outside the UK, your local ICAEW office should be your first port of call.
The most important thing to remember is that the end of your training agreement doesn’t have to mean the end of your ACA journey, or your career. “Many ICAEW members have failed an exam at some point during their training, so most employers are very willing to take students on,” says Fiona. “Even though you may have failed, you’ve got some exams done and you’ll have had some really good experiences. You are still very much wanted,” Suzanne adds. When looking for your ideal job, remember to consider all types of organisations large or small, and whether in practice or business/industry. “As long as there’s a qualified accountant there, then it’s really simple and free for them to sign up to become an Authorised Training Employer,” says Fiona.
Moving on - the essentials
Before you leave your current employer, you must always make sure your online training file is up to date and signed off by the relevant person. “If you haven’t updated your training file – if your practical work experience end date doesn’t match the final day of your employment, for example – your training agreement can’t be cancelled and you won’t be able to re-register with a new employer,” explains Fiona. “And do it promptly – I’ve seen far too many instances where students have left an employer, had a gap and then tried to update their file, but they’ve found there’s no one left at their previous employer who knows them and can verify it, and then they lose some of their accumulated work experience days and skills.”
It’s your responsibility to make sure your training agreement has been cancelled with ICAEW, so once your training file is up to date, request that your employer does it as soon as possible. As well as ensuring you can move on, it’s important for protecting your privacy – until it’s cancelled, your previous employer will still be able to view your training file.
The final stage is to re-register with your new employer. Again, it’s important to do this as soon as is practically possible once you start your new job.