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An apprenticeship gave me the experience that counts

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 09 Dec 2020


Learning on the job with the AAT-ACA Fast Track offered Oliver Sullivan valuable experience and the support of his fellow trainees

When Oliver Sullivan left school, the opportunity to learn on the job with an AAT apprenticeship appealed much more than the further education route. “I decided that, rather than going to university, I could do the AAT course and end up in the same sort of place – but with three years’ worth of experience rather than three years’ worth of debt!” he explains.

After searching for opportunities through the government’s apprenticeships website, he was taken on by Naylor Wintersgill in Bradford, West Yorkshire in 2013. The firm appealed in particular, he says, because there were plenty of other trainees his own age. “They usually bring in a trainee every year, so it’s quite a young office.”

Oliver completed his AAT training in 2016, and took a break from studying for two years before embarking on the ACA in 2018. Having seen others at Naylor Wintersgill become chartered accountants, it seemed like the natural next step in terms of career progression. “Obviously it’s hard,” he says, “but it’s basically three years of your life and then you’re pretty much set up.”

His AAT qualification meant that Oliver could take the Fast Track route through the ACA, which he has done as a Level 7 apprenticeship student. With a view to becoming a chartered accountant in the future, he had chosen to take three rather than two AAT options – giving him more credits for prior learning. When it came to completing the Certificate Level of the ACA, it meant that he only had one exam to take, in Law.

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While working and studying at the same time has been challenging, it has been worth it, says Oliver. “I’ve been here eight years now and I’m doing more audits, so it’s been hard having to work and fit in college at the same time – but it’s been manageable.” He has study time off in blocks of one or two weeks – counting towards the Level 7 apprenticeship requirement of 20% off-the-job training – giving him the chance to concentrate fully on his exams.

He has also benefited from the support of fellow trainees and more experienced colleagues at Naylor Wintersgill. “There are always people my age to talk to,” he says. “There are quite a few people going through the ACA at the moment or just moving on from it. It’s the kind of place where you can talk to anyone and ask whatever you need to.”

Support is also on hand at the Bradford & District Chartered Accountant Students’ Society 

(BRADCASS), where Oliver is currently Chair. “I’ve been going to events since I started,” he says. “There’s always been someone at Naylor’s who has either been on the committee or been the Chair, so when the previous Chair stepped down it seemed like a natural progression to offer to take over.

“I really enjoy helping the new trainees,” he adds. “You can’t really chat properly when you’re at work, but if you meet them outside the office you can really get to know people and answer anything they need help with. You can bond a bit more.”

Oliver sat his final Advanced Level exam at the beginning of November and was looking forward to enjoying his newfound freedom – then the country went into a second national lockdown the following day. When restrictions are eased and with more time on his hands, he hopes to start Thai boxing again, which he has been doing since he was 15, as well as playing football.

Having almost reached the end of his training journey, what advice does he have for others just starting out? “I’d definitely say go for the apprenticeship route, I really recommend it,” he says. “You might come out of university with the qualifications, but you’ve got no experience – and you still have to do the ACA anyway. So you end up in the same position really – minus a few exemptions! It’s the experience that counts: you learn so much in the first few years on the job and it really sets you up for the ACA.”

If you are a Level 7 apprenticeship student, visit our dedicated web area for further guidance and support.

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