Joanna Caley, audit trainee at DSG Accountants, shares her role as Chair of ICAEW’s Liverpool Chartered Accountants Student Association and the power of saying yes to new opportunities.
Even though Joanna Caley’s mum worked in tax, a career in accountancy wasn’t necessarily her first choice. But after a stint in the recruitment sector – and the onset of the pandemic – the stability and professional growth offered by the ACA qualification came into sharper focus.
“I just kept coming back to it every time I was researching possible careers,” she explains. “I was doing lists of all the jobs out there and pros and cons, and it just seemed to make the most sense. Once you're qualified, you've got that career route, you can get a job in many places, and I am really enjoying it!”
And DSG Accountants has proved to be the right fit, offering Joanna a better work-life balance than her previous roles, and encouraging her to embrace all the opportunities offered by ICAEW and the ACA. That includes getting involved in the local Student Society in Liverpool, which Joanna now chairs.
From attending her first meeting, Joanna quickly found her role expanding to committee treasurer and then the society’s representative at the ICAEW Student Council (ISC). The first point of action was helping the society become active again after a period of inactivity during the pandemic. “We all got together pretty much with no background in it,” she recalls. “And I’m someone who’s always happy to be the organiser.”
The involvement with ISC helps the society’s members stay in close dialogue with ICAEW. Whether it’s “exams, or accessibility, or updates to the syllabus – anything – we are that person. If students don't have someone in their firm to ask, they can ask us, and we can help them find out.”
Stepping up to the role of Chair was intimidating at first. “The ‘job title’ seems quite formal and a little bit scary,” Joanna explains. “I’ve got my studies and I’ve got a new work environment that I’ve not been in before, so it would have been quite easy to say ‘no, I can’t do it.’”
But, as Joanna points out, saying ‘yes’ to new opportunities enables you to develop personally and professionally, strengthening existing skills and learning new ones. In particular, Joanna wanted to ensure she was staying engaged with ICAEW and sharing the thoughts of local students: “You can't really be a voice for what your colleagues and your friends want, unless you're involved in it.”
Giving everyone a voice and building a strong sense of community are the underlying themes of Joanna’s tenure as Chair. In practice, she has found that taking on the role has helped her develop communication and management skills that feed back into the workplace.
“Letting other people have ideas is important. Sometimes I have an idea of what I want, but when you've got a committee, it should be a conversation,” she says. “Just because you're the Chair doesn't mean you should overrule people - it’s about respecting differences of opinion. I'm building a committee that can take over when I leave.”
Places to grow
It’s also about creating spaces to meet other students and growing your network. The Liverpool Student Association runs numerous subsidised activities, ranging from GoKarting and bowling to exam study sessions, career networking lunches and industry guest speakers. Joanna is currently preparing to attend the society’s annual Ball – it’s biggest event of the year.
Joanna encourages other students to get involved with their local Student Society and be vocal about what they find useful and engaging. There is a role for everyone, whether it’s attending events or getting involved with the work of the committee. “If you have an idea you want to share, rest assured you will have the support of ICAEW and the committee,” she explains.
“Everyone is naturally a bit scared of walking into a room where you don't know anyone, but everyone's in the same position, and it's nice to get to know the people around you that are going through the same thing. I've really enjoyed being pushed out of my comfort zone. And I know that if I ever do get overwhelmed, I've got a whole committee there to support me.”
Get involved with your local Student Society by visiting the ICAEW Student Societies hub.