Having recently celebrated its 55th year in the United Arab Emirates, Grant Thornton UAE has a long history and a strong presence in the region. Today, it employs 500-plus people across offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, providing a full suite of audit, advisory and tax services. Training ACA students is something the firm has done since its early days, says People and Culture Manager Mehr Wazirali – and today, learning and development is a central function in the firm. Mehr explains, “My main responsibility is to align the firm's learning strategy with the long-term strategic goals of the firm. I do this by determining where the skills gaps are within various teams and departments, and create appropriate learning pathways”.
A chartered accountant herself and the Qualified Person Responsible for Training (QPRT) at Grant Thornton UAE, Mehr delivered training on technical finance areas before moving into Learning and Development. “No matter what the topic is, I believe every skill can be learned,” she says. “When people say they're not good at negotiating or presenting, I believe that this is because they have not received the right training. With the correct strategy and sufficient practice, every skill can be learned.” Mehr is particularly interested in implementing new, more engaging ways of learning, using tools such as gamification. “I really like the creativity aspect of learning,” she says.
If a person knows that they want to pursue a career in accounting and finance, I think it's good for them to start straight after high school.
In comparison to most people my age, I'm three-quarters of the way through a professional qualification, and I've got two-and-a-half years' work experience as well.
Audit associate Sneha Joseph joined Grant Thornton UAE straight from school in December 2020. She knew she wanted to go straight into work and training, rather than studying for a university degree. “The time advantage is the biggest benefit,” she says. “In comparison to most people my age, I'm three-quarters of the way through a professional qualification, and I've got two-and-a-half years' work experience as well.”
Trainees spend the first six months getting to grips with the basics, understanding the firm’s culture and carrying out operational tasks. At that point, they are assessed to see if they're ready to start the ACA qualification, a process that typically takes three years. Sneha joined as an intern, before progressing to Associate 1 level in October 2021. “I'm now into my final year of training and an Associate 2,” she explains. “The experience so far has been interesting and exciting; it's one thing to study something from a book and write an exam on it, and another to be able to see and apply it in real-life scenarios. It can be demanding balancing work and studies, especially during the busy season in the first half of the year. To ensure that neither gets compromised, I sit the majority of my exams in the second half of the year.”
As one of the most widely recognised and highly respected global qualifications, the ACA is a clear choice for students entering the profession – as well as those coming to the UAE to work from further afield. Alongside training ACA students, Grant Thornton UAE makes use of two ICAEW schemes, Pathways and Top-up, to enable qualified accountants from other professional bodies to become members. The region is considered one of the best in the world for career opportunities, and the firm attracts staff from every corner of the globe. “We have 50-plus nationalities in the firm,” says Mehr.
Young people are attracted by the Grant Thornton's flexible and forward-thinking approach: staff can choose a blend of office, home and client-based working that suits them, and since last year everyone works a 4 day week during August. “We also have a remote working policy where our people can work from anywhere in the world for up to a certain period if they're travelling for a holiday,” says Mehr. “Because we have so many different nationalities, it makes it easy for people who might be travelling long distances to visit friends and family.” This supportive culture is felt by ACA trainees, too. “Fellow colleagues are extremely supportive in all aspects; be it covering for me when I take my study leaves or explaining complex topics of the syllabus,” says Sneha.
Opening training opportunities to school leavers like Sneha means Grant Thornton has a wider pool of talent to choose from – and by the time these young people are in their mid-20s, they could be fully qualified and ready for a managerial position. From the firm's point of view, the process of training, and the investment of time and effort involved, is similar whether recruits are school leavers or graduates. “If you have the right attitude, you understand the basics and are a quick learner, then we are happy to welcome you and train you during your time with us,” says Mehr.
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About Grant Thornton
Grant Thornton UAE was founded in 1966 and is one of UAE's leading assurance, advisory and tax firms dedicated to serving the needs of privately-held businesses, public interest entities and family-owned businesses. With offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah and considerable experience across many fields, Grant Thornton develops tailored solutions for clients in financial services, public sector, hospitality, leisure, real estate, construction, retail, transportation, logistics, defence, manufacturing and telecommunications, among others.
As part of the global Grant Thornton network which counts over 68,000 professionals in member firms in 147 markets, Grant Thornton UAE combines strong local presence and global scale, with a goal to help organizations achieve sustainable growth and succeed in a fast-changing business landscape.
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