From AAT apprentice to director – there’s no limit to success

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Apprenticeships work for high-flying professionals who want to make rapid progress. They can be a great way to fast-track your career – without going to university or incurring debts.

Just 14 years ago, accountancy firm director Laura Whyte MAAT, was starting out as an AAT Apprentice studying for her Foundation Certificate.

Whyte, who was recently shortlisted for the AAT Licensed Member of the Year award 2018, believes choosing to become an AAT Apprentice rather than go to university set her on the path to success.

“I knew I wanted a career in accounting,” said Whyte, 32. “So while doing my A Levels, I applied to do a university degree in Accounting & Finance.

“However, when I was offered a position as an apprentice in a large local firm, I decided to take the job instead because I liked the fact I could work and learn at the same time.

“It was definitely the right choice for me.”

Moving up the ladder

Whyte spent the next three years working her way up to the Professional Diploma, and gaining lots of useful on-the-job experience, “I did one day a week at college and the rest of the time in the office,” Whyte said.

“It was a nice mix. I enjoyed being able to put what I was learning into practice in the office. “The people I was working with were also very helpful.”

She was then able to take on  a position as Accounts Assistant at a construction company.

“Having three years of work experience under my belt definitely helped to give me lots of choice when I looked for a job,” she said. “I’m not sure there would have been so many opportunities available to me had I been straight out of university.”

Just five years later, she had risen to become the company’s Finance Director.

“Working there was great experience,” she said. “But I felt I had got as far as I could within the business. “There just wasn’t the opportunity to progress any further, so I decided to set up a business with a school friend who also worked in finance.”

The hardest part for me is knowing when to push for growth by taking on more staff or investing in the business

Starting your own business

Whyte set up her company, Whyfield, in 2014.

“I like a challenge,” Whyte said. “And I liked the idea of working for myself so it was on my own terms.” Since then, she and her partner have built up the business, driving growth of more than 50% in 2018 alone.

They now have 12 members of staff and about 700 clients. “I thought running my own business would give me more flexibility to spend time with my daughter,” Whyte said.

“But even though I can take an afternoon off if everything is done, that doesn’t happen very often!” That’s why she would warn anyone thinking of setting up a business to be aware there will be hard work ahead.

“I’ve worked very long hours, often at the weekends, and denied myself holiday to get the company off the ground,” she said. “I’ve also had plenty of sleepless nights, particularly in the early days.

“There is a lot of plate spinning involved, and you have to put the business first at least for the first few years.”

For her, seeing young members of staff progress through their training is one of the most satisfying parts of the job. “The hardest part for me is knowing when to push for growth by taking on more staff or investing in the business,” Whyte added.

“The best part is seeing staff come on. Our first employee, who we took on as an apprentice, is now a manager training two apprentices of her own. It is really great seeing progress like that.”

Secrets of success

Whyte would advise anyone considering a career in finance to take the same route as her, initially at least.

“I’m a real ambassador for the AAT Apprenticeship,” Whyte said.

“It is a great way of joining up learning and working, and it opens the door to so many opportunities in a range of sectors because all companies need accounts departments of some kind.”

Her firm currently employs four AAT Apprentices, while every person on the team is studying for qualifications of some kind – including Whyte herself.

“It’s always good to keep moving forward, which is why I am doing my CIMA qualifications now,” she said.

“The first couple of years of running the business were too busy, but I have finally found time to start on those qualifications in the last two years, and now I only have a couple of exams left to do.

“Encouraging everyone to keep studying is part of our ‘investment in the future’ ethos, which is central to our approach at Whyfield.”

Jessica Bown is an award-winning freelance journalist and editor.

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