“I definitely feel apprenticeships are way better than university”

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Two members tell us why apprenticeships were right for their accounting careers – and an AAT apprenticeship is “like gold dust”.

We spoke to AAT members Charmaine Cardozo MAAT and Ben Boutwood MAAT about why they opted for apprenticeships over university. Both took on apprenticeships early in their careers and feel they benefited from training, on-the-job experience and financial security.

There’s a reason AAT is so keen on apprenticeships. As AAT President Christina Earls attests, they’re “a great way to help social mobility, giving people from all kinds of backgrounds a way into finance. It’s so valuable that they are open to anyone whatever their age or educational background. And AAT offers entry to the accounting profession whatever qualifications you got at school.

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“It also helps that you can independently earn while you learn. I am very happy that the apprenticeship schemes now in place offer affordable training that can lead to better opportunities at work. As a learning coach for apprentices, I found some of my apprentices were able to get promoted while they were still learning. That’s because the work examples they developed to showcase their skills for the apprenticeship were the same competencies required for higher-paid roles.

“No surprise there! Apprenticeships are designed by employers to develop technical knowledge, skills and experience that are desperately needed in this day and age. A bonus to taking the AAT apprenticeship route is the support you get as an employee in developing vital soft skills that your line manager wouldn’t otherwise have time to help you with.”

Here our members explain the benefits and how apprenticeships have worked for them in their own words.

First, tell us about how you got an apprenticeship, and why you chose accounting.

Charmaine: I studied my AAT Level 4 through an apprenticeship and gained my MAAT membership. My firm Passman Leonard offered me the apprenticeship in May 2019, when I was a Trainee Accountant. Having completed my AAT, they offered me a full-time role and a promotion to Accounts Assistant.

I believe apprenticeships are a great way to start your career in Finance because they empower you financially and avoid university debt. Apprenticeships enable young people to become independent and obtain their own homes, security and success. You also gain training and on-the-job experience while completing your education, and it’s very likely you’ll get a permanent position at the end.

Ben: I left school when I was 18 and almost felt like I had no direction. My school was pushing for people to go to university, but I knew it wasn’t my calling. I was keen to get into work early, get a skill under my belt – and train alongside working so I could earn some money, and learn on the job. However, I didn’t know what that was at the time! So I applied for a job as a ‘trainee accountant’ over the summer, and started work full-time in September 2014.

I had no experience in Accounting or Finance, other than doing Business Studies at A-Level. However, maths was never my strong point, so I had reservations about whether I would be cut out for the job. I was assured early on that accounting was actually more about people, strategy and communication than numbers and figures! As a people person, I wanted to make sure I was in a job where I could interact with clients regularly, and not feel like I was just sitting at a desk pumping numbers into a computer.

How did your apprenticeship begin?

Ben: After 12 months of learning the basics, I enrolled in Level 3 AAT at one of the local colleges, and that’s really where my journey started. I completed Level 3 by the summer of 2016, and then by 2018 I was well on my way to completing my Level 4 AAT. I have now been MAAT for a number of years, and I’m still working in the same firm.

Where’s your apprenticeship taken you and why are they a great way to start your career?

Ben: A lot has changed, I am now semi-senior, and I’m involved in mentoring. I would encourage anyone who is unsure about what to do, to go down the AAT apprentice route. It worked wonders for me and I am very happy with my career path and progression, as well as all the invaluable skills I have picked up along the way.

Apprenticeships are a great way to start a career in finance, simply because the nature of the job is very hands-on. Although you can learn a lot by sitting in a classroom, nothing will equip you better, faster and more readily than experiencing it first-hand. So much of what I learned at college was directly reinforced by my day-to-day work, and vice versa. You naturally learn so much, so quickly – it’s a perfect combination.

Why did you choose an apprenticeship over a university degree, and how do the qualifications compare?

Charmaine: I chose an apprenticeship over a degree mainly because I could gain job experience while studying an accounting qualification. I gained the finance qualification for free as I didn’t have to pay for my college or course fees since my company covered it. This saved me the student loan debt and provided me flexibility to study and sit my exams whenever I was ready.

Definitely I feel apprenticeships are way better than university. You can gain an accounting qualification such as AAT/ACCA, which is equivalent to the Accounting and Finance Degree at university, for free and without incurring any debt. You can also sit the exams in your own time as and when you prefer.

Ben: I chose an apprenticeship for a couple of reasons. First, the financial burden of a student loan terrified me. It helped that I could earn a salary and have my training paid for – all whilst my friends were paying thousands and thousands a year. It always seemed to be my round at the pub when I was in my late teens! Second, I didn’t want to wait several years for my career to start, with no designated path for me to follow. I left school and started my career within a few months.

University’s a great option if you’re deeply passionate about something or know exactly what you want to do. But realistically you can become an apprentice or do a course for most careers, with partial or full funding. You get the benefits of a recognised skill or qualification, without the financial costs or lost time. With an apprenticeship you’ve had nothing but experience, which puts you in a much better position than your peers!

Why are apprenticeships good for business?

Charmaine: Apprenticeships are a cost-effective way to train staff, and apprentices contribute to the workplace while they’re learning. Funding can also be available to businesses to support the cost of the apprentice while they are learning. For those on lower salaries under the age of 25, employers’ national insurance contributions are also waived, which is of great benefit to businesses.

Ben: I think the most obvious benefit is financial. Apprentices can be cheaper salary-wise as they’re often younger and less experienced, plus there are apprentice schemes and grants available. It’s a win-win. And if your apprentice is a younger person, they can be moulded perfectly for the business’s values and systems. Regardless of age, you’re getting a fresh member of the team who is 100% willing to learn your business from top to bottom, and usually they learn a lot quicker that way because they have to.

Would you recommend apprenticeships to others?

Charmaine: I would tell a school leaver to take on an apprenticeship if there’s one available in their chosen field of study. I’d also advise them to research the qualifications and benefits offered by the company they’re applying to. They should also take short online courses and read more about apprenticeships to help prepare them for when they start an apprenticeship.

Ben: My advice would be to seriously think about what is right for you and only you. Whatever field you want to go into, see if there’s a college doing a relevant course. A lot of colleges are teamed with local businesses for apprentice roles, so you will have the support you need, and won’t feel like you’re tackling it alone. Choosing what you want to do feels like the most daunting task, but you can always get another qualification or do another course.

If you are business minded at all, an AAT apprenticeship is like gold dust. It gives you the understanding and fundamentals of accounting, and those skills are so transferable. If you wanted to change into another area of business, having an accounting/finance qualification under your belt will make you stand out. It also makes life easier if you can understand basic tax!

Find out more about apprenticeships

Find out how apprenticeships are run and see how AAT can support you with running your scheme successfully.

Start now

Cat Hall is AAT Content Editor, members and technical .

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