This joint AAT-ICAEW case study highlights how apprentices are making rapid career progress with leading accountancy firm RSM.
Young people have traditionally entered accountancy by going to university and studying for a further three years before qualifying. But with rising university costs and different routes into the profession now available, apprenticeships are becoming an attractive option.
RSM trains apprentices through an in-house programme, providing an alternative accountancy training route. School leavers join the scheme after their A-levels and follow the AAT to ACA pathway to achieve chartered status.
Career fast track
Under the AAT to ACA pathway, apprentices take AAT’s level 3 Bookkeeping Certificate, before moving on to AAT’s Professional Diploma (Level 4) in a fast-track apprenticeship completed within 24 months.
They then embark on a three year ACA programme with ICAEW under the Level 7 Accountancy Professional Apprenticeship.
With an apprenticeship, you do five years and come out with two qualifications, no debt and good career prospects.Jack Hayden, manager RSM UK Audit
Jack Hayden, a manager at RSM UK Audit, is enthusiastic about the benefits:
“If you go down the university route, you may be studying for up to six years before qualifying, not to mention incurring a lot of student debt. This way, you do five years and come out with two qualifications, no debt and good career prospects.”
Work experience boosts skills
Students also gain work experience alongside their studies, meaning they pick up vital skills along the way. This can potentially make them ready for managerial positions earlier than a university-leaver with a degree.
In terms of on-the-job work and training, there’s no differentiation between the role an AAT-ACA apprentice does and that of a graduate. For both groups, career prospects are improved by completing the ACA qualification.
Increasing diversity in the workplace
For RSM, apprenticeships make a career in accountancy accessible to people from different backgrounds and a way of increasing diversity in the business. “It means we get slightly different skillsets and people with different points of view,” says Jack.
“Overall, our intakes have increased due to growth in the business and as such we have been looking to increase the number of school leavers to provide us with a more diverse workforce,” Jack continues.
Plans for expansion
Now, RSM is looking to increase the number of people it recruits on to its school leaver apprenticeship scheme. There are a number of ways it’s looking to do this, including holding taster weeks for school leavers where they can try out working for an accountancy firm, and holding a CV-writing workshop, in the hope they will apply to RSM when they leave school.
We have an increasing number of our trainees joining us from school, and we find that they are able to very quickly make a real contribution to the business.Victoria Kirkhope, HR & Development Director RSM
“We really value the apprenticeship route into the profession. We have an increasing number of our trainees joining us from school, and we find that they are able to very quickly make a real contribution to the business,”
says Victoria Kirkhope, HR & Development Director at RSM. “Along with the opportunity to gain a professional qualification, our school leaver trainees tell us that the additional work experience they gain is of real benefit to them as they develop their career.”
The increasing popularity of apprenticeships as a genuine alternative to university has also helped to make RSM’s scheme attractive, both to students and their parents. Jack continues; “There’s definitely a shift in the market with university fees being so high. For people who want to go straight from school into a chartered accountancy career, it’s a really good option.”
Case study: no debt and rapid career progression
Louise Leonard first became interested in accountancy when she took it as an A-level at school before a teacher alerted her to the idea of starting her career as an apprentice with RSM UK. “University never appealed to me but I’d enjoyed the course in the sixth form so thought I’d stick to that route,” she says.
Students are given time off to attend college and exams, but alongside her AAT, and later ACA training, Louise worked for the business in the London office. “From the start you’re on-site doing the work,” she says. “You’re treated the same as a graduate in terms of the workload, and RSM were really good at giving on-the-job training around our studies.”
Chartered status and a promotion
Louise completed her ACA in August 2017 and was promoted to audit manager just six months later. “If I’d come in as a graduate there’s no way I’d have been promoted within six months, but because I’d had those two years’ additional experience while doing AAT, it means that I was promoted much sooner,” she says.
Today, there are no regrets around either the career or the route she took, and she believes others will also follow in her footsteps. “Ten years ago it was all about going to university but now there’s more of a push to consider other options,” she says.
Ten years ago it was all about going to university but now there’s more of a push to consider other options.Louise Leonard, RSM
As for herself, Louise is keen to continue progressing at RSM UK. “I’d like to manage for at least another year and then see where it goes. The next step would be to senior manager although I’m not looking at that just yet.”
Read more on apprenticeships;
- Apprenticeships and the levy for small businesses
- Skills shortage – how accountancy firms can work around this
- What employers look for when hiring an AAT apprentice
Nick Martindale is a freelance journalist, editor and copywriter. He regularly contributes to a wide range of national and business media, including The Telegraph, Raconteur supplements in The Times and HR magazine.