Progressing to partner as a school-leaver apprentice

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AAT Apprentice-turned-Partner Ryan Day shows how he grew a successful career

Moore Kingston Smith (MKS) is an accountancy firm with six offices in London and the South East, providing professional services, audit and accounting. It has around 750 staff, of which around 180 are trainees and around 30 are on the AAT apprenticeship route. MKS offers a two-year apprentice programme, with trainees starting at AAT Level 4.

Here we talk to one of their former apprentices, Ryan Day, about how he progressed to Partner leading the MKS Technology sector group in just a decade.

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Why do an apprenticeship?

“I had applied to go to university to study Law but I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to go. I felt that I would likely end up in a Finance or Accountancy role regardless of whether I had a university degree. I thought I could shortcut the process by signing up for an apprenticeship. I joined MKS straight from doing my A levels in Maths, Law, Chemistry and Geography,” in September 2007 explains Ryan Day, Partner.

The prospect of learning on the job and earning money at the same time was attractive to Ryan.“ MKS offered the opportunity to work hard and study hard, but also have fun and get to know the other trainees as well.”

However, his family took a bit more persuading. “My family were supportive albeit I think some were disappointed,” he said. “Nobody in my family had been to university at that point and my Grandad who passed away when I was in my final year of secondary school certainly wanted me to go.”

Balancing work and study

The AAT training contract was two years, and after Ryan qualified at Level 4 he sat his first ACA exam paper in June 2009.

“It was a balance of studying and learning on the job as college was booked for two-week blocks around client assignments,” he says. “Juggling both was a learning curve but getting the practical work experience whilst studying towards the qualification was attractive.”

Taking on responsibility

His apprenticeship gave him a lot of responsibility at a young age. He found he was leading assignments at age 20 and was regularly asked to supervise the work of trainees who had joined the firm at graduate level.

“MKS is good at continuity, so if you did a job in your first year, you’d often go back and do it your second year and third year, each time taking on a more senior role,” he explains. “One of my first senior jobs was with a law firm that was based in Covent Garden which had around 16 partners or so in size. I took that job on pretty much as soon as I qualified, and then ultimately kept that client and held the relationship, despite there being two or three partner changes.”

As he progressed in MKS he gained more responsibility in running the internal teams, supervising the booking of staff, appraisals, looking after his own team of trainees and reporting directly to the partners. MKS now has a pipeline of AAT and graduate trainees who follow a broadly similar training plan.

Growing confidence and experience

“If you knew me 12 or 15 years ago, you would have said I was shy and very quiet – not how people would describe me now,” he says. “I became a partner at age 30. It is important to try to have the confidence and the courage to put yourself forward and volunteer for opportunities within the organisation.”

“Looking back, I was quite shy but having to deal with challenging clients toughened me up. I always remember a senior manager, who is still at MKS, briefing me on the job and telling me to take no nonsense from a more junior trainee and backing me to do well.”

Deciding on a career path

During his training, Ryan had worked with a lot of not-for-profit organisations, law firms and real estate companies, but ultimately decided that despite his wealth of experience, he didn’t want to move firms to specialise in a specific sector.

“It was about making an informed decision about whether you want to specialise in a particular sector or industry. I decided to stay in practice because no two days are the same and you don’t get pigeon-holed. I have taken on the MKS Technology sector group and it has really pushed me out of my comfort zone.”

Pressing on to partner

“I do really feel part of MKS, especially as I have progressed to becoming an Equity Partner within the firm,” he says. “The former Senior Partner Martin Muirhead was someone I worked with closely as a manager and senior manager and he championed my cause,” Ryan explains. “You work directly with a number of partners, and performance at this level is monitored closely so potential partners are identified from a long way out.”

He says that now in his role as partner he prioritises delivering good quality work to a deadline, engaging with clients around what keeps them awake at night, and thinking about how the firm can assist outside of the compliance cycle.

“I have enjoyed the journey from AAT apprentice to partner, and I can thoroughly recommend it,” he says. “After all, here I am at MKS 16 years later. My advice to would-be trainees is to go for it. Taking that route opens up so many avenues for your future career.”

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

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

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