At school, Sally Fisher had a passion for maths but the stress of A levels made her question whether pursuing the subject at university was the right option.
“Sizeable debt and the uncertainty of not obtaining a job at the end of a degree was a very daunting thought,” she says. But when she received an email advertising an accounting role at Whittingham Riddell in Shrewsbury, she jumped at the opportunity to use her mathematical mind in the workplace.
A positive start
Apprenticeship schemes have two components – the practical experience of a paid role and the pursuit of a relevant industry qualification, which in Fisher’s case was with training provider Kaplan. Fisher says this structure suits her approach to education: “I am a very practical learner, and I learn best when I can relate what I am studying to real life situations. It is very rewarding when you’re able to apply what you’ve learned to a job role.”
That opportunity to develop in the workplace also allows apprentices to develop their people skills in a professional setting, something that university courses often don’t provide. The customer-facing aspect of Fisher’s role is something that she relishes: “I’m very lucky, my role is active and I get a lot of client contact.”
Another great advantage of the scheme for Fisher is harnessing knowledge that you can only pick up through experience: “It’s great to gain skills that cannot be taught in the classroom. The ‘tricks of the trade’, so to speak.” Receiving regular feedback from more experienced colleagues has helped her gain confidence. She advises others embarking upon an apprenticeship to be positive and open: “You need to be enthusiastic and keen to learn.”
Fisher says the first six months of the process were the most challenging: “They’re the hardest as you are still finding your feet. It is a completely new environment and you often forget how much change has occurred in such a short period of time.” But that experience was positive: “You learn how to deal with difficult situations and how to prevent them in the future.”
Time management is one area Fisher has found testing but she says the supportive office culture has helped: “Deadlines are a key part of any finance role and it takes some time to adapt. Luckily, I am part of a close knit team and we tackle obstacles together.” She’s also been able to draw on a network of tutors with a wealth of professional experience for extra support.
Apprenticeships also bring considerable benefits to the companies that offer them. Helen Spencer, HR partner at Whittingham Riddell, says: “Sally is an asset to the firm and our experience of the apprenticeship scheme continues to contribute to our ongoing success.” For those worried about job security, she offers reassurance: “We have higher levels of employee retention from those individuals who have joined the firm via our apprenticeship programme.”
Whittingham Riddell’s experience is far from unusual. Studies by The National Apprenticeship Service have found that 80 percent of businesses report an increase in employee retention after implementing a scheme and that 71 percent of participants stay with the same employer when their apprenticeship ends.
A lasting impact
Two years after starting her career in accountancy, Fisher is still enjoying her role. “The variation of the work completed daily is what keeps the job interesting. No two tasks are the same,” she says. Reflecting on her experience so far, she pinpoints her biggest achievements as passing her exams, becoming a Xero Certified Advisor and gaining a promotion. She adds, “There have been so many small achievements that have boosted my confidence and enhanced my enjoyment of the apprenticeship.”
Fisher is also encouraged by the wealth of career opportunities available to apprentices. She says “In the finance profession, those who begin their careers through an apprenticeship can achieve just as much as those who start with a university degree.”
After a strong start, she has set the bar high for her future: “In 10 years time, I hope to be part of a management team, as a chartered accountant.” Alongside that ambition, she acknowledges the importance of building “a strong successful reputation” in the industry to achieve your goals.
Pursuing an apprenticeship has helped Sally Fisher transform a love of maths at school into a promising career. Her advice to other students planning on following the same route? “Keep smiling and do your best.” That’s a great equation for success.
Jesse Onslow Norton is a writer, editor and communications consultant at Flibl. A former coder, his editorial work focuses on fintech, digital transformation, policy and regulation. His clients include corporations, governments, startups and SMEs from across the world. Follow him on Twitter @JesseOnslow.