Want to become a pilot and an accountant? Do an AAT apprenticeship

Alex Chance is a high-flyer. Not only is he doing an AAT apprenticeship, but he’s also learned to pilot aircraft while working at Take Flight Aviation in Wellesbourne, Warwickshire. “It’s an incredible feeling to say that I’m 20 years old and hold a pilot’s licence,” he says.

Chance’s journey began at the end of his time at school. Although he’d finished his A levels, the next step was still undecided and he wasn’t convinced by university. “I feel there’s so much pressure to go to university currently,” says Chance. “So much so that it’s become the norm and therefore has less value.”

Then his school’s career adviser saw the apprenticeship opportunity at Take Flight Aviation. “He presented it to me and from there I researched what the apprenticeship was for and became keen to do it,” says Chance. “The pivotal moment was when I saw that I had the opportunity to do my PPL [private pilot’s licence].”

In July 2015, Chance joined the company as a finance apprentice and began working towards AAT qualifications and his PPL. In choosing the apprenticeship route to a career in finance, he is part of a growing trend: the UK government’s renewed emphasis on apprenticeships means the opportunity to earn and learn at the same time is open to growing numbers of young people aged between 16 and 25.

Life in the real world

At Take Flight Aviation, Chance is one of the reception team, although every member of staff, regardless of their role in the workplace, has either gained or is working towards their private pilot’s licence. His day involves varied tasks, a lot of social interaction, and a range of experience that simply wouldn’t be available to a full-time student at college or university. He’s also making some great contacts. “Because of my workplace, I’ve managed to network with hundreds of people,” he says. “That’s something you can’t teach or pass in an exam.”

One of the many transferable skills Chance has acquired since 2015 is dealing with the unexpected. “Every day can be different. You’re dealing with different people and different situations each day, and being able to overcome them is greatly satisfying.”

Another challenge has been making the transition from education to full-time work. “I’d say an apprenticeship adjusts you to the real world,” he says. “There were a few times I learned a lesson the hard way, but I realised everyone knows I’m human and will make mistakes. I thought of things more carefully after each mistake and managed to filter out my weaknesses.”

An example of learning the hard way came during Chance’s first couple of months at Take Flight Aviation. “I took a booking from a customer who had a voucher, and I booked their flight for a particular date,” says Chance. “However, it wasn’t until they arrived that I realised the booking hadn’t gone through the system properly and therefore there was no aircraft nor an instructor to take them up. They’d travelled quite a distance to be there. It was one of those moments where I felt I let myself down and made the company look bad. Obviously it made me more aware of each booking I made after that.”

Working hard has made Chance appreciate the value of money, too. “You need to make a living and work hard to see the benefit. I feel that an apprenticeship is a way to ease people into that and become more independent and appreciative of what they earn.”

An award-winning apprentice

Mike Roberts, managing director at Take Flight Aviation, agrees with Chance’s assessment and recognises the impact he’s had at the company. “I think what our apprentice achieved far outweighs what he would have achieved at uni,” he says. “We won a local award against stiff competition, so clearly he was the perfect fit.”

The award in question was handed to Chance at the Coventry and Warwickshire Apprentice of the Year awards in 2016, where the judges recognised his achievements by naming him the top apprentice in the administration, accounting and finance category.

Now new doors are open to Chance, who is also fascinated by the possibility of becoming a pilot in the RAF. But, he says, “I’d like to think regardless of whether I’m a pilot, I’m doing something I enjoy and look forward to turning up to work each day.”

Finally, he looks back on his experience as an apprentice, which prompts a few words of advice for anyone thinking of taking the same path. “Don’t be put off by anything that looks challenging,” says Chance. “It’s never bad to be out of your comfort zone. Always be positive and think about what you can achieve.”

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.

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