By Jessica Bown Career Why now is the perfect time to train as an accountant 2 Oct 2023 All companies need accountants and finance professionals, so there are always lots of opportunities available to people with AAT qualifications. But choosing the right opportunities is not always easy, particularly at the start of your career in finance. Here, new AAT President Kevin Bragg shares the wisdom he has built up over years in the industry, working as everything from a commercial apprentice to an executive director. “We know our people are in demand,” Bragg says. “The world is getting more complex, and that’s not going to change. “HMRC keeps making changes to try to circumvent accountants working in practice for small businesses, but the tradespeople in the self-assessment system don’t see it that way. “And at a company level, accountants are needed for everything from compliance to costing. “That’s one reason for the well-publicised shortage of accountants already causing problems in the USA, where employers are struggling to find both accountants and auditors.” The key skills students need to succeed in accounting today Anyone who has completed an AAT qualification will have a level of technical ability to bring to the workplace. But while technical skills, and the reassurance these qualifications offer employers, are crucial when you are job seeking, companies today are also looking for “real-world ready” candidates with complementary non-technical skills that will allow them to make a more valuable contribution. “It’s vital to know how to present yourself and how to present information to colleagues and clients,” Kevin says. “For those re-training with AAT, it’s also important to understand the value of the transferrable skills you gained during your previous career and how you can put them to good use.” How AAT membership adds to your value as an accountant AAT training is widely recognised as a stepping stone to success in the working world. But your studies are just the beginning of your AAT journey. “AAT training allows you to command a higher salary and gives you the tool kit you need to succeed as a finance professional,” Kevin says. “But when it comes to employability, it’s important to be able to differentiate yourself from others. “And I would strongly argue that being able to demonstrate you are a member of a professional association will differentiate you from the other candidates up for a job. “Continuing your AAT membership also opens doors throughout your career, as well as providing a window to a world of information and opportunities to stay on top of your CPD.” The importance of CPD and “lifelong learning” Employability is key at all stages of your career; you never know when you will be offered a new opportunity or feel the need to move on to a new challenge. “From a career perspective, I think people should move around during their working lives,” Kevin says. “It will depend on the organisation you are working for, but if you get bored, you will lose motivation. “So never be afraid to go back out into the marketplace and see what’s available.” The AAT’s focus on CPD means that membership makes it easier to maintain a professional edge, and therefore remain highly employable throughout your working life. “The opportunity to find a mentor through the local branch network can also be really beneficial when it comes to managing your career progression,” Kevin adds. How to remain relevant in the age of AI The increasing use of AI in business looks set to change the role of accountants over the next five to 10 years. But there’s no need to see this as a negative thing. “AI will be part of a new productivity drive,” Kevin says. “Those who can adapt to these changes will find lots of new opportunities. “As businesses start using AI for more in-depth analysis of whether a campaign worked or not, for example, they will need more finance professionals, especially those with database management skills.” Advice for students looking to secure their first role as an accountant When recruiting accountants, employers will always be looking for someone with the right qualifications and experience to benefit the company. So even if you’re entering the finance job market for the first time, be sure to emphasise your real-life work experience in different sectors, as well as any transferrable skills you have as a result. “Within industry, the actual accounting methods used can vary a lot between different sectors, which could come as a bit of a culture shock to someone who has spent all their time training in an academic environment,” Kevin says. It’s also important to know your own worth and not feel you must go for the first job you are offered. “When applying for a job, you should always research the employer you are considering working for,” Kevin adds. “Knowing who they are and what they do will be very helpful in your interview. “And you might even find out this way that they are not the sort of company where you want to work. “It’s important to be clear about what you are going to get out of it too.” Further reading AAT’s Lifelong learning portal: the interactive resource to help you get ahead High demand for accountancy qualifications in 2023 Kick-start your accountancy career by studying AAT online Jessica Bown is an award-winning freelance journalist and editor.