Is there a ‘right route’ into accountancy?

Is there a 'right route' into accountancy?

Two trainees from BDO compare apprenticeship and graduate schemes, and their routes into accountancy

When young people are considering pursuing accountancy as a career, going to university and securing a degree qualification still seems to be the most “traditional” method.

However, an increasing amount of research and reports have been published, and these very clearly outline the value businesses place on apprenticeship schemes. With university degrees being hampered with hefty student fees and a large amount of debt, it seems that apprenticeships are becoming a more popular route.

BDO recently announced the recruitment of 300 new trainees, selected from a mixture of graduates and apprentices. A common question that has arisen is how different/similar the BDO apprenticeship trainee scheme is to that of a graduate.

According to BDO’s report, “for graduates, it consists of three years’ training. For apprentices, who typically join after their A-Levels, it takes four.” Regardless, the end result for all trainees is the same. They will be qualified accountants and may choose to complete the Level 7 Accountancy/Taxation Professional Apprenticeship qualification, which is essentially the same as a master’s degree.

The BDO report goes on to add: “However, students – and their parents – are often confused about the right path to take, and career advisers aren’t always well informed either.”

Two of BDO’s trainees spoke with the firm and explained why they had chosen to go down their decided path into accountancy. Liam Stretton is a graduate in the tax team at BDO in Birmingham. Ashleigh Still works in BDO’s Guildford office in the Specialist BDODrive team, having joined the apprenticeship programme in 2017.

When asked why he chose to study accounting and finance at university, Liam said: “I had always wanted to go to university and had an interest in finance, so it seemed like the obvious choice for me.”

In contrast, Ashleigh claimed: “I did consider university, but I was attracted to the idea of being able to ‘earn as I learn’ and get commercial experience while studying for my qualifications. The opportunity to become a qualified accountant in four years, without any student debt, was appealing.”

Both trainees emphasised the desire to gain real hands-on experience in the accountancy world. That is arguably more achievable when studying an apprenticeship, as you are learning your role in a working environment.

Your first full-time job will always be daunting, whether you come into it from an apprenticeship scheme or straight from university. Liam highlighted this when talking about challenges he has faced: “For any trainee, studying alongside full-time work can be demanding. It is very different to being at college or university, when you can focus solely on your exams.” He went on to add that BDO has made sure to include “paid study leave and the firm pays for your exam fees.”

From a wider perspective, Ashleigh argued that “there is still a lack of awareness about the benefits of apprenticeships, with students and their parents not knowing apprenticeships are an option when they’re considering a career in accountancy.”

BDO, through their trainee scheme, is highlighting how – regardless of the direction chosen – you can forge a highly successful career in accountancy. The trainee scheme is there to ensure that everyone taken on is moulded into effective accountants, with the same level of knowledge and shared experience.

Ashleigh added: “As you’d expect from a big firm, you get lots of training and development towards your professional qualification, but you also learn the skills and behaviours that will help you become successful in your role.”

Liam advised those starting out to “grab hold of every opportunity. Regularly ask for feedback on your work and performance, get involved in projects that may be outside your remit, and take part in social activities with your colleagues.”

Ashleigh concluded: “Go to careers fairs and get involved in internships or summer schools to get some hands-on experience. Talk to others, too. I can’t praise the apprenticeship programme enough – university isn’t your only route.”

Ultimately, BDO’s trainee scheme proves that, whether you undertake an apprenticeship or go to university, you are equally capable of qualifying as an accountant.

Nonetheless, awareness of accountancy apprenticeship schemes needs to be circulated, so that young people are allowed to consider every option.

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