There is more than one route into an accountancy career, and the journey you take very much depends on what suits you. There is no one right way to do it that will guarantee the most success. It is all about what you put in when you start on your path.

Accountancy Age spoke to two apprentices from Big Four firm, EY, to hear about their experience of doing an apprenticeship in accountancy.

Omar Choudhury, EY Degree Apprentice

Omar Choudhury is currently doing a Degree Apprenticeship at EY, meaning he balances studying for a degree with working, so he can earn money while he learns.

When asked about his typical day, Choudhury said: “I attend university on Mondays, working towards a BA Honours in Business Leadership and Management in association with the Chartered Management Institute.

“The other four days are spent working alongside EY’s advisory team in Newcastle and I’m currently working on an anti-money laundering project.”

When he’s not studying or working, Choudhury does manage to find enough time to practice martial arts.

“I have a black belt in Taekwondo and have been chosen to represent Northumbria University in Mixed Martial Arts.”

He says that his degree apprenticeship “has been fantastic. Not only have I been able to earn a salary whilst working towards a degree, I have also been given the chance to experience working at a Big Four firm and all of the benefits that come with that.”

Despite having a lot on his plate, Choudhury feels very well supported as an apprentice, since they get assigned meetings with the partners who run the program, as well as work and university councillors and wellbeing seminars.

He said: “Everyone is extremely supportive of each other and I can confidentially talk to a range of people about any challenges I might be facing.”

Getting the apprenticeship

Choudhury began his A-Levels and, after his first year of studying for them, decided to do some work experience during the summer. The EY Foundation’s Smart Future programme was one of the placements he chose to do.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at EY and knew I wanted to join a firm that looked after its staff so well, something that was evident throughout the programme.

“I found out about the degree apprenticeship that was being launched, which was an opportunity to work towards a paid degree, qualification and salary whilst working for a Big Four firm and knew this was the perfect career path for me.

The idea of a degree apprenticeship may put some people off for fear it will involve a lot of work and sacrifice but Choudhury said they are “allocated study days to do our assignments, so with good time management I find I can complete both the university and office work to a high standard.

“All the degree apprentices and our councillors – who have trialled the programme – meet once a month to discuss and resolve any issues or concerns.”

Choudhury added: “For me, the best part of the EY apprenticeship is the opportunities we are given, that I would otherwise never have thought I would be involved in.

“For example, I was one of a few apprentices nationally to be part of the Government’s FireitUp campaign, which is an initiative to spread awareness of the fantastic range of apprenticeships that are available across the country.

“I featured on the homepage of the campaign as well as on billboards across the country. I was also invited to the House of Commons to interview the Minister of Apprenticeships for Channel 5 news and to Westminster where I met a number of MPs who support the campaign.”

Sandra Thompson, EY’s Newcastle managing partner

Thompson started life at EY as an apprentice. She left school at 16 and decided she wanted to start earning money immediately, so this was the route for her.

“Over the road from where I lived with my parents in Blyth, in the North East of England, was a small accountancy practice. I started as an accounts clerk with them and took opportunities as they arose, for example I recall taking up a position with a larger firm, despite it being an hour commute from home on the bus.”

Career progression

Twenty-five years after starting as an apprentice at the local practice in Blyth, Thompson returned to the area after working in Newcastle, Edinburgh, and London, to lead EY’s North-East practice, the third largest office in the UK, consisting of 650 employees.

“In 2012 I made Partner – an ambition I had held as a teenager. I have worked with businesses of all sizes, across all sectors, particularly fast-growth companies looking to expand internationally.”

Like Choudhury, Thompson feels it is important to find time for other passions in her life.

“I like to actively contribute in the local community. I volunteer at The People’s Kitchen in Newcastle, which supports homeless and disadvantaged people. I also hold a board position on the Elton John AIDS Foundation as a non-executive member of the Finance & Investment Committee.”

Diversity in accountancy

Over the course of her career, and now as a managing partner at EY, Thompson has learned a lot about getting into and working up the accountancy profession. She can shed light on EY’s recruitment practices in particular.

EY recently removed the academic entry criteria from its student recruitment process.

Thompson explained that it was “to remove a barrier to entry to the profession.

“The move has opened-up employment opportunities for all.  It has also helped us to diversify our student intake, with the skills, experience and strengths our business will need for the future.

“By recognising and harnessing the most diverse range of ideas, experience and skills, our business can flex and innovate in an increasingly fast-paced and evolving sector. We particularly want to improve the representation of female and ethnic minority leaders among our Partnership.

“Diversity and inclusion is a firm priority for us as a business; a tone that is set from the top of our organisation. EY invests in many initiatives to spur cultural and targeted change, including inclusive leadership training for our leaders and tailored development programmes for our up and coming talent. We have made positive strides on diversity and inclusion and are always looking at ways we can accelerate progress.”

Thompson is also keen to spread the word that an accountancy career does not have to start – or even involve – working in London if you don’t want it to.

“Having been an apprentice myself, it is something I’m personally very passionate about – creating employment opportunities for talented young people, regardless of their schooling or background.

“EY has a wealth of routes that young people can explore and pursue in their early career, wherever they are in the country, from EY SmartFutures to the EY Digital Degree.”




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