The theme of this year’s #NationalApprenticeshipWeek (3-9 February 2020) is #LookBeyond. Employers are being encouraged to look beyond traditional hiring routes to apprenticeship schemes that can unlock fantastic long-term career options. It is hoped that parents and young people will also see past common misconceptions about apprentices and instead see them as the business leaders of the future, working across all sectors and in a variety of positions.

For businesses, Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) believes that the government could do more to help in the ‘Look Beyond’ vein – simply by making Britain’s millions of smaller companies aware that the apprenticeship levy can benefit their firm, even though they may not be responsible for paying the levy themselves.

While small businesses only need to pay 5% towards the cost of apprenticeship training in order to access levy funding, there have been funding issues for some non-levy paying companies, leading to some training providers having to turn away would-be apprentices. Smaller businesses need to be placed at the forefront – with funding opportunities clearly explained and made available – if apprenticeship starts and completion rates are to improve.

AAT has been at the forefront of demonstrating that apprenticeships aren’t just for young men wanting to enter blue-collar trades, such as plumbing and joinery. Around 20% of AAT’s 90,000 students (two in three of whom are female) are training as apprentices; and they represent all ages from school leavers through to career changers. As these two stories show, AAT apprenticeships can significantly change people’s lives:

I overcame homelessness to make it as an accountant

AAT NAW2020 Mimi

Mimi Beard, 21 from Falmouth, Cornwall, works full-time in the Truro office of chartered accountants and business advisers, PKF Francis Clark. She attends a local college one day a week, as part of her apprenticeship.

Mimi had to overcome huge adversity to get into her chosen career of accountancy.

“My upbringing was turbulent,” Mimi explains. “My dad left when I was four months old, and I was responsible for caring for my mum who had major mental and physical health problems. My twin was fostered when we were 15 and conversely I found myself homeless before I began my GCSEs.”

At just 16, Mimi ended up in the Penzance branch of the YMCA, where she completed secondary school. Despite the challenges she had faced, Mimi’s dedication to her education resulted in a fantastic set of GCSE results that enabled her to continue her studies further, taking on business and politics A-Levels at college.

Mimi really began to see the results of her hard work and determination when she secured a role with tech company Hi9, where her interest in finance began to grow. She then applied for KPMG’s work experience programme and was thrilled when she discovered that she had been successful.

Her enthusiasm and experience at KPMG, along with good grades in both her A-Levels and AAT Level 1 exam, secured Mimi a place on PKF Francis Clark’s apprenticeship programme shortly after completing college.

Mimi has now been at PKF Francis Clark for over a year and loves the challenges that work provides.

“Every day is different,” Mimi explains, “and therefore work never feels repetitive. My employer offers a well-rounded approach to accountancy and they show me the different paths I could go with my career.”

Mimi takes a very active role at PKF Francis Clark, continually learning new skills and building her experience and in 2019, she won the title of ‘Accountancy Apprentice of the Year’ at the Cornwall Apprenticeship Awards.

Mimi’s commitments also go above and beyond the office. Outside of her work and studies, she finds the time to support socially disadvantaged young adults. She regularly provides talks to employers about the importance of offering opportunities to the socially disadvantaged through education and employment. She also became an ambassador for a homelessness charity in 2019.

“AAT has helped me to understand the core concepts of accountancy, and so has helped me progress at work,” “I want to continue to complete my Level 4 and become a professional accountant with full AAT membership.”

From retail to software accounting (with boxing on the side)

Damilare Oladunni, 23 from Lewisham, South London, works as a Finance Assistant for Caplin Systems, an independent software company. He’s currently studying for his AAT Advanced Diploma in Accounting, and has been studying AAT for nearly three years.

“Before studying, I was working part-time in retail,” says Damilare. “I decided to do the AAT qualification because it provides you with the perfect foundation for embarking on a career in the accounting and finance industry.”

Damilare is earning while he learns, combining four days a week doing a variety of tasks for Caplin with a day at college studying for his next exams.

“I often found studying and working challenging as I was not sure how to best distribute my time,” he adds. “But my current system of working and studying enables me to be efficient in both aspects of my life.”

“I’ve benefitted from employer support too, with regular meetings with my manager to ensure I am fully supported at work and with my studies. For one of the AAT exams I found most challenging, they organised a senior manager to sit down with me two or three times a week after work to assist me in studying.”

Away from the workplace, Damilare has been able to focus on his other love – boxing.

“I’ve started taking part in charity events,” Damilare says, “but would like to join a professional boxing club because I enjoy keeping fit.”

“In my career, AAT has provided me with an excellent foundation in accounting and finance to excel in the world of work. It is another stepping stone to achieving my goal of becoming a qualified accountant.”

For more information about how an accounting apprenticeship can open doors to an exciting professional career in finance, visit the AAT website.

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