While my degree did not lend itself to an obvious career route, I knew that I was interested in the public sector, and that obtaining a job where I felt like I was making a difference was important to me.
I applied to the National Audit Office (NAO), attracted by the opportunity of working for an organisation which holds the government to account, and whose work leads to direct improvements in the delivery of public services. To obtain the prestigious ACA qualification at the same time was a bonus.
Did you start your training straight after university?
I took some time out to do temporary jobs, to fund travel through Africa, Asia and Australia before start my training agreement. I began a three-year training contract at the NAO in April 2006, during which time I attended college on block-release together with the rest of my graduate intake.
What was the training like?
The training was intense and demanding, but incredibly valuable, providing a sound footing for a career in the public or private sector. I found college to be challenging, yet enjoyable, and the experience of supporting each other to pass the exams has led our intake to become good friends.
The training at college was supplemented at the NAO by specific courses on our own audit methodology, and the unique aspects to consider as a public sector audit body.
What did your trainee work cover at NAO?
The NAO has two key streams of work: financial audit, which involves the certification of the accounts of government bodies; and Value for Money (VFM) work, which involves the examination of specific government programmes with a view to making recommendations to improve delivery.
During my three years as a trainee, I had the opportunity to work on both streams, across a variety of government departments. This included the financial audit of the Department of Health and a number of its Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs), and VFM work examining such diverse topics as the 2012 Olympic Games and the provision of health services in England for alcohol misuse.
Trainees are encouraged to take on real responsibility – for example, taking the lead on financial audits, which provides a real sense of achievement and the opportunity to manage more junior staff.
What has been your career highlight so far?
A particular highlight of my career at the NAO has been the opportunity to travel. Although the focus of the NAO’s work is to provide assurance to Parliament on the use of public funds, it has also been appointed the external auditor of a number of international organisations.
As part of the audit of the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO), which works to improve health and living standards of the countries of the Americas, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, and countries in South and Central America.
Have you used your language skills?
Having studied Spanish at university, I enjoyed being able to put my language skills to good use, and working with international organisations like PAHO to help improve their governance and accountability was very rewarding.
Have you specialised in an area since becoming an ICAEW member?
Following the ACA, I have chosen to specialise in VFM audit, and have taken on my first lead role on a VFM study in the education sector.
I feel that the skills I have learned through my accountancy training, in addition to the experience I gained throughout my training contract, have set me in good stead to take on this role. The training enabled me to develop technical expertise, gave me skills in client liaison, in dealing with senior management, and the opportunity to manage staff on a wide variety of projects. I am pleased I chose to pursue the ACA qualification, and specifically at the NAO.
The work carried out by the NAO is high profile and has real impact, whether in improved service delivery, governance, or financial savings; knowing that my work directly contributes to this is satisfying. Our work is not only enjoyable, but makes a difference.