I’ve always been interested in business and finance and looked at accounting as a career rather than going to university. When I started looking at the different jobs available for school leavers I realised I didn’t have to study accounting, there were loads of other opportunities I didn’t previously know existed.
What made you decide to enter into employment over university?
In our generation, we’re just expected to go to university because that’s what everyone does after A levels. While university appealed to me and I did complete my UCAS application, the thought of having to study for three years and then go on to do my professional qualifications for three more years just didn’t seem like the best choice for me. I learn better on-the-job than by reading up on the theory of how to do it.
What is the best and worst thing about your apprenticeship?
We’re treated as equals – that’s the best thing about my apprenticeship. There’s a lot of misconception that if you’re a school leaver you’re valued less than other staff, especially graduates. You’re not. Although our studies are at different paces, school leavers do the exact same work as graduates.
For me, the worst thing is I don’t have as much free time as I expected. After working 9-5 every day, you then have to study for your professional exams, and if you don’t put the time in then you won’t pass. Although this restricts your free time in the first few years, the end result is worth it. I’m 19 years old, and within 4 years I’ll be ACA qualified with a full-time job that has a salary the equivalent of my friend’s university debts.
What skills have you found most useful?
As cheesy as it sounds, those transferable skills that are drilled into you are the ones I use the most. As a school leaver going into a profession like accountancy, you have zero experience. It’s not like studying maths at school or having a part-time job, it’s more responsibility than that. Having good communication skills to update your manager or the client how you’re getting on with the work, having basic analytical skills so you can quickly find the information you need or simply being able to work with different teams of people each week – these are the most important things you can have when going into a School Leaver Higher Apprenticeship.
What challenges have you come across so far in your apprenticeship?
For me, the biggest challenge so far has been the adjustment. When you first start it’s quite easy to get used to working with different people every day. However, when the exam study begins, it’s your responsibility to ensure you do all your studying and work. Yes, you have to do this at A level and finish your homework, but when you’re working 9-5 and travelling to and from work, it’s more tiring than you anticipate. Getting a good balance of time to work, study and relax is vital.
What advice would you give students looking to apply?
If you are considering a school leaver programme instead of university, just apply. It’s better to apply for both rather than just one and realise halfway through the year it’s not what you want. In Year 12, I was fully prepared to go to university but after getting my AS Level results I realised I didn’t have the grades to go to the university I wanted and started applying for school leaver programmes as well. My top piece of advice would have to be to stay motivated. I know doing an endless amount of applications is tedious but it will be worth it.
Ashley Louise’s timeline:
- Completed GCSEs.
- Began work as a Sales Assistant at WHSmiths in June.
- Completed AS levels and promoted to Supervisor in WHSmiths in May.
- Applied for school leaver programmes in October.
- Completed UCAS application in December.
- Completed A levels.
- Attended interviews, assessment centres etc. in February/March.
- Received an offer for Mazars in March.
- Corporate Assistant at Mazars UK for over a year.