Case study

Trainee accountant — Lorna May Hourigan

As a trainee accountant at P B Hourigan & Co, Lorna is studying an online AAT Professional Diploma in Accounting (Level 4) through The Skills Network

Why did you make this career change to accountancy?

After spending ten years working in fashion, I felt I'd lost my passion for the industry. I was persuaded to seriously consider accountancy for a more secure career. I realised it would open doors to different job opportunities.

I began studying AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) qualifications with The Skills Network through the distance learning route when I began working at P B Hourigan & Co, the family-owned accountancy practice.

I found that the AAT offers a good entry-level online qualification that builds a solid foundation of bookkeeping knowledge. Plus, no previous finance-related training was required to start from Level 2 other than providing evidence of my GCSEs and A-levels. I've since completed the AAT Advanced Diploma in Accounting (Level 3) and am now onto the AAT Professional Diploma in Accounting (Level 4).

The AAT qualifications also give exemptions from certain exams with the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and other similar professional organisations. This would be beneficial if I decided to study at a higher level.

Why did you choose this course and provider?

Having studied in and commuted to London for many years, I really disliked the idea of having to travel far.

The AAT option was attractive because it meant I could study in my own time through distance learning, picking it up or putting it down whenever I wanted.

I researched official AAT training providers and came across The Skills Network. After watching a webinar about them and their approach to learning, I felt that the programme appeared well organised and easy to do - and it would suit my career progression.

With distance learning, I could complete it all in my own time, and there's guidance on how long to spend on each unit - but with no actual deadlines, you don't feel too much pressure. I have access to a tutor if I need to ask any questions.

You can log in and pick up from where you left off, you can see an overview of all the questions in the units you're studying, and there are numerous examples and practice questions to download and print so you can keep them on file for your own study notes.

I've been designated a learner support adviser who is always just an email or phone call away. They're helpful when it comes to organising mock exams and booking exams at a test centre local to you. They frequently get in touch to see how you're getting on and give you encouragement to keep going.

What does the course involve?

The AAT Level 4 diploma is broken down into ten different units, including management accounting, budgeting, business tax, personal tax, external auditing, cash and treasury management, and credit management.

I work through the different sections in each unit and tick off all the questions along the way. And once you've studied and made notes on all the skills needed for the unit exam, you can test your knowledge with a mock exam. It's always satisfying to get the results back and feel like you've learned something new.

What are you learning from these AAT courses?

The simplicity of the Level 2 and Level 3 courses has really enabled me to become much more competent in the subject, while it's increased my confidence too. The more I learn with AAT, the more I understand about the role of an accountant.

Accountancy is a tricky subject to get your head around when you first start learning it. Without this AAT study, I'd find my role as a trainee accountant much harder. Work and study go hand in hand - you're constantly using the knowledge you've learned through AAT, and it helps to understand it all when it's put to good use.

What are your career ambitions?

The benefits of studying AAT qualifications alongside working in an accountancy practice cannot be understated. It opens up so many options. There's even the potential to still work in the fashion industry - but within the area of finance. Overall, the job prospects look promising and I'm convinced that gaining these accountancy skills will prove to be useful no matter which path I eventually choose to follow.

What are your top tips for studying AAT qualifications?

It's sometimes hard to motivate yourself to study, but when you start to learn things and then answer questions correctly and successfully put your knowledge to the test, it all becomes more satisfying.

Working in an accountancy or bookkeeping role has aided me in progressing through the course quite quickly. It also helps you to realise the aspects of the accountant role you prefer doing.

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