Gain valuable experience of working in an accounts department, and help the business to manage its money effectively, as you study for a recognised accounting qualification

Accountancy is a highly-skilled field that provides a clear pathway for those starting out and one for which formal qualifications play a vital role in the career journey. Therefore, an apprenticeship that draws together work and study makes it an appealing choice if you're looking to enter the profession.

Depending on the level of apprenticeship and the job role, you could be working on a variety of financial activities, from bills and expenses to payroll and taxes.

Types of accounting apprenticeships

There are three levels of apprenticeship, each allowing you to train for different finance roles:

  • Intermediate (level 2) - equivalent to GCSE, includes accounts assistant/clerk, cashier, finance assistant and sales ledger clerk.
  • Advanced (level 3) - equivalent to A-level, it covers assistant accountant and trainee accounting technician.
  • Higher (levels 4-7)/degree (levels 6 and 7) - higher apprenticeships are equivalent to foundation degree and above, with degree apprenticeships providing an opportunity to gain a full Bachelors or Masters. You could work as an accounts manager or accounts technician.

AAT apprenticeships

Apprenticeships in England are changing, with new 'trailblazer apprenticeships' being introduced. This will give employers flexibility in designing their own programmes, simplifying funding and refocusing training.

The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) was part of the group given the task of creating standards for the new Assistant Accountant Apprenticeship (level 3) and the Professional Accounting Technician Apprenticeship (level 4).

Its Advanced and Professional Diplomas in Accounting (level 3 and level 4 respectively) allow apprentices the opportunity of studying towards a globally-recognised qualification. With the AAT level 4 apprenticeship, which is expected to take 18 to 24 months, the AAT has revealed that those who successfully complete it can earn on average over £150,000 more during their accountancy careers than those without.

If you're 16 or older and aren't in full-time education, you'll be able to apply for these AAT accounting apprenticeships. There's no upper age limit and indeed they've proved quite popular with career-changers.

The only other standard requirement is that you're living in the country in which you're applying - for instance, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales. Employers may also set out other eligibility criteria in their specific job description.

Apprentices will need to work for a minimum of 30 hours per week and you'll receive the national minimum wage or higher (employers can pay more than this). The average weekly wage is £170 and you'll also get a holiday allowance.

Once you begin your apprenticeship, you'll register as an AAT student where you'll be given the necessary study materials and support to kick-start your accountancy career.

As one of the 'big four' professional services firms, KPMG has embraced AAT qualifications for its apprenticeship programme for school and college leavers. Apprentices will progress from level 3 (one year) to a level four technician (two years) before deciding whether to join the professional level (three years).

Chartered accountant apprenticeship

Trailblazer apprenticeships in accountancy with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) can be used as a path towards qualification as an ICAEW Chartered Accountant.

The level 4 ICAEW Accounting Technician Apprenticeship enables you to attain the Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business (ICAEW CFAB). While this is a standalone qualification its own right, it incorporates the first six exam modules of the ACA qualification. It takes 18 to 24 months to complete and is the equivalent of the first year of a Bachelors degree.

If you've already decided on a career in accounting and are aiming to complete the full ACA, the level 7 ICAEW Accountancy Professional Apprenticeship allows you to gain advanced business knowledge as well as leadership and communication skills. By completing this Masters-level apprenticeship within 36 to 48 months, you'll be on your way to becoming a fully-qualified chartered accountant.

Apprentices on both programmes will be allocated time away from the office for study and to sit exams. In terms of entry requirements, these are determined by the employer, but you'll need a grade C or above at GCSE maths and English.

Management accounting apprenticeship

Another professional body that has been working to develop the new accounting apprenticeship standards, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), still offers the level 4 Higher Apprenticeship in Business Accounting (until the old framework is phased out by 2020).

It has also made available the Professional Accounting/Tax Technician apprenticeship, with both apprenticeships resulting in the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting as well as the relevant apprenticeship certification.

The new trailblazer Professional Accountant Apprenticeship Standard has been developed and is being rolled out for delivery.

As with other level 4 accounting apprenticeships, specific entry requirements are set by each employer, but to work towards CIMA's Higher Apprenticeship in Management Accounting, you'll typically need to be 18 or over, with five GCSEs at grade C or above (including maths and English) and hold 160-260 UCAS points from A-levels or equivalent.

Upon completion of the higher apprenticeship, you may wish to continue your studies and complete the CIMA Professional Qualification and become a Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA).

Sky and Nestlé are two recruiters that allow those who've completed their A-levels to study towards a CIMA qualification. Broadcaster Sky's two-year finance programme helps its apprentices to achieve a CIMA Higher Apprenticeship in Management Accounting, with the possibility of progressing to certified accountant status within five years. Food manufacturing company Nestlé offers a two-year Finance Higher Apprenticeship, which can enable you to be fully qualified within four years.

Accounting internships

These differ from apprenticeships in that they're informal arrangements with an employer and only last for a limited period of time - typically between one week and 12 months. They can be viewed as work-based learning opportunities that will enhance your CV.

If you're unsure as to whether you really want to work in accountancy or another area of finance, an internship would be a sensible option. Following this, you could then decide to undertake an apprenticeship, look at degrees in the subject or use the experience to land an accounting role.

A number of leading employers (including P&G, Standard Life and KPMG) run accounting internships during the summer - and some may even lead to a permanent position. It's worth noting that applications for many of these formal programmes are restricted to undergraduate students who are part-way through their degree.

However, you could still try making a speculative application to a company you'd like to work for and see if they'll let you work in their accounts department for a couple of weeks.

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