If you want to gain practical skills while studying towards a recognised accountancy qualification, an accounting apprenticeship provides you with a direct route into employment
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, drawing together work and study, is an appealing choice. Apprenticeships can also provide a fast-track to chartered accountant status.
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, this covers assistant accountant and trainee accounting technician roles.
- Higher (Levels 4-7)/degree (Levels 6 and 7) - higher apprenticeships are equivalent to foundation degree and above, with accounting degree apprenticeships providing an opportunity to gain a full Bachelors or Masters. You could work as an accounts manager or accounts technician.
See GOV.UK for more information on the different types of legal, finance and accounting apprenticeships.
With the introduction of trailblazer apprenticeships, the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) was part of the group given the task of creating the standards for the 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.
The AAT Advanced Diploma in Accounting is expected to take around a year to complete, although it's possible to do so in as little as six months, while the Professional Diploma in Accounting usually takes between nine and 18 months.
It was also revealed that those who successfully complete the Level 3 apprenticeship can earn on average over £100,000 more during their accountancy careers than those who don't.
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 - they've proved popular with career changers.
The only other standard requirement is that you're living in the country in which you're applying - England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales. Employers may also set out other specific eligibility criteria in their job descriptions.
As an apprentice you'll need to work a minimum of 30 hours per week, and you'll receive the National Minimum Wage or higher. The average weekly wage is £170 and you'll also receive 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 KPMG360° apprenticeship programme for school and college leavers. Apprentices will progress from AAT Level 3 (one year) to a Level 4 Technician (another two years) before progressing to the professional level (the final three years), where you'll specialise in audit, consulting, deal advisory or tax.
If you work for accountancy and business advisory company BDO LLP's drive solutions team, you'll start off with the Level 4 AAT award before progressing to the ACCA. Alternatively, you could study the ACA qualification at Level 7 and become a chartered accountant.
These apprenticeships, offered by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), are open to school leavers and graduates alike - you're eligible as long as you're above the age of 16 and live in England, Scotland or Wales.
It takes at least 12 months to complete the ACCA Accounting Technician (Level 4) apprenticeship, with the ACCA Professional Accountant (Level 7) apprenticeship expected to take about three years.
Those on an ACCA apprenticeship as an accounting technician can expect a starting salary of around £15,000, to work in a range of industries and be given the opportunity to progress. After you finish your apprenticeship, you could be earning around £25,000.
You'll also have the chance to study for a BSc in Applied Accounting, an MSc in Professional Accountancy and attain the professional ACCA qualification, while becoming an ACCA member.
Find out more about ACCA apprenticeships.
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, it incorporates the first six exam modules of the professional ACA. 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 apprenticeships
Another professional body that has been working to develop the new trailblazer accounting apprenticeship standards is the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).
They have developed the Level 4 Professional Accounting Technician Apprenticeship for school leavers and those looking to upskill, as well as the Level 7 Accountancy/Taxation Professional Apprenticeship.
For the entry-level qualification you'll study the CIMA Certificate in Business Accounting (CIMA Cert BA), providing you with key finance and business skills.
Even if you're already on your way to finishing university, and have just a basic knowledge of accounting, you could consider the CIMA Professional Qualification, a globally-recognised award which can lead to becoming a Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA).
Broadcaster Sky is one recruiter that allows those who've completed their A-levels to study for a CIMA qualification. Its four-year finance programme, based in Osterley, West London, supports its apprentices as they work towards achieving certified accountant status.
If you've a passion for maths, data and analytics, you might wish to pursue a career as an actuarial analyst, with some apprenticeships providing a pathway to professional status via the internationally-recognised Certified Actuarial Analyst (CAA) qualification.
A joint venture between the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) in the UK and the Society of Actuaries (SOA) in the US, the CAA is usually completed between two and three years.
Global professional services firm Aon runs the Level 4 Actuarial Apprenticeship, which sets you on your way to becoming an actuarial analyst, while leading you through the first stages of the CAA. Insurer Zurich's actuarial apprenticeship also provides a pathway to the award.
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.
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 undertake an apprenticeship, look at degrees 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 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.
Find out more
- Explore accounting courses and professional qualifications.
- Read about how to become an accountant.
- Discover how to apply for an apprenticeship.