'I trained to be a teacher before changing career'

#InspiringApprentice Katie Smith found her interest in apprenticeships early on – and yet chose to go to university first

Katie Smith trained to be a maths teacher before changing careers and starting an accountancy apprenticeship

My name is Katie Smith, I am 27 and from Manchester. I started working for Grant Thornton UK LLP in August 2017, when I was enrolled on to a three-year level 7 apprenticeship to study accountancy (ACA). Out of the 15 ACA exams, I have sat 14, all with first-time passes, and I am preparing to sit my final exam this month. I have also gathered more than half of my chargeable days, meaning that I will be able to complete the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales' (ICAEW) time requirement by mid 2020.

Following secondary school, I went to a sixth-form college, and university was seen as the favoured route for us to pursue. The premise of an apprenticeship really appealed to me but despite this, I was advised by my tutors to go to university. I studied psychology for one year, before changing to a maths degree. I then trained and qualified as a maths teacher, teaching for three years, before deciding to change careers into accountancy.

My expectations of joining an apprenticeship scheme mainly revolved around the additional support that I would receive from my employer. I also anticipated that there would be an element of self-review to allow me to demonstrate how I am progressing, and that I would be required to complete relevant training to complement my role and studies.


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A source of support

Over the past two years, I have been given time off for study and plenty of study materials, and my employer has been flexible with any annual leave requirements (particularly around exam time when things get a bit stressful!). I have also been allocated a buddy – someone who is the year above and studying towards the same qualification, and who has been an invaluable source of support. 

Initially, I joined the audit department in my firm, but it became apparent that tax was an area I wanted to focus on for my career, and so I changed departments in September 2018 and now work in the corporate team. My work includes preparing tax computations, liaising with clients and occasionally assisting with advisory pieces. Tax is a very interesting area of accountancy given the frequent legislative changes, and there are plenty of opportunities to build rapport with a range of clients, meaning that the work I do is enjoyable and varied. I have also found that my exams have complemented the work that I do, and it truly helps your understanding by being able to directly use something you’ve been taught!

Once I finish my apprenticeship I will be a chartered accountant, and will be promoted to assistant manager once my training requirements are all completed to a high standard. I also would like to work towards obtaining my Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA) qualification to ensure that my tax knowledge is thorough, something that my employer is happy to support me with.

No job hunting

While I am happy that I have a degree and a PGCE, I think going straight down the apprenticeship route would’ve been the best option for me. Once I finished my degree, I then had to find a job or graduate scheme, whereas had I joined an apprenticeship, I would’ve been able to achieve work experience in industry in addition to obtaining a recognised qualification (without the hassle of job hunting at the end).

As you can tell, I chopped and changed between degree subjects and then careers. I feel a lot of emphasis is put on school and college leavers to know exactly what they want to do for their careers, when in reality you don’t know whether you like something until you’ve tried it. The best thing about the apprenticeship route is that you’re learning and experiencing, embedding gained knowledge into real-life work while being supported. Employers are very accommodating towards individual requirements: for example, I did not achieve a good degree class despite obtaining high A-level grades and passing all ACA exams first time. I would definitely recommend the apprenticeship route to school and college leavers as it is a very attractive alternative to university.

Katie Smith is a level 7 apprentice at Grant Thornton UK LLP. She tells her story as part of the Tes #InspiringApprentices campaign

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