Accountant Apprenticeship: The popular way to get into accounting

When starting your career in accountancy, there are so many routes to go down. With so many qualifications to choose from it can be a bit overwhelming.

Do you go to university or not? CIMA, AAT, ACCA, ACA, CTA, ATT… which qualifications do you study? You’re probably aware of all those I’ve listed but have you heard of the Level 7 Professional Accountant Apprenticeship?

Let me give you a simple overview of the popular way of studying the ACA/ACCA and becoming a fully qualified accountant. Many mid-tier and smaller firms are embracing the Level 7 scheme. It’s likely to become the most popular route into the industry.

The Level 7 Professional Accountant Apprenticeship (say that 5 times quickly!)

In my experience, the word ‘apprenticeship’ can very easily put people off. It is usually associated with a very bizarre minimum wage of £3.70 per hour and connotations of being the 17-year-old ‘tea-boy’ or ‘copy-girl’. In this instance, the word ‘apprenticeship’ simply means that the government are taking on the financial burden of your ACA/ACCA training.

Did you know the average cost to put someone through the ACA/ACCA is closing in on £30,000? (No wonder trainee recruitment involves so many tests and stages!) Well, if a firm decides to put you through Level 7, the government is agreeing to pay 90% of the training costs (up to £21k). This means that this is a much more cost-effective way for firms to put you through the qualification.

What’s in it for me then? I hear you ask.

Well, here are the reasons you should jump at the opportunity to choose this over the traditional study contract for ACA or ACCA…

Clawbacks

We’ve talked about the financial benefits to the employer but these in turn bring financial benefits to you as the studier. It is not uncommon for accountancy study contracts to contain clauses demanding you pay back all or some of the costs should you leave during your studies or shortly after qualifying. Sometimes these can make it very tricky to change jobs and lead to financial negotiations with potential new employers, to ensure they can pay these debts on your behalf. Due to the hefty government contributions Level 7 is clawback free!

Investment

Part of the Level 7 apprenticeship dictates that employers have to make a physical effort to be involved in your training – not just your accountancy training but your actual development as a member of staff. Gone are the days of having books thrown at you and being left to it, instead employers must track your progress and prove they aided your development. You should feel more valued and a key part of the business.

Say goodbye to evening classes

With the Level 7 apprenticeship, it is a requirement that 20% of the working week is spent learning. This could be appraisals, shadowing other staff, internal training, or, more likely, your college classes and time to study for the ACA/ACCA. An alternative and something that seems to work well is residential courses. Either way, the result is that those long hours you hear of. Trying to cram study time in after a full working day will be replaced by 1 whole day a week dedicated to studying.

Further education

You can easily convert the apprenticeship into a BSc in Applied Accounting from Oxford Brookes University and/or an MSc in Professional Accounting from the University of London alongside your ACCA training. If you didn’t go on to further education, this seems a straightforward way of being able to add those qualifications to your CV.

This all sounds great, what’s the catch?

I hear ya! Well, there are a few things you need to be aware of when considering which route to go down.

The top firms

It is unlikely the top 10 firms will be offering Level 7. The funding rules are different for big firms. You can of course study the ACA/ACCA through a typical training contract with the big firms. However, the earlier benefits I listed won’t apply.

Moving

If you decide to move halfway through your studies and you move to a firm that plans to put you on Level 7, just remember that you will need to be on the apprenticeship for 12 months before you are eligible to take your final exam. This can be particularly irritating considering the final Case Study exam is only held twice a year. This could delay your qualification date. Planning should solve this though.

Eligibility

Anyone can go down the Level 7 route, it is not restricted to certain ages or demographics. However, if you hold a Masters’s in Accounting & Finance (or equivalent), you’re not eligible and would have to study the ACA/ACCA the traditional way.

Extra work

Part of the deal with this qualification is that you will be required to complete a final written assessment of 4000 words. This is not required with a standard ACA/ACCA training contract but after 15 exams, what’s another essay?

So there you have it. The things to think about when considering whether or not to study the Level 7 accountant apprenticeship. Having weighed it up, the benefits seem to outweigh the negatives significantly with this one. If you’re given the chance, I’d say go for it!

Meg Glencross is a Consultant at Harvey John.

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