When you graduate from university and want to embark on an accountancy career it is difficult to know whether to go into industry or practice to train and study for professional qualifications. So what is best? The answer is they both are good and it is best to explore both routes to find the best ’niche’ for you and if you are able to get some vacation work experience during your degree this will help you decide where you feel most comfortable.
Training in Industry
The industry route would generally offer you training for ACCA or CIMA and although most companies don’t have a preference, some of the managers will have and it will be because they have trained under one or the other and feel that they are better able to mentor someone doing a qualification that they have some knowledge of and it is always good to have someone that understands problems encountered with certain papers.
As a graduate you will be able to apply for exemptions for papers in both qualifications and most companies will provide you with a study package which would involve paying for your exemptions, exam and course fees, subscription and books. Some will offer some study leave and even pay mileage to and from a study centre. Most companies don’t offer day release and prefer their students to undertake study by distance learning or weekend study so you need to consider how disciplined you can be to do a lot of the studying and revision in your own time.
If you are on a formal Graduate Training Scheme, you may be given pay increases on successfully passing each exam or level, but this won’t necessarily be the case in all training roles; pay increases may only come once you are promoted or take on other responsibilities.
It is unlikely that you will join a company and progress within that company and stay for 25 years or more; it does happen of course, but generally you will find you reach a point where there are no opportunities to move on and you have to look outside the organisation for other opportunities to progress your career. In industry, you have a much wider choice of sectors to work in: manufacturing/engineering, retail, service, property, construction, technology etc. and opportunities to work abroad are more often to be found in industry.
Training in Practice
Graduates wanting to join one of the big practices go through a very rigorous interview and assessment process and to even be considered for this your degree needs to be a 1st or 2:1 and your A levels need to be A and A*. The bigger practices have statistics to show that bright graduates are likely to be able to cope with the pressure of audit work and passing their exams (ACA); often exam failure will mean cessation of your training contract and dismissal. A full study package would be offered and pay will increase at a steady rate as exams are passed and upon qualification you will be earning much more than someone qualifying at the same time in a smaller independent practice. However, prospects for developing maybe limited to move upwards within the firm, but on the positive side, you will have been exposed to a wide number of major companies and you may have the opportunity to join one of these, but if not you will have formed ideas as to which way you would like to take your career – staying in practice, possibly joining a smaller firm as a potential partner, or by moving out to industry.
The alternative to the big practice firms training would be to join a smaller practice, where you might have the choice of studying for ACA or ACCA and gaining a wide range of audit and accounts experience for smaller businesses. Study support will generally be given for exemptions, subscription, exam and course fees, books and sometimes some study leave and day release might also be given. Salaries tend to be a little lower at the studying stage than industry and smaller practices may not offer pay increases for every exam that is passed. These increases are more likely to come at the annual salary review stage and also when you are taking on more responsibility. However, smaller firms are a lot more understanding if exams are failed and will allow you to re-sit.
Once qualified, you can opt to specialise in either audit, accounts, tax or advisory work but progression within smaller practices can be quite slow (although not always) if you stay within one practice, so you may have to move to another to get the step onwards that you want, but again once qualified you will have the option to stay or move out into industry with either a client, with whose business you will have become familiar, or an unknown company.
If you would like to speak to our consultants for advice on training opportunities please call us on 01202 233777.
Louise Woodward (Chartered MCIPD)
Louise is an experienced specialist accounting & finance recruitment professional with over 30 years’ experience specialising in the sector during which time she has gained an esteemed reputation as one of the region’s leading recruiters evidenced by her long list of loyal and happy clients. Louise is also Group Secretary …