It’s never too late for a career change, just ask Tracey Adams, a Higher Level Apprentice (HLA) in Accountancy at Northern Regional College. She works four days a week with Ballycastle accountancy firm, Mark Kilgore & Co and the other day of her working week is spent in class.
The two year HLA in Accountancy is an internationally accredited work-based programme, similar to traditional apprenticeships but at a higher level. It is an alternative route to a career in accountancy, aligned with Accounting Technicians Ireland (ATI) and Chartered Accountants Ireland.
Anne McCallum, HLA Course Co-ordinator at Northern Regional College, is currently recruiting for the 2019 intake of students at the College’s Coleraine campus. She highlights some of the advantages of the HLA programme as an alternative route to a career in accountancy:
“Students gain valuable knowledge, practical skills and work experience, as well as a professional qualification: the ATI Level 5 Diploma for Accounting Technicians. This winning combination will increase their employability, boost their CV and open up new career opportunities.
“Students who successfully complete the Level 5 Diploma can work towards becoming achieving Chartered status, either as Chartered Financial Accountants or Management Accountants, and the graduates Accounting Technicians from the ATI programme can become Chartered with Chartered Accountants Ireland with a further 3 years of work and study, meaning a 5 year journey from novice to Chartered Accountant.”
Anne continues that the HLA in Accountancy has a number of advantages over the traditional route to accountancy.
“It addition to being a shorter and less expensive route to qualification, HLA students get valuable accountancy experience with an employer who will have undergone ATI mentor training. Another major plus is because they ‘earn as they learn’, unlike many of their peers who went to university, HLA graduates can embark on a career in accountancy without the crippling burden of student debt.”
The Level 5 ATI Diploma in Accountancy is supported by the Department for the Economy so benefits for employers include access to skilled employees or an opportunity to upskill existing staff members. For apprentices it is a fee-free and debt-free route to gaining higher qualifications and paid practical real-world experience.
Anne admits that the HLA in Accountancy is a challenging course but, in her experience, students find that the pros far outweigh the cons.
“It is tough and involves a lot of hard work but students are focused on the end goal. They know that after two years studying for their ATI Diploma, they will be well on their way to achieving Chartered status.”
Now in her forties, Tracey Adams from Ballycastle went to university as a mature student when she was 29 years old and went on to graduate with a degree in Computer Science from Ulster University.
“I left school with A Levels in Maths, Geography and French but at the time didn’t want to go to university so I got a job in retail banking.”
Following a move to England, Tracey was employed in a variety of positions with finance and actuary companies, mostly in an administrative support role. When she subsequently returned to Northern Ireland with her husband and young daughter, she accepted a position as administrator with a housing organisation but felt her future career was in the finance sector.
“Most of the jobs I was interested in finance specified the ATI qualification and/or experience as a requirement so I decided to do the course to make me more employable.
“At first it was all a bit overwhelming. I’d graduated in 2004 so it took me a while to settle back into studying and getting the right home-work balance.”
Now midway through the first year and with first year exams looming in May, Tracey feels that doing the course was the right decision for her.
“It’s hard work but hopefully it will be worth it. I’m still paying off my student loan from the Computer Science degree but I will finish this course with a more relevant qualification – and importantly, no extra debt.”