We caught up with Francesca O’Brien, a newly qualified accountant at Midlands-based firm TGFP, who flew through her ICAEW (ACA) apprenticeship at Reed Business School with flying colours. How did she do it?
Like many young people completing their A-Levels, Francesca was unsure of what to do when she left school. She took some time out, completed various work placements, and due to her proficiency for Maths was encouraged to take her AAT.
But upon securing a trainee accountant position at a small local firm, Francescsa came across the ACA apprenticeship programme run by Reed Business School, and leapt at the chance to study while working.
“I wanted to qualify as soon as possible, and other pathways like going to university would have taken much longer, so this really worked for me.”
Before long, Francesca found herself working for a larger firm with larger clients, and really started to fly, passing all her exams, and developing many of her softer skills along the way.
The balancing game
Like many trainee accountants, Francesca initially struggled with the demands of learning new things on the job, as well as well as keeping up with all of her ACA studies.
The structure of Reed Business School’s programme really worked for Francesca, allowing her that dedicated time to study and revise ahead of each exam. As a naturally organised and self-disciplined person, she soon found her rhythm and processes to help her retain the necessary information for each paper.
Francesca enjoyed and excelled at her tax papers, as she had experience in the relevant calculations and processes at work and was able to combine work and study effectively. She found the audit papers more of a challenge to start with, but was able to get all the extra support she needed from her tutor.
“I was quite shy to begin with, especially when a lot of my classmates were from audit backgrounds, but I found the tutors really open to answering questions in the break times, and being able to watch the recorded online classes during Covid was really useful.”
Developing Skills and Behaviours
One of the key strands of the apprenticeship pathway is the focus on developing useful business skills and behaviours to go alongside the technical knowledge. And as someone lacking in confidence to start with, this is perhaps where Francesca made her most impressive strides, with the help of her coach, Barbara.
Early on, the pair identified that communication, particularly over the phone, as something Francesca needed to work on. Barbara would help set goals for Francesca to achieve in between their meetings, but it was up to Francesca herself to do the work and report back each time.
Barbara comments; “Francesca was very engaged in the programme, and would always be prepared to challenge herself and ask questions in between our sessions. She worked through her fear of speaking on the phone step by step, and is now incredibly fluent in it.”
As well as developing her confidence in telephone communication, Francesca continued to surprise herself in applying her technical knowledge and business skills throughout the process.
“At school you’re spoon-fed information a lot and not taught how to work things out for yourself. During my apprenticeship I learnt how to understand my clients better, so I could serve them better. Even simple things, like converting a sole-trader into a limited company, including researching and communicating how that would affect them, was something I never thought I’d be able to do to start with. Now I’d be able to approach it with confidence.”
A Case Study of Success
One of the most challenging elements of accountancy training for many is the final case study paper, where it’s your chance to apply your knowledge into a real business situation. Francesca, too, struggled to get her head around this module to start with, but credits her tutor, Matt, for her success.
“The resources and support Matt provided couldn’t have been any better. I’m sure I would have failed if it hadn’t been for him.”
The pair worked through four mock papers together, and while they didn’t all go the way she wanted, the knockbacks, combined with her grit and determination saw her pass the exam first time.
Francesca was full of praise for the school, her tutors and coach, and we’re really proud of her journey.
“As someone with no accounting experience before I started, only a Maths A-Level, I’d really recommend taking the ACA apprenticeship with Reed Business School. You can become a chartered accountant in 3 years, and learn the skills and behaviours to succeed in business at the same time.”
Would you like to start your apprenticeship journey with Reed Business School? Click here to find out more.