Is it an advantage to be irrelevant?

Could spending three to four years at University completing a degree in the area of Accounting or Business and Finance to jump start your Chartered Accountancy career be putting you at a disadvantage?

Is it better to study History, Biology or Languages at University before embarking on your ICAEW career?

It is nearly two years since the Level 7 Accountancy and Taxation Professional Apprenticeship was approved in November 2017. This allowed Level 7 qualifications including the ACA to be studied in full via an apprenticeship for the first time.

Prior to this, having a relevant degree would probably have given you a better chance of securing a training contract as well as earning exemptions from some of the papers at the Certificate and Professional level of the ICAEW exams.

Having worked in the Private Education sector for over 17 years, delivering exam-based accountancy and taxation training to individuals across many sectors and qualifications, I have seen first-hand how recent developments have changed the way that many employers recruit and train their employees.

The proportion of school leavers aged 16-18 being recruited has increased significantly as employers take advantage of Level 3 and 4 Accounting Apprenticeships but there has also been a steady increase in the recruitment of graduates with non-relevant degrees.

There are now a bigger proportion of graduates with non-relevant degrees starting the ICAEW qualification than those with a relevant degree.

Does this mean that your chance of securing a training contract with a relevant degree is now much slimmer?

This could simply be due to changes in recruitment methods and a shift in opinion of what are considered to be desirable qualities of an employee with a focus that is no longer purely academic.

Another consideration however, is the impact that having a relevant degree and therefore the ability to claim several exemptions for ACA exams has on the funding available to the employer for a Level 7 apprenticeship.

Apprenticeship funding rules are detailed and can appear complex, however one of the basic rules is that funding cannot be claimed where learning has already taken place because the knowledge has already been acquired.  If prior learning would enable an exemption to be claimed, regardless of whether it is actually claimed or not, then apprenticeship funding cannot be drawn down for this part of the qualification and apprenticeship.

Where an employer requires students to sit exams, regardless of an exemption being available to ensure they have the necessary pre-requisite knowledge for another exam, the employer would have to fund the tuition for this paper in full even if the student is undertaking an apprenticeship.  Exemptions that are claimed, could mean (progression routes through the qualification do vary) that the first exam that is taken as part of the apprenticeship may not be until up to 6 months after starting the training contract.  This will determine when the actual Apprenticeship starts and could therefore have an impact on the ability of the apprentice being able to record the new skills and behaviours gained in this early period as part of their 20% off the job apprenticeship requirement.

Does having a ‘relevant’ degree put a graduate at a disadvantage?

What is the impact financially for an employer of recruiting a graduate with a relevant degree?

Will this be significant enough to change an employer’s recruitment policy?

Do employers consider the above implications when recruiting or is it simply about getting the right candidate for the job?

  • Great blog Lucy - thanks. Certainly when I used to recruit trainees into mid-tier firms, good old fashioned interpersonal skills ranked above degree subject in the selection criteria. But that was more to do with recognising that being a successful client facing accountant went beyond technical/exam ability. Looking at the intake stats on the Institute's website, it's interesting that Arts Languages and Law graduates outnumber Accounting grads.