Aspiring accountants gained an invaluable insight into the career of the President of the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) and the benefits of joining the industry body.
Heather Hill shared her experience of working in the sector and her role at AAT with students and apprentices at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL).
AAT is the leading professional membership body for accounting technicians with 125,000 members and students worldwide. AAT is also an awarding organisation that is recognised globally as being the gold standard for anyone wanting to gain technical accounting skills.
Heather studied for BTEC National Certificate in Business and Finance and then an AAT Level 4 qualification while working in local government finance, which allowed her to gain full AAT membership.
She said: “It wasn’t easy at times. I was grateful for the support of my tutors who dedicated their time and effort to ensure I understood and learned the syllabus, as I know your tutors do for you.”
Heather later moved to Wiltshire and set up her own accountancy practice, which she ran for 24 years providing services to sole traders, companies, partnerships, charities and other organisations.
During this time, she studied for her Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) qualifications to expand the services she could offer her clients.
Heather, who has been a member of the AAT for more than 30 years, joined her local branch of the association and is now a Fellow member of both the AAT and ATT.
Joining the AAT branch gave her the opportunity to network, share experiences and gain experience from other like-minded professionals while continuing to develop her skills.
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“Branch meetings provide opportunities to learn about other areas you may want to specialise in and to receive valuable continuing professional development to update our existing knowledge and skills. They also enable you to receive support from others who have already developed their careers further, such as attaining chartered accountant status,” she said.
Heather, who was previously chair of the Swindon branch, joined AAT Council in 2016, and is now Chair of the Council and is a member of the Management Board, Nominations and Governance Board and Remuneration Board. She was elected Vice President of AAT in September 2020 and became President of AAT a year later.
She said: “AAT is working hard to create an inclusive community, to help people to get a start in our great profession, and to then support them throughout their career. I hope you will progress your studies and become a member of AAT.
“AAT is not just a valuable qualification, it is a community of people who support one another and who share the same ethos.”
Wishing students and apprentices good luck with their studies, Heather added: “Don’t regard setbacks as failures, they are all learning opportunities and building blocks to a better future. Believe in yourself and you will achieve your goals.”
Business students capitalise on private equity firm Primera visit
Business students at CONEL invested in their future when they visited global private equity firm Primera.
The group, who are studying for a Business Level 3 Diploma, were given an insight into business and investment at the company’s UK office in Pall Mall.
They heard about the growth of the private equity market, how Primera operates, the markets it invests in and how it makes decisions on acquisitions, while also learning about fund management and investor relations.
The students also took part in a practical workshop where they had to look at the performance of three different businesses and decide which company to buy.
Employees at the company then shared their career journeys and took questions from the students on career choices and gave them advice and guidance.
The visit was arranged by Career Ready, a charity which works with educators and employers to prepare young people for work and help them fulfil their potential.
Kareen Lawrence, Regional Account Manager at AAT, also shared more about how becoming an AAT member demonstrates a commitment to exceptionally high standards and ethics in accounting, as well as CPD opportunities available for AAT qualified bookkeepers and members.
This included using the AAT’s Knowledge Hub to keep updated on the sector including articles, podcasts and webinars, as well as it’s e-learning platform, employability advice and other events.
Riccardo Maserati, 22, and Leah Hughes, 23, have both completed an Accounting Level 3 Apprenticeship with CONEL this year and are looking to continue their studies.
Riccardo, who is taking his apprenticeship with The Scout Association, said: “I enjoy the managerial side of accounting like how to make more profit and how to cut your cost them kind of things. After my level three I will look to do my ACCA to try and get involved more in manager accounting but apart from that I’m quite open with my future.
“Meeting and hearing from a senior face behind the AAT was really inspiring. I’m going to use the AAT website a bit more to my advantage for my next exams.”
Leah, who is training at recruitment firm NP Group, said: “I learnt a lot more about the AAT’s networking events and the resources on their website, which will help with my further studies and to eventually become a chartered accountant.
“I started my apprenticeship because I needed to work. It was the perfect opportunity to earn money and get a qualification. The college helped prepare me for my interview and I’ve really liked the teachers I’ve had. They take the time to explain everything really well and are always there if I needed any advice.”
CONEL’s Accounting courses and apprenticeships from Levels 2-4 including a 14-week AAT Level 2 Pre-apprenticeship that leads to a full AAT Level 3 Apprenticeship, with apprentices spending four days a week training in a paid job and one day studying.
Jacqueline Dyett, Head of School for Business, Accounting and Travel and Tourism, said: “It was wonderful having Heather visit CONEL and talk to our students and apprentices. It gave them the chance to put a face to the qualification they are studying and hear about Heather’s inspiring journey from similar beginnings to where she is now, as well as hearing about the benefits of the AAT.
“It was a good opportunity for them to realise the significance of the AAT and what lies ahead for them along with giving them that added impetus to keep going as the qualifications get tougher and to get into their future careers.”
If you are good with numbers and problem-solving, a career in accounting could be for you. At CONEL we work with top employers to give you the skills and experience needed to work in this huge sector. Apply for courses here and apprenticeships here.
An accountant who trained at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) has revealed why she has consistently looked to the college when recruiting new employees.
Ela Rygala, 33, works as a Management Accountant at Serve Legal, a market leading provider of ID and compliance testing in the UK and Ireland, based at Millbank Tower in Westminster.
She started as a part-time Accounts Assistant, which later changed to the role of Accounts Data Assistant, while studying for her AAT Accounting qualifications from 2012-16.
Ela, who has a degree in accounting and finance from her native Poland, passed her AAT Accounting Diplomas at Levels 2-4 and was promoted to Management Accountant in 2020.
“I thought an AAT course would be perfect for me to adjust to how English tax law and regulations work and also get more confident in the English language,” said Ela, who also took GCSEs in Maths and English at CONEL and attained grades A* and B.
“Very quickly, I got to know CONEL was a good choice. What I really valued was that the teachers gave us room for self-development and to ask questions about how and why tasks are done in a particular way. They encouraged you to read at home and come prepared for lessons rather than assuming everything will be taught on the course.”
In 2017 Ela employed CONEL student Tia Esprit-Cooper part-time to enable her to complete her AAT qualifications at Levels 2-4, and last year she recruited Ronny Houillet who has recently completed a Level 2 Pre-apprenticeship at the college.
“I know from my own experience that CONEL has great tutors who are producing great accounting talent, so when it came to recruiting for our finance team my first suggestion to my manager was CONEL, to see if they can recommend a good student.”
Tia, 25, from Waltham Forest, initially trained in events management and hairdressing before finding her vocation in accounting. She now works full-time for Serve Legal and was promoted to Bookkeeper and Credit Control Manager last year.
“CONEL recommended me and another student for the role at Serve Legal and sent over my CV. I was invited to an interview and a trial day and they offered me the job,” she said.
“My previous paths had been quite creative and were more like hobbies, and I came to a point where I was looking for a career and something that had more longevity.
“I didn’t have any experience, but because I’d been recommended by the college there was a bit more comfortability there. It gave me confidence knowing they thought I was good enough to be put forward for this role.
“I did wonder whether I could see myself doing it long-term, but now I honestly can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
Ronny, 24, from Enfield, who previously worked as a Data Analyst, has now opted to study for an AAT Accounting Level 3 Diploma while working part-time at the firm rather than an apprenticeship.
“I wanted to go to university to study economics but changed my mind and went straight into work but wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. I always wanted to do something with numbers and last year I made a plan to go down the accounting route,” he said.
“Accounting can open up a lot of opportunities and I’m excited about where it’s going to take me. There are a lot of skills I’ve been able to bring over from my previous experience, such as making numbers match, paying attention to detail and spotting errors. Every business needs an accountant, so you can work almost anywhere.”
Ela knew she wanted to work in accountancy from a young age and is quick to dispel the myth that it is quite a dry and uninspiring career.
She said: “I enjoy everything about accounting. It gives you a lot of satisfaction when all the reports and reconciliations are done and everything is balanced at the end of the month. Often we’ll look closely at clients’ margins, what is driving them and make recommendations to improve them.
“There are many different areas of accountancy from very broad skills like bookkeeping to more detailed auditing or focused project work. There is room for people with many talents in accountancy, even people who are not that good with numbers but have good analytical skills.
“It might be perceived as a bit dry but there is some charm in routine, and with the ways different companies operate there’s great potential to master different skills.
“I see nothing boring in my job. It can be difficult sometimes, but it is definitely far from boring.”