Careers advisers too often ignore apprenticeships in professions such as accountancy and try to convince students that university is the only answer, says Alison Ryder 

Let’s be honest, most teenagers don’t think too much about their future while they’re at school.

It wouldn’t surprise me if half of them pursue a career simply because their parents told them to. And the other half follow the crowd and society’s expectation and go to university.

I studied hard at school and was delighted when I got straight As in my GCSEs. It opened the door to a huge range of A-level subject choices.

In retrospect, I should have taken some careers advice at this stage, but I didn’t. My ever-supportive parents told me to do whatever made me happy so I studied art, photography, politics and philosophy.

Even though I enjoyed these subjects, it soon became apparent that they didn’t
lend themselves easily to a job unless I wanted to become a politician or artist — and, let’s face it, there aren’t too many of those jobs going.

And so I decided that after A-levels I would get a proper job.

Armed with this new sense of purpose I booked an appointment with the school careers adviser to discuss apprenticeships, but to my frustration they only wanted to convince me to go to university.

Students deserve to know that university is not their only option — and now more than ever with the rising cost of course fees”

The conversation went along the lines: Me: “I like the idea of apprenticeships. Are there any available for academic-type subjects rather than practical skills?”

Careers adviser: “No, apprenticeships tend to be for jobs like hairdressing and bricklaying.”

Is there something wrong with this picture?

Each week in school assembly I would be on the ‘name and shame’ list of people who had not completed their UCAS application, despite explaining numerous times that I had no intention of applying for university.

It was just by chance that I stumbled upon an apprenticeship with a local accountancy firm . . .  and I’ll be forever glad that I did.

Five years on, and now 24, I’m a chartered certified accountant having studied through AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians).

All my training was paid for by my previous employer, I have been earning a salary, gaining experience and am debt-free.

Shortly after qualifying last summer, I landed a great job as an audit supervisor at Baker Tilly, one of the top 10 accountancy firms.

I visit interesting and often well-known companies across the country and find out about their businesses.

I also supervise new trainees and take them out to clients with me.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I stumbled across the perfect solution for me and luckily I hadn’t committed to a degree that was going to leave me in £27,000 debt and with no certainty of a job at the end.

Recently I visited my old school to represent Baker Tilly at a careers’ fair. I walked up to the stand promoting apprenticeships and was amazed to find that the representative knew nothing of accountancy apprenticeships.

It angered me that the quality of the careers advice hadn’t improved in five years.

Students deserve to know that university is not their only option — and now more than ever with the rising cost of course fees.

But it’s best to look on the bright side — at least there was an apprenticeship stand to begin with. That’s a start.

Alison Ryder, audit supervisor at Baker Tilly

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