Naomi is cutting it as an accounting apprentice

A Waterford hair stylist is thriving as an accounting apprentice after swapping the salon for the office and classroom, thanks to an innovative programme

A former hair stylist is cutting it in a completely new profession thanks to an accountancy apprenticeship programme which allows students to earn while they learn.

Meanwhile, in Galway, a Donegal native and former full-time student and part-time waitress is helping fill a gap for accountants in the west.

Naomi Lonergan (24) found she loved the stock control and commercial elements of the hairdressing business.

As a result, she is now taking part in the Accounting Technician Apprenticeship scheme: a funded, work-based learning programme in which apprentices earn at least Ä19,000 a year.

As part of the apprenticeship, Naomi works with Connors and Co Chartered Accountants and Business Advisors in Waterford City, and achieved top marks in her year one exams.

Apprentices work in the office four days a week and study in a local college one day a week, during the two-year programme, which begins this month. Naomi is studying at Waterford College of Further Education.

The Accounting Technicians Apprenticeship has two intakes per year, in September and January. The January 2020 application process will open in October 2019, and takes place in Cork and Dublin. The September programme commencement will be offered in Waterford, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Louth, Galway, Monaghan and other locations, and the application process will open in Spring 2020.

Leaving Certificate and mature learners can express their interest to Accounting Technicians Ireland. 

Career change

“I was looking for a career change and accountancy always interested me,” says Naomi.

“I found this course at Waterford College of Further Education in an online search and signed up. I didn’t want to give up my wage and go back to study full-time so it ticked all the boxes for me.

“It is very challenging and there is quite a bit to study, the one day a week – 8am – 5pm day at college – is intensive, but it is so interesting, and if you discipline your time management it flies and you will love it.”

Director of Connors and Co, Shane Connors says he is delighted the course is available in the south-east, which is guaranteeing quality staff in the region.

Shane was happy to take on Naomi: “She started with us in the summer and as it’s a little bit quieter at that time we were able to spend a lot of time with her ensuring she was familiar with us and our systems before beginning her studies,” he says.

“The course is quite practical and she pretty much applies what she is learning straight away. The programme is structured in such a way that we can ensure she gets appropriate work to suit the modules she is covering at a particular time.

“One of the biggest issues in Waterford is getting staff. Graduates of Dublin accountancy colleges often stay there and it can be hard to attract people to commit to a career here. Hopefully this course will generate home-grown accounting technicians who will seek employment in the south-east.”

Interest swayed

Meanwhile, Donegal native Roisin McFadden (24) initially moved to Galway to study for an arts degree, but quickly found her interest swayed to accountancy. Roisin is working with Denis Brennan and Co in Prospect Hill in the city.

“I was at college full-time and waitressing part-time and was exhausted, but the course just didn’t suit me anyway,” she says.

“So I applied for a job with Denis Brennan and Co with zero experience, and luckily, they took me on. My bosses encouraged me to go for the Accounting Technician Apprenticeship scheme – I’m really enjoying it. The course gives me a great knowledge of accountancy, and I now have a greater understanding of everything I do at work,” she says. 

“I didn’t want to give up a wage to study full-time, so it was perfect for me.

“Any questions I have had ahead of exams, I’ve emailed or called into the tutors and they’ve been there to help me 100 per cent.”

Impressed

Louise Hopkins, a partner in the practice, says she was particularly impressed with the ATI Apprenticeship programme; “I joined here as a trainee accountant 20 years ago and we have always been a trainee friendly office,” she says.

“Trainees on some courses study in the evenings or at weekends, but it’s fantastic that students go to college one full day in the week, it’s less pressure and less tiring for them. It also develops a great work ethic and the support of the college is top class. I would definitely recommend other employers to look into it and consider giving it a go.”

A real alternative

This apprenticeship provides a real alternative for Leaving Certificate students who prefer practical training to a full-time college programme, or for students who may have embarked on a college course and found it didn’t suit them.

It is also an attractive option for existing employees and mature learners who would like to pursue a career in accounting.

Successful graduates of the apprenticeship programme may then progress to full accountancy with Chartered Accountants Ireland or one of the other professional accountancy bodies.

The practical nature of the programme, the salary and the fully-funded fees, make the Accounting Technician Apprenticeship particularly appealing to school leavers who prefer learning by experience to full-time college education, according to Gillian Doherty, chief operations officer at Accounting Technicians Ireland.

Strong, in-demand accountancy

“When students complete the apprenticeship programme, they will have a strong, in-demand accountancy QQI Level 6 award, two years of solid work experience and the opportunity, if they wish, to progress to further study in accountancy, business or finance,” says Doherty.

“This is a pan-sectoral programme which meets the needs of industry, practice and the public sector, and graduates enjoy exemptions from the full range of professional accountancy bodies including Chartered Accountants Ireland, CPA, ACCA and CIMA.”

Accounting Technicians Ireland also offers programmes at the ATI Academy in Dublin 2, online, and via partner colleges island-wide. For more on the apprenticeships see accountingtechnicianapprenticeship.ie