Apprentices are the future at Bristol accountants

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Two trainee accountants, both of whom decided against the option of university, are leading the next generation of qualified professionals at Bristol firm Haines Watts.

Sophia Wallace and Robbie Wallis, aged 22 and 23 respectively, are the latest staff members at Haines Watts Bristol to become qualified accountants at the growing firm.

The pair, who opted to avoid the significant student debts incurred by three years at university, are just two of the nine trainees taken on by the firm in the past three years.

And whereas many graduates of the same age are struggling to find jobs, hampered by debt, Sophia and Robbie are well on their way to progressing their careers.

Sophia, who lives in Totterdown, started at Haines Watts in 2017, straight after leaving St Brendan’s College at the age of 18. She has spent four years achieving her Level 7 apprenticeship in a mixture of college-based and online learning with Kaplan Financial.

“I definitely think I’ve made the right decisions,” she said. “I’ve missed some of the social aspect of university but it’s not a massive loss. And I’d advise anyone who’s in the position I was in four years ago to think of the future benefits of whichever option.

“In a few years, 10 years out from leaving college, I expect to be in a managerial role, free of debt, looking after clients. That’s going to be a great place to be.”

Robbie is 23 and has recently bought a house in Bedminster, shared with a friend. He self-funded a bookkeeping course while working part-time as a lifeguard during studying for A-Levels.

His first job was with a small family firm in Bridgwater, during which time he started residential studies at Reed Business School in the Cotswolds. He began working for Haines Watts at the start of 2020 and became fully qualified last December, having passed all exams necessary to become a member of the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) and the (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).

He said: “We were all pushed towards the university route at school but I knew for definite that I didn’t want to take that option. I remember my grandparents being stunned when I told them. But it all makes sense to them now.

“I’ve always worked, I’ve liked earning my own money and spending my own money. The whole debt thing has always seemed really unattractive to me.

“The route I’ve chosen hasn’t been an easy one. It’s been hard graft for five years and the accountancy exams are extremely tough. Having that continuous pressure – rather than a few months at the end of a degree – was pretty intense.

“But I think if you’re dedicated and ready to put socialising on the back burner, going straight into work is an option which will pay dividends later.

“I’ve had my setbacks along the way but I had a goal to aim for and the determination and resilience to get me through. I’ve worked so hard to get to this point, that now I’m going to recharge the batteries, enjoy what I’ve achieved and work out what I want to do next.”

Matthew Bracher, managing director at Haines Watts Bristol, said there were many benefits to taking on young accountants who have decided to pursue careers rather than going to university.

“Firstly, anyone who takes on a career at the age of 18 and recognises the long-term advantages of avoiding significant debt is demonstrating a maturity and shrewdness which reflects well on their personality,” he said. “Those are the type of people we are looking to offer opportunities to, as they see the world in a pragmatic way.

“In addition, we are interested in being able to train young talent in the values and practices we expect at Haines Watts – it is rewarding to see them develop into people who can really advise and help other people. Having a degree doesn’t always give those personal skills that we look for.

“We have an established trainee programme here, as well as manager and partner level development programmes, which works well for us as a business and is a key part of facilitating growth in the SME market, as well as supporting our longer term ambitions.

“Robbie and Sophia, as well as the other trainees we have taken on during the past year or so, have settled in brilliantly and we look forward to seeing their continued progress.”