“With the school-leaver apprenticeship route for accounting, you’re going to have the same qualification, you’ll become a chartered accountant sooner and you won’t have the huge debt that comes with going to university.
I don’t think I’ve missed out because I chose not to go to uni… especially since Ecovis is such a social company. It’s almost like being at uni in a way – we have ‘Last Thursday’ socials, annual Black-Tie dinners, the Away Day, things like that. There’s always something going on.”
In this Ecovis Career Spotlight interview, we asked Darcy Byrne about his school-leaver apprenticeship journey to becoming a fully qualified Chartered Accountant.
When did you decide you wanted to be an accountant and take the school-leaver apprenticeship route?
Somehow, I always knew when I was a kid that I wanted to be an accountant. I remember when I was 9 or 10, thinking to myself “what am I going to do for a job when I’m older?”
One thing I was really good at was maths. So, I sat down and researched what jobs you could do that used maths – accounting was pretty much the first one to come up, so that’s what I decided to aim for.
Then when I got a bit older, I started to get more interested in earning money, and I realised that accounting was definitely the thing I wanted to do. I just carried on down that route and everything I did in school became more orientated around how I become an accountant. I chose to do A-Levels based around accountancy, economics, business, those sorts of things, because I thought that’s what would help me most and then I went straight into it rather than going to Uni.
By the time I finished my A-Levels, I had become a bit bored of studying and college full-time. I remember Year 13 being a bit of a drag because of the fact I was doing so many exams. The idea of spending more time sitting in a classroom wasn’t something that appealed to me, I’ve always been more of a “monkey see, monkey do” type of person. I knew that getting experience while learning how to do the job rather than being taught how to do the job would be better for me. Someone would show me how to do something and I would copy them.
Tell us about your apprenticeship and what it entailed.
I did AAT at RSM for two years. Then when I joined Ecovis, I did ACA for two and a half years as well. I actually did the ACA exams 6 months quicker purely because I had completed the ATT pathway, normally it takes 3 years.
In terms of study, AAT wasn’t that study-heavy, it was just a week of college and then left to study in your own time. ACA, however, was a bit more study and question practice/exam technique focused.
For the ACA qualification, you’ll usually do a week of college and then you’ll have a week’s worth of revision as well. For the week leading up to the exam, you’ll usually do question practice. In terms of me personally, I usually did all of that then an hour revision each night after work. As we got closer to the exams, I would spend the weekends doing question practice because I think that’s the best way to get a good result; getting the experience in.
What did you enjoy about doing the school-leaver apprenticeship?
When you’re in your early twenties, it’s hard to know if you’re doing well at something. And especially with accounting, there are so many avenues you can take to get the qualification. But, when you’ve passed the exam, you have a definitive marker that you’re succeeding. It’s a nice indicator that you’re doing well. It helps to keep you motivated. That’s the main thing I enjoyed.
I never felt isolated when I was completing the apprenticeship, even though I worked from home quite a lot, because I always felt like I was a part of a community. When I passed an exam, my parents would be happy for me, obviously, but everyone in office would be REALLY happy for me because they know how hard those exams are. They understand how much work it takes, so it feels like a nice community.
Were there challenges that you faced while you were completing your school-leaver apprenticeship?
It’s definitely scary when you start working towards the exam because of how much there is to take in. It’s almost like you’re guaranteed to fail them when you first start because they are just so difficult.
It was hard while I was going through it, but then at the end, when you have the results and you find out you’ve passed, it’s like a full circle journey. You started off thinking “There’s no way I can do this, there’s no way I can pass this, there’s too much to know”, then by the end of it, you’re looking at the result, you’ve got a nice score, and you realise that you can do it. Then you’re onto the next one.
Can you use past things you’ve learned, like your maths skills, in your current role?
There’s a lot of problem solving and looking at the best ways to get around problems, so the maths background helps a lot with that. I enjoy teaching our clients how to do things in a way they understand and why you’re supposed to do them that way.
As a school leaver, would you recommend the school-leaver route to others?
I absolutely would recommend this route.
I spent a lot of time trying to encourage my friends and my sister, who are looking at universities currently, to follow this route. For jobs now, experience is key. In my role now, I’m further on than people who are older than me because they chose to do a degree and then do the accountancy qualification. They don’t have as much experience and when taking into account doing a degree, will qualify in six or seven years as opposed to four or five years.
Do you feel you’ve missed out on things having not gone to university?
I don’t think I’ve missed out because I chose not to go to uni. I still socialise with my friends who went off to uni – such as Newcastle, Cardiff, Norwich all of those. I went to loads of different places to visit them which was quite nice to do.
I’ve never really been one for nights out. I do once a month rather than once a weekend. I don’t think I’ve missed out socially, especially since Ecovis is such a social company. It’s almost like being at Uni in a way – we have ‘Last Thursday’ socials, annual Black-Tie dinners, the Away Day, things like that. There’s always something going on.
What would you say to people deciding between a school-leaver apprenticeship and university?
If people are trying to decide what to do, then they should look into apprenticeships because they’re not all just accounting – you can do investment, banking, finance, insurance, there are so many different routes. There are loads of different apprenticeship opportunities where you’re learning, working and earning money at the same time.
I feel like a lot of colleges and schools discourage people from looking into apprenticeships and try to push people towards Uni. I remember the president of my sixth from calling me to his office and saying to me “with your grades you should be going to Oxford or Cambridge” but I knew that wasn’t for me. I think it’s an old-fashioned view to have.
With the school-leaver apprenticeship route for accounting, you’re going to have the same qualification, you’ll become a chartered accountant sooner and you won’t have the huge debt that comes with going to university.
What are your next steps now that you’re a Chartered Accountant?
The next step for me is to move into a Supervisor role. I’m actually in the process of doing that at the moment and it’s definitely a big change compared with what I’m used to. Before, I was responsible for doing the testing and cracking the numbers for one field work job, now I’m responsible for three!
An important part of the role is also coaching people and managing people. You can’t just tell people how to do something and then that’s job done. You need to explain why you do it, how to look for errors, and show them how to do it. You have to teach people how to be able to think and do things for themselves because often, you don’t have time to do it yourself.
To celebrate being recently qualified I’d quite like to go off and do some travelling. I’ve always liked the idea of doing Route 66 in the USA so I might do that, obviously a little bit more difficult now with Winnie [*Winnie is the most adorable little puppy*].