The Auditor Dossiers - Profile 4: Audit and Assurance Big 4 apprenticeship

Profile 4: Audit and Assurance Big 4 apprenticeship


Name: Dalian Paul

Age: early 20s

Employer: EY, 2nd year ACA trainee, level 7 audit apprenticeship

From Cornwall to Liverpool, Living the Dream – Audit Style

When Dalian Paul qualifies as an ACA, in around 3½ years’ time, not only will he have dodged the dreaded student debt, he will have been earning for 5 years, visited around 50 different organisations, built relationships with hundreds of fellow professionals at all levels, project-managed a raft of different assignments in a wide range of industrial sectors, honed his presentation skills and have a thoroughly good understanding of meeting politics, commercial systems, processes and business models.  All of this, before the age of 25.

Whew! No apologies for that turbo-charged sentence.  What other profession could equip the young, ambitious, hard-working professional, impatient to get stuck into work and life, with such a marketable, practical and impressive range of skills?

Dalian is one of the growing number of level 7 auditing and accounting apprentices. Commencing his ICAEW training contract straight after A-levels, his level 7 training will take him to a master’s level professional qualification. Many of us will have welcomed our university under-graduate years as a safe bolthole to put off thinking about early career commitments (me included, buried in my medieval history dissertation), so I wondered what it takes to be so clearly focussed at such a tender age.

Turns out it’s as much about drive, desire to get on in the real world, as it is about mindset.  ‘I was always interested in business, Dalian tells me.  ‘I did do Business, Economics and Accounting A-levels, after all.  And I was pretty academic too.  But I just knew that another three years in full-time education was not where I wanted to be.  I needed to be ‘out there’, involved, and actually doing stuff, and this did drive me initially towards a Public Service diploma.  That need for action and activity made me think seriously about the armed forces and the police.  But in the end, commerce won out.  I knew something about business from my college studies and my part-time jobs and I was interested in what makes organisations tick.  I started to see myself in the front line, working with people, building relationships, collaborating and doing my bit as part of a team’.

Despite his young years, Dalian’s career strategy was well researched.  ‘Having decided that business was the way to go, I was amazed at the number of apprenticeships out there; loads of level 4 and level 7 opportunities in general management, retail, customer-service, accounting and administration’.  What was it about audit and assurance that ultimately won out, I wondered?  ‘In the end, for me, it was no contest.  The sheer breadth and depth of experience I get from visiting clients on audit is simply unmatched. It all sounded really interesting and exciting and I’m glad to say that the reality has been exactly that’.

‘I made a number of applications to audit firms, but it was EY that won me over.  I was impressed with the people that I met at the selection process as well as the quality of the induction and training processes.  I’m part of a regional cohort of around 80 trainees which is brilliant- just like a peer group at Uni. We attend external training courses together but we also join a national cohort for internal development programmes and regular updates via video link.  I’m making friends and already building professional relationships which will take me through my career’.

So, what about those pesky exams, I ventured, boldly.  ‘Well, there are fifteen in total and I will sit them over the first four years of my five-year training programme. We have completed the certificate stage exams now. These ones were okay as it was only made up of a week or so in college and then the exam which was multiple choice. My next ones are the start of the professional level exams. These will be a lot tougher as college is spread across a few months and the exams are a lot more detailed. I’ll let you know how it goes!’

What really intrigues me about Dalian’s study programme is the flexibility and potential to customise to his own needs and preferences.  Technology has of course been a big game-changer here but actually, much more than I had anticipated.  ‘As long as the job gets done, efficiently and effectively, meeting budget and deadline, you have plenty of choice in how you actually do it.  Working from home, coming in at the weekend, balancing late starts and early finishes are all options to shape the work and the studying around the rest of your life’.

Interestingly though, the competencies of the adept auditor remain broadly the same as they were all those years ago when I was doing my training (also at EY, as it happens).  Great communication skills are a given; auditors still spend tonnes of time with clients, so it is vital to be a strong interactor, not shy in building relationships, able to adapt to different of styles and personalities and to understand and be understood, through all the verbal and written channels of communication.  Dalian also rates strong team working as crucial.  Typically, he works in a team of three or four but has been part of much bigger teams too.  Working to a common goal with a shared purpose, being able to get along with all kinds of people and helping, supporting and collaborating with fellow team members, are all as important as they ever have been.  As a second-year trainee, Dalian is learning quickly, coached by his on-the-job audit senior.  He’s tested most of the balance sheet accounts for the main assertions (completeness, measurement, accuracy & existence), attended a number of stock-counts and is now starting to get involved in planning the audit. ‘There is a huge amount of trust placed on you even as a trainee.  You have to take full ownership, full responsibility and be accountable if things don’t go to according to plan.  But that is so satisfying too, and great for confidence building. I’ve had amazing experience of so many different organisations, in industries as varied as mining, manufacturing, hospitality and professional services.  Being out there and working alongside the client staff really plunges you in at the deep end and is absolutely meeting my expectations of getting to understand the mechanics of doing business – and I’m still only eighteen months in. Where else could I have got that?!’

I would have to agree with you there, Dalian.  Readers of these pages will know my own thoughts on the superlative, transferable business skills of an audit career.  But it’s not for everyone.  Who shouldn’t be an auditor, I asked our intrepid trainee? ‘You’ve got to have patience.  Audit can be complicated.  It’s not always binary, there’s lots of judgement involved.  And you’ve got to be able to embrace detail and accept that there is not always a quick fix’.

‘So, so far so good, Dalian, audit really has met your expectations?’ I conject, confidently.  

‘Absolutely, every day is different.  I’m learning all the time and developing highly marketable business skills which could take me anywhere. And audit has brought me to live and work in my very favourite city of football.  I’m living the dream!’


For more on The Auditor Dossiers interview series, see here


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