Haider Ali is in his fourth year of a management accounting apprenticeship at engineering company Rolls-Royce, in Derby.

Apprenticeships aren’t always the obvious choice, but they can work perfectly for you

I knew I wanted to go down the accounting route when I was younger. Business and Maths were my favourite subjects in school, so the career seemed like a natural fit.

I thought the default progression route was uni. No one had told me any different.

Then I spoke to representatives at careers fairs and saw that accountancy apprenticeships were on the rise. I looked into options outside of university and realised that you don’t need an accounting degree to become a qualified accountant. It’s the professional exams that are needed instead.

Initially my parents had concerns. In their minds they associated it with a lower level qualification and blue collar occupations. They thought it would be going backwards and were keen on me obtaining a degree instead. Then I came across a higher level apprenticeship. I explained more about them to my parents, with the support of my uncle, who works in finance. It made them realise it’s a feasible option and they were comfortable with me applying.

Rolls Royce came on my radar when two apprentices came into sixth form and mentioned they had a finance apprenticeship. I never would have thought an engineering company would offer a finance scheme that was such a good fit for me.

There are apprenticeships in places you least expect them. For example, some supermarkets have fantastic IT apprenticeships. 

Applications can be challenging, but it’s worth making the extra effort

I passed the online test (it was the last one I applied to) and got invited to the assessment centre. That gave me a chance to prove myself face-to-face. There was a one-on-one interview with two senior finance managers. Then there was a group exercise. You were given a brief that would deliberately change part way through, to see how you cope. Finally, there was a written exam.

I was told I was in their reserve pool, which was positive as I’d seen how competitive the scheme was. However, it meant the only way I’d get in was if one of the original offer holders failed. I wrote it off and focused on getting my A-level grades. On results day I got into my university choices, but I didn’t feel the same buzz as others. I sent Rolls Royce my grades and, to my surprise, got a phone call back - two people had missed the grade requirements and I was their first back-up. I couldn’t believe it! Within a month of that phone call I’d started.

Life changed very dramatically, but it was the best life choice for me.

The Rolls Royce apprenticeship is a serious commitment, but also a great experience

It’s longer than most apprenticeships - a four-and-a-half year scheme - but at the end you become a chartered management accountant.

I’ve worked in various teams:

  • My first placement was in VAT, and I’ve worked in Accounts Receivable, and with the Engineering and Technology Claims team.
  • In my third year, I got a placement in Group Finance – preparing our monthly financials and year-end accounts for the entire Rolls Royce group. It was really good exposure as an apprentice to see how that’s all put together.
  • My final placement will be within the Services Team within civil aerospace. I’m looking forward to understanding the operational side, and Roll Royce’s core activity.

Apprenticeships are not just a logical route into accounting, but also really enjoyable

Outside of work I have been given fantastic projects and opportunities. The first week we were sent on a team building trip to Wales. It was fantastic! We did outdoors activities and hiking, then another trip the following year to the Lake District. It was a really good opportunity to be in a completely different environment and to gel with the apprentices not on your scheme.

There is such a wide network of apprentices in your organisation and other apprenticeships - don’t let the social life be a hindrance.

I’m a completely different person to how I was at 18 in sixth form. There’s so much stress at that time in your life; going through exams, figuring out what to do with your life. An apprenticeship reassures you you’re on the right track, seeing what life could look like in a few years’ time.

You’re not missing out on a social life. You have to time manage a bit but you still get that student experience. I don’t feel I missed out on the student life as I’ve made some fantastic friends through my apprenticeship, many of whom are my age.

Rolls Royce's tips on apprenticeship applications

  • Passion and enthusiasm need to come across on your application and on the assessment day.
  • Time management skills are key when you’re juggling study or training and doing your job.
  • Team skills are a must-have too. You’ll need to work with others and be able to follow instructions.
  • Any positions of responsibility are good, as well as the levels of achievement. For example: sports, Duke of Edinburgh, voluntary work, community work or caring responsibilities.
  • Show you are committed to following our values and behaviours through your application and on the assessment day.​