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Earn as you learn with a higher level apprenticeship

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A Coleraine woman who joined the staff of Northern Regional College in 2015 as a finance apprentice has just completed her final professional exams and is on track to become a chartered accountant. As a trainee accountant, Catherine Shiels successfully completed a two-year Higher Level Apprenticeship (HLA) in Accountancy at the College’s Coleraine campus in 2017. For the next three years, while working full-time, she studied part-time with Chartered Accountants Ireland and has just completed her final Admitting Exams. When she completes her fourth and final year as a trainee accountant next summer, Catherine can apply for professional membership as a fully-fledged chartered accountant.

Catherine, a former pupil of Ballymena Academy, completed a History degree before deciding to pursue an accountancy career.

“As I was interested in accountancy, I felt the HLA was an excellent option. I’d been to university and didn’t enjoy how unstructured it was. The practice-based HLA really appealed to me and I felt that working four days and studying one day in the College was the perfect balance,” Catherine said.

She continued: “The practical nature of the course was really helpful. I was able to apply what I was learning in class to my job straight away and this really helped my understanding.”

Now that she is on the cusp of becoming a chartered accountant, Catherine hopes to continue working in the public sector and said she would recommend the ‘earn as you learn’ HLA route to anyone with an interested in a career in accountancy.

“It’s a strong progression route to further study and a professional qualification. An added bonus is that the course was fully funded by my employer, so I didn’t have to pay any fees. It’s a great way to get a professional qualification and relevant work experience without the burden of student debt.”

Congratulating Catherine on passing her Final Admitting Exams, College Accountant and Catherine’s line manager Kim Craig, said she was delighted with her success.

“The HLA in Accountancy is an excellent training programme. Catherine was recruited as a Finance Apprentice for the two-year duration of the HLA programme and this gave her the opportunity to apply what she was learning in class to the varied daily tasks she was performing as part of the College finance function. During her two years as an HLA apprentice, Catherine gained experience in all areas within the Finance section and was able to build on this knowledge and experience when she took up the position of Trainee Chartered Accountant with the College and began studying with Chartered Accountant Ireland in 2017,” she explained.

Kim added: ““I have thoroughly enjoyed training and working alongside Catherine over the last five years on her journey to becoming a fully qualified Chartered Accountant.”

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