New mentor Leah McGarry CA explains how the ICAS Foundation is ushering diverse talent through the industry door.
I like numbers and always knew I wanted to be an accountant. I went straight from school to the University of Strathclyde to study accounting and finance.
I didn't know any accountants, though, which was tough when it came to working out where my career goals lay. An online personality test said my ideal profession was auditor; I thought, 'okay, I'll go with that'. But I was lucky - I know people who've started in the audit service line and it's not for them at all.
When I graduated in 2016, it felt a bit of a minefield. There were opportunities, but I had no idea what the jobs would be like. At my RSM interview the culture seemed a good fit, which sold it to me more than the job title - although I wasn't sure yet what auditing entailed on a day-to-day basis. Four years later and I'm still in the audit service line and became fully qualified in 2019.
My manager Chris, an ICAS Foundation trustee, was the first to tell me about the Foundation, how it supports academically talented people from disadvantaged communities through university. Support includes financial assistance as well as being matched with a CA mentor. It is not about long-term hardship funding, but giving talented individuals extra help and levelling the playing field.
Many university opportunities came via word of mouth. I did a 12-week internship in Florida, with Entrepreneurial Scotland in my third year - a lot of people won't have somebody to tell them about such things. That was one of my drivers to become a mentor.
Applicants need to be studying accounting and finance at university and showing potential. With such high demand for accountants, the industry needs lots of talent through the door. The ICAS Foundation is helping to build that pool: driven, talented individuals who have an idea of what a CA does before they start.
I've just begun mentoring. I'm looking forward to seeing someone grow and helping them, particularly in the second or third years at university when you can use your experience as they think about internships. The ongoing formal mentor relationship lasts four years until graduation, but it often goes on informally long after.
You know how hard it is to become a CA. The feeling you get when you finally graduate is amazing. I wouldn't want anyone to be deprived of such an achievement because of their financial or social circumstance.
Mentoring is about giving back, there's a feel-good factor to it. It's not much commitment - you catch up once a month over coffee or on a call - and the small amount of time you give can make the difference between someone dropping out of university or keeping them driven. Understanding other people's situations also helps with your own management skills.
Many CAs are unaware of what the Foundation does and the benefits it brings. It is a great charity within our professional body. I'd encourage anyone to mentor, so if you're not involved yet... well, I don't know why you wouldn't be!
The ICAS Foundation is a registered Scottish charity No SC034836.
You can support the work of the ICAS Foundation by donating, volunteering to mentor a student or providing an internship or work placement. You can also contact us to discuss a specific area where you would like to help.
This article was originally published in the ICAS CA Magazine, April 2020.