Student Kian Hart met Darren Robertson CA through the ICAS Foundation’s mentoring scheme. They discuss how the programme has proved mutually enriching
The ICAS Foundation exists to smooth the path ahead for young people from less advantaged backgrounds. This it does through a mixture of bursaries of up to £2,500 a year and its mentoring programme, which links students with CAs. Since its formation in 2012, the ICAS Foundation has helped more than 200 school leavers with their transition first to university life, and then onwards into the workplace.
Kian Hart first heard about the Foundation when looking at university courses while at school. There, he came across its advert aimed at those progressing into higher education and, having long felt he was strong in mathematics and business, enquired further. A month or so after commencing higher education, he was introduced to Darren Robertson CA, his new mentor. “He’d already been through the journey I’m on,” says Hart, “so it was useful to speak to him about what to expect, from my placement and my third year, and what’s coming down the road. I’ve been feeding off his knowledge of what it’s like once you graduate and what it’s like when you’re actually in the accountancy world.”
Robertson was introduced to the ICAS Foundation and its mentoring programme by a former colleague. “I thought, ‘I’ve never had someone there to mentor me and no one in my immediate family is an accountant,’” he says. “But giving someone a step in the right direction sounded really helpful.”
So far, despite Covid-19, the mentoring has “gone like clockwork”, partly because Robertson could relate to Hart, having also taken the same accounting and finance degree at Robert Gordon University and been through the process of seeking summer placements. “I’ve done that too,” he says. “But I also remind him that just because I’ve done it this way, it doesn’t mean he has to. I’m just trying to give him a bit more perspective so he can make an informed decision.”
“I think I was quite naïve before we met,” says Hart, who says he is now “definitely” set on becoming a CA. “I wasn’t really too sure what was on the horizon after uni. But having spoken to each other for the past two years, it’s really helped me to develop a picture of what is ahead.”
HOW IT WORKS
The process involves meeting roughly once a month – prepandemic in person, now online. Microsoft Teams has been a godsend, Robertson says, though “nothing can replace face-to-face”. So what do they talk about? “Sometimes it’s just titbits,” he says. “Kian can drop me an email if he’s got a query.” If Robertson can issue direct advice, he will; but even if he can’t, there’s a place for gentle encouragement, he says: “Even just a word of support to say, ‘That’s unfortunate but things are looking up. There are still plenty of opportunities out there.’”
For Hart, the ICAS Foundation is one of the best things he’s done since leaving school: “The insight Darren has given me of what it’s like being a practising CA, the reach you’ve got after university, and the support he’s given me with my placement process, my CV, tips for doing interviews… it’s not just information on your career, it’s also life advice. It’s all stuff I won’t forget anytime soon. You can trust what he’s saying because he knows what he’s talking about.”
And in turn, Hart has been able to help his friends: “It all comes around, I suppose,” he says.
To those thinking of mentoring, Robertson can’t recommend it highly enough: “Think what it would be like to be an undergraduate right now,” he says. “In the face of all the uncertainty in the world, to be someone who could just give that little bit of support is invaluable. I never had someone mentor me at that stage of my career, and I had no idea about the different routes I could take. We’re trying to bring up the next level of CAs. The sooner we can get them started in their understanding of what it’s like to be in accounting the better.”
Robertson is sure he would like to continue mentoring long term: “It’s not something I see as a one-stop thing. It’s not a case, after Kian graduates, of ‘Okay, bye-bye, that’s the end of it.’ There’s now an ongoing professional relationship, even if he does decide to join another firm, do something different or even give up accounting altogether and do a completely different degree.”
As he says, ICAS Foundation support isn’t contingent on pursuing the CA qualification through ICAS itself. “I don’t think there’s ever been a point where I’ve said to Kian, ‘You must do ICAS.’”
Hart concurs: “Never at any point have I felt from either the Foundation or Darren that I had to be an ICAS CA. I came to that conclusion on my own, which is the best thing because that way it feels like it’s your own choice rather than being somewhat pressured into it.”
At the end of every semester, Hart provides the Foundation with an update on how both his studies and the mentoring relationship are going. “There’s a lot of open dialogue,” he says. “I always know that I can email somebody at the Foundation if I need to. It’s definitely a very open two-way thing.”
Hart is still deciding which path of accounting he wants to follow post-graduation, but the decision process is made that much easier by being able to lean on someone who has been there and done that. “We did talk a lot about the area that I would want to start in, as well as how easy it would be for me to transition into other fields,” he says. “I’ve got a placement that starts in February so hopefully, after that I’ll know a lot more about where I want to go and what I want to do. But at least, with Darren’s help, I know what the options are rather than just trying to find everything out myself.”
- Darren Robertson CA, Audit Manager, Johnston Carmichael
- Kian Hart, Third-year student, Robert Gordon University
This article was originally published in the ICAS CA Magazine, February 2021.