Former ICAS Foundation student Kaitlyn Allan discusses her journey – and why she is now giving back to the next generation of CAs
Launched in 2012, the ICAS Foundation aims to open the door for talented young people from less privileged backgrounds who are looking to study accountancy and finance at university. It offers bursaries of up to £2,500 a year, as well as course-long mentoring. For this, it relies on donations and volunteering from individual ICAS members – and has, to date, helped more than 260 students, an invaluable step in going on to forge a successful career.
One such was Kaitlyn Allan, who, in 2018, graduated in accounting and business law from the University of Strathclyde.
“I had read about the foundation before I started my first year, so I knew about the bursary. But what really appealed was the mentoring and the chance to understand accountancy more, because I didn’t know anybody who was a CA at the time,” she says.
She credits her relationship with foundation mentor, Lesley Byrne, from her first to fourth year of university, as being key to her success and in bringing accountancy as a career alive for her.
“It was nice to have someone there for me who was experienced in the profession, to hear her story and how she had got where she was, and to see what a future career for me in accounting could look like,” she says. “Lesley also gave me great advice about making sure that I was networking whenever possible and keeping in touch with people in the industry. And that’s something that I’ve carried on through my teaching career as well.”
The bursary was another vital piece of the journey, giving her the chance to reduce the hours worked in her part-time job, to focus on her university work – something particularly important in the high-pressure fourth year. This crucial support paid off for Allan, who graduated with a first-class honours degree.
“I think it would have been a bigger struggle to achieve the degree I got without the support from the foundation,” she notes. “I actually wrote my dissertation on the ICAS Foundation and social mobility and received a lot of support from Linda [Jamieson, Director, ICAS Foundation], as well as my fellow students to do interviews and analysis, which was a huge contributor to me getting a first.”
Initially, Allan thought about doing the ICAS professional qualification after graduation, but having done an internship at a small accountancy firm she was unsure that it was the route for her.
“When I was doing my dissertation most of the students I interviewed had said that they had chosen an accountancy career because it was the subject that they most liked at school,” she says. “I had been thinking about going into teaching eventually, but that cemented my idea to do it sooner rather than later. I felt like I could have an impact there and encourage other people to look into accountancy as a great career to follow.”
After completing her PGDE teacher’s qualification at Strathclyde, Allan began teaching business education in a secondary school, where she actively promotes the ICAS Foundation in her work.
“I’m lucky enough to be working in a school that offers all three business subjects: I teach accounting, admin and IT, and business management,” she says. “It has been great for me to be able to teach accounting and show what I’m passionate about, but also to put finance in the context of wider business models because accounting doesn’t stand alone – it relies on marketing and all of the business function areas.”
While the foundation is working to make the profession a more inclusive one for talented future accountants, Allan acknowledges there is still plenty of work to be done in improving accessibility for the next generation.
“The ICAS Foundation exists to help people in higher education, but it’s important that young people know about college routes and school leaver programmes too. I try to make that a big part of what I do,” she says. “One area needing further focus at school is raising awareness of accounting careers, so young people understand what an accountant does in their job, because people are often still stuck on the stereotypes.
“I wasn’t that aware of what a career in accountancy could look like until I joined the foundation [programme]. It was only when I was invited to ICAS events and did paid internships that I began to understand what audit was, what tax accountants did and so on.
“The foundation offers relatable success stories to inspire people. It’s about trying to share the fact that many different types of people go into accountancy, not just those who come from certain backgrounds. That's still a stigma in some respects. And I don’t think it has to be that way, because there are a lot of bright kids from less privileged backgrounds who have – with the right support – gone on to be successful in accountancy careers that maybe they wouldn’t have previously felt were accessible to them.”
As a student who benefited from the foundation’s help, Allan knows how important the right support is. “The ICAS Foundation has had a big impact on my career,” she says. “It has helped me make well-informed career choices and to understand what accounting in the real world is like – along with giving me a great insight into the ICAS exam route and CA qualification, something I knew little about before getting involved. As a result, I'm better equipped to share information with the pupils in my school about the different routes into the world of accounting and finance.
“I do think it’s important to give back in any way we can. We want the best for our young people. Part of that is helping them to reach positive destinations, wherever those might be for them. The foundation has gone from strength to strength thanks to the support of the CAs who become mentors and those who donate to it. It’s about paying it forward — and it will continue to be really valuable to younger people who need a bit of crucial advice or practical support as they begin their careers.”
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, February 2022.