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Sunday, 17 April 2011

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'SMEs need to give school-leavers better support'

The path to the CIMA qualification has diversified a great deal since I achieved my ACMA. I was fortunate enough to be given first-class training on a company scheme, but in those days such opportunities were mainly limited to the UK. Today the numbers of companies around the world that offer similar programs has mushroomed to more than 4,000. The rapidly developing world of information technology has also meant that, with the exception of the case study, the entire CIMA syllabus is available online.

CIMA's accessibility is its trademark. And there are strong signs that the options open to prospective students will develop further. The recent protests in the UK against increases in university tuition fees have brought into focus the comparative merits of the 'earn and learn' route to a career in business. UK undergraduates may feel that they are in a uniquely challenging situation but the fact is that students in many countries have to accumulate considerable debt in order to pay their way through university.

But this does not necessarily need to be the case. If a school-leaver has set his/her sights on becoming a management accountant, a more cost-effective option may be to consider a direct route into employment. Many CIMA members gain their qualification by holding down a full time job and studying in their spare time, so why go to university when you can begin a professional qualification straight from school?

There are at least three advantages to this. Firstly, school leavers who are aiming for CIMA membership will be more attractive candidates to employers. Secondly work experience will help with their studies, and finally, most will be paying for their study expenses out of their wages, so they won't have debt worries once they've qualified. Most students may have to save for a while before they can start their studies, but I'd assume this would be a more preferable option for many.

There are signs that school-leavers are already beginning to favour this route. Applications for PwC's direct-entry training program rose by more than 200 percent last year and similar schemes are in the pipeline at Deloitte and KPMG. To offer the best of all worlds, CIMA is developing a new study model to enable its students to gain a fast track degree once they have attained their Advanced Diploma in Management Accounting. I'm sure you will be hearing more about our new distance learning programme with the Manchester Metropolitan University.

My personal experience convinces me that most CIMA members can be part of this shifting training landscape. During the past seven years I have worked in SME businesses and taken the opportunity to employ CIMA trainees. True, a trainee cannot stay forever, but any additional training expense is more than balanced by the greater value added by a questioning mind.

My challenge to all members, whether in small or large organisations, is that they should seek to identify roles that could be filled by CIMA trainees. You'd be surprised by how much they can refresh your memory - and you should be ready to listen and mentor. Trainees are an enormous benefit and in return CIMA members can provide school-leavers with the opportunity to develop their career without the burden of debt at the outset.

 

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