The start of your training contract is really the blank canvas that allows you to begin painting the watercolour (or oil, should you prefer) of what your future career will look like. This is no paint-by-numbers exercise: you have the freedom to make the brushstrokes you want in order to achieve the finished product that you envision. The choices are limitless, and one of those is the Academic Traineeship Programme (ATP), an often overlooked option.
So what exactly is the Academic Traineeship Programme and why should I even consider it, you ask? It simply means that the first year of your training contract is spent in an academic institution accredited with SAICA, while the remainder of your training period will be completed at a registered training office.
SAICA established the ATP to give the top CTA graduates an opportunity to gain experience in an academic environment – with a view to attracting them longer term in order to combat staffing shortages. The main skills academic trainees are taught are lecturing, tutorials, preparation of teaching material, setting and marking of assessments and research, in addition to broader professional and technical skills. In fact, academic trainees are generally exposed to more professional skills outcomes and at a higher level than other first year trainees, so it comes with widespread advantages.
Technical skills taught to academic trainees are also significantly different to other trainees, and should you follow this route, you will quickly develop extensive written and verbal skills that most trainees only gain later on in their contracts. Other skills you will acquire include the ability to engage in critical analysis of technical data, research skills in a variety of fields that will be useful to audit teams and technical departments, and the ability to explain difficult concepts in multiple ways, among other skills.
A survey conducted on trainees who decided to take the academic path revealed the main motivator was skills development and the acquisition of skills that non-academic trainees wouldn’t necessarily gain, as well as the time and, in many cases, financial support from the universities to continue with additional studies. The development of students and a desire to have a positive influence on the next generation was a further incentive – academic trainees have proved to be a very useful resource to students as they are less intimidating than more senior lecturers.
Arguments against taking the ATP route are that academic trainees struggle to integrate into the audit firm in the second year and that they suffer from a backlog of practical experience. However, these arguments have largely been shown to be easy to overcome as most audit teams are accommodating and welcoming, and will have an extensive audit file on clients that the academic trainee can refer to.
The majority of academic trainees find choosing the ATP a career-enhancing experience, as they have the opportunity to work closely and develop relationships with the brightest academic minds and acquire insights and skills that other trainees don’t have access to.
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