Fast track to success for accounting undergraduates

The undergraduate program at chartered accountants Tilbrook Rasheed gives school leavers a head start in their accounting careers.

Jun 13, 2024, updated Jun 13, 2024
Tilbrook Rasheed's Lily Brice-Marwood and Quan Bui

Tilbrook Rasheed's Lily Brice-Marwood and Quan Bui

In February this year, a small group of school leavers with big ambitions joined chartered accountants Tilbrook Rasheed.

While most accounting and commerce aspirants opt for full-time university studies, that group who chose to study part-time while working full time is likely to reap early rewards, as evidenced by the undergraduates who have gone before.

Tilbrook Rasheed senior accountant Lily Brice-Marwood graduated from her accounting degree last year and is currently studying for her Chartered Accountant (CA) qualification.

Starting her career via Tilbrook Rasheed’s undergraduate program, she said, was “an asset” and good preparation for getting further industry credentials, like a CA.

“The program really sets you up for managing deadlines and keeping on top of your work and study,” Brice-Marwood said.

Tilbrook Rasheed services many South Australian companies, from small boutique wineries to iconic brands, and is a key part of each client’s journey from establishment and growth, to exit and retirement.

Brice-Marwood’s clients so far have been diverse – from the medical industry to construction, company wind-ups to start-ups – and being able to work on new businesses has been particularly satisfying.

“I really enjoy seeing people do well and being on that journey with them is super rewarding,” she said.

Tilbrook Rasheed’s undergraduate program has one intake in February each year via competitive entry, offering a small group of high school leavers full-time, paid employment in the firm while they complete a commerce or accounting degree part-time.

A key component of the undergraduate program is the ongoing pairing of participants with young colleagues who have also completed the program and can offer guidance and advice.

Undergraduates, like staff members at every level, also have a partner or director who mentors them via formal and informal catchups to see how they are progressing and what help they need.

Tilbrook Rasheed’s offices are on the city fringe in Wayville

Brice-Marwood started at Tilbrook Rasheed as an undergraduate in February 2019, fresh from graduating high school the previous year. She was promoted to senior accountant in August 2023.

She said it was “definitely hard and challenging at times” to manage work and study, but she was impressed by her own growth because of those challenges.

Her ambitions for the immediate future are to grow her exposure to the various aspects of business and commerce and help “as many people through their business” as she can.

Working for a mid-size accounting firm like Tilbrook Rasheed offers undergraduates the opportunity to interact closely with management and often directly with clients. This hands-on experience allows them to take on more responsibility, making a real impact and significantly advancing their professional careers.

There is a clear pathway through the firm and Brice-Marwood is aiming to move into an assistant manager position within the next six months, followed by manager and senior associate positions.

Tilbrook Rasheed partner Alex Hehir followed a similar path before being made a partner.

He was also the first participant in Tilbrook Rasheed’s undergraduate program, which began in March 1995 and has since seen more than 90 undergraduates hired through this program.

Some have pursued other careers over the years, while others are now graduate accountants, managers or even partners like Hehir. Today, 45 per cent of the professional staff at Tilbrook Rasheed are alumni of the undergraduate program.

Hehir said launching his career through the program meant he had “five years lived experience” in accounting by the time he graduated from his degree. This was pivotal to his success as it enabled him to translate his theoretical study by tackling practical, real-world challenges in the business environment.

“My career advanced much quicker than my cohort at university, because I had on-the-job experience,” he said.

“Finding good people in any industry is challenging. However, hiring school leavers has proven advantageous for us, as they have successfully integrated and built our culture and values over the past 30 years.”

Tilbrook Rasheed is one of the pioneering accounting firms to offer this undergraduate ‘apprentice’ type program in South Australia as a source of accounting talent in this industry.

“What we say to everyone when we interview them is time management is important and the program teaches you the skill of prioritising things,” Hehir said.

As a result, Hehir said the firm had produced “a lot of significantly good results” in the Chartered Accountant Program, including having candidates achieve a significantly higher number of merits compared to similar firms.

“Our undergraduate program has been a really good springboard for people to excel in their CA program.”

Quan Bui, Alex Hehir and Lily Brice-Marwood

Like Hehir, Brice-Marwood felt that working while studying put her “a step ahead” of students who completed their degrees before joining an accountancy firm.

“In saying that, if you do want to do well, you will end up at the same point,” she said.

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“But I think doing it the way I did gives you a foot in the door.”

The firm’s culture of mentoring has seen Brice-Marwood put her hand up to pay it forward to the next group of undergraduates.

“I was probably a bit earlier off the mark taking on that role, but I think that’s only helped me; it’s forced me to embed my learnings even stronger and faster.”

Seeing how well her mentee has progressed has been one of the highlights of her work so far.

“Knowing that I was assisting him to do that and help his career is pretty cool.”

One of the new participants in Tilbrook Rasheed’s undergraduate program is Quan Bui, who is in his fourth month.

Bui studied accounting and business in year 11 and 12 with an eye to having a career in the finance and accounting sector.

He learned about Tilbrook Rasheed’s undergraduate program through a career expo at his school, which included similar programs from other accounting firms. However, this one held the most appeal, he said, because of “the opportunity and overall industry experience”.

Entering the industry in this way has helped Bui to feel confident about his career choice and get a head start on building a professional network.

“Knowing what the industry is like at an early stage in your career is very helpful … and making those connections early can really benefit you,” he said.

“Even if you do want to move in a different direction in the accounting field, you still have an idea what it’s like, than rather if you went in blind off the uni course.”

Currently, Bui is cutting his teeth on a diverse group of smaller companies and sole traders.

Having a mentor to guide him made the transition from school less daunting, while the on-the-job training in accounting concepts and software, he said, “is challenging, but a good challenge”.

“Some of what you learn at Tilbrook Rasheed can be advanced [and will be taught later in the course],” he said.

One highlight of the program so far has been the ability to apply knowledge learned from school and university in his day-to-day work.

“When talking to other people about uni, it can seem a bit dry if you’re just taking in information all the time and then not actually using that in a practical sense.

“Maybe you’re given an assignment where you can use that information, but it’s really just an assignment at the end of the day – there’s no real use for it.

“Whereas if you’re using that accounting knowledge in a working environment, it can seem more meaningful and have a real impact.”

While still at school, Brice-Marwood had thought about a career in dentistry until a work experience placement made her reconsider.

That is when, she said, she landed on accountancy.

“On reflection, it’s the best decision I ever made. This is exactly where I want to be.”

Tilbrook Rasheed commences the recruitment process in term 3 of year 12 and extends offers in October before the SACE exams and results. The only condition of offer is that the applicant is accepted into an accounting course at university for the following academic year.

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