Special training: Some careers need more than a degree

It’s essential to have a professional qualification for some careers, says Jessica Moore

A degree is a valuable thing. It hones the mind, broadens perspective, and enhances earning potential.

And yet, sometimes, it isn’t quite enough.

Ambitious individuals with their sights set on certain careers require a professional qualification, either to be able to practise in their chosen field, or to enhance their credibility and land the top jobs. So, while most undergraduates from the class of 2013 are preparing to launch themselves on the job market this summer, there are some talented individuals for whom the academic work is not yet done.

If you’re not sure which careers might benefit from a professional qualification, a good rule of thumb is to look at those for which you can have chartered status – such as surveying, architecture, engineering and physics. In these sectors, qualifications are usually awarded by professional bodies. There are also other jobs, such as law and teaching, for which postgraduate qualifications may be required.

Lay down the law

Law is a good example. It’s a profession that demands considerable training. This starts either with either a law degree (LLB), or a degree in any other subject followed by a one-year conversion course – otherwise known as the graduate diploma in law (GDL). Fees for the GDL vary.

At Middlesex University, for example, they’re £6,000 for full-time UK and EU students starting in 2013. At Birmingham City University they’re £4,995, Bournemouth University charges £7,000, and at Nottingham Law School, £7,600. The training doesn’t end there, however.

Aspiring solicitors must then complete a Legal Practice Course (LPC) – which takes a year if studied full-time – and then secure a two-year trainee contract, which provides a mix of on-thejob training and academic study. Meanwhile, for barristers, there’s the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), usually also completed in a year full-time, and then a year-long pupillage.

If all that study sounds expensive, it is. Fulltime course fees for UK and EU students starting the LPC in 2013 range from a shade under £10,000 to around £13,000 and, for the BPTC, from around £13,000 to more than £17,000.

A small piece of good news is that the last phase – the training contract or the pupillage – is salaried, and usually at impressive rates. The Law Society sets a minimum wage of £18,590 for trainee solicitors working in Central London and £16,650 for trainees working elsewhere in England and Wales – but, according to Peter Crisp, dean of BPP Law School, most City law firms pay their trainees £30,000 upwards. Trainee barristers on a pupillage, meanwhile, are paid a minimum of £12,000, although lawcareers.net states that this can rise to upwards of £60,000.

With pre-qualification salaries of this magnitude, training is justifiably tough. “The law is an intellectual activity, so intellectual ability is very, very important,” explains Crisp. “Lawyers need to have excellent written and oral communication skills, tenacity, and the ability to think creatively.”

They also need to be able to fight off some stiff competition. “The hardest route is becoming a barrister,” Crisp notes. “Every year, about 1,600 students do the BPTC programme and, of those, only 450 will get pupillage.” As the LPC programme is more widely provided, and there are more trainee positions at law firms, becoming a solicitor is slightly easier – although competition is still fierce. Crisp advises: “Don’t leave it to the last minute to apply to an LPC or a BPTC course. The whole point of being a lawyer is being able to manage risk for your clients, so the first thing you need do is manage your own risks.” This means getting applications in early.

The same advice should also be heeded by would-be teachers, since places on Initial Teacher Training (ITT) schemes are becoming increasingly hard to come by. Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) can be gained on some undergraduate programmes or on postgraduate training schemes – but aspiring teachers commonly gain the Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE). “We find that potential candidates apply to us because they want QTS along with a PGCE. That is what employers want, rather than just QTS,” says Nicola Whiteside, lead for school-centred ITT at Edge Hill University, in the North-west of England.

Get into teaching

A PGCE course lasts a year full-time, and costs vary. At Edge Hill, Leeds, Goldsmiths and Warwick universities, for example, UK and EU students will pay fees of £9,000 in 2013. At the universities of Northampton and Wolverhampton, fees are £8,500 for the year. Alternatively, there’s the new School Direct path, which provides school-based training supported by academic learning, and generally also takes a year to complete, with fees of up to £9,000. Generous scholarships and bursaries may be available on either route, especially for those who will teach in shortage subject areas such as maths, physics and languages. Some School Direct places are salaried at between £15,817 and £26,052.

“Teaching courses are competitive because candidates must meet the requirements laid down by the Teaching Agency, as well as additional criteria laid down by the training provider,”

explains Whiteside. Edge Hill looks for a range of attributes, including capacity and potential to teach, subject knowledge, and noncognitive skills, such as resilience, flexibility and adaptability. Added to that, the Government has introduced a new competency test in maths and English, which candidates must pass before they begin their training. “That’s making it even more competitive this year,” notes Whiteside.

Number crunching

For graduates seeking careers in accountancy and finance, some of the big firms offer a smooth transition from education to employment with their trainee schemes. These recruit graduates as paid employees while sponsoring their professional studies, enabling them to qualify in roles including chartered accountant, chartered tax adviser and qualified actuary while gaining experience working within the organisation.

Among professional qualifications in accountancy, the ACA and CIMA stand out. “They usually represent a commitment and an investment from an employer – you get them by studying while working,” says Geoff Smith, managing director of Experis UK and Ireland, a finance and IT recruitment firm.

The companies that sponsor graduates to gain professional accreditation include the “big four” – PwC, Ernst and Young, KPMG and Deloitte – and the major banks. Smith says that most of the accountancy and finance vacancies he sees are with these organisations, so the traineeships provide not only a qualification, but also a foot in the door.

However, gaining a place on one of these programmes is easier said than done. “The bar is set very high at those organisations: you’ve got to have very good A-levels, a very good degree, and show additional attributes and demonstrations of initiative,” explains Smith. “It’s almost a given that you’ll have a 2:1, sometimes even a First. In finance, that will be in a relevant subject that shows financial literacy. And you will go through a graduate selection process too, which can be multi-faceted, testing verbal reasoning, numeracy, and a number of other things. These employers look at academic prowess, but, just as importantly, they look at interpersonal skills and the ability to relate to colleagues and clients.”

In any career that demands a professional qualification, applicants will be expected to demonstrate a deep understanding of their sector.

Think carefully about the type of work you want to do and the kind of organisation you want to work for – and do your research. On top of that, you need to “show you’ve got relevant business nous”, says Crisp.


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