"I thought that an audit placement with EY would be a great introduction to accounting," says Sophie Morris, a mathematics student about to go into her third year at the University of Surrey. Since July 2013, she's been working for EY on a year-long industrial placement, auditing companies in the retail, hospitality and construction sectors. "This sector really interests me because these businesses are closely tied to our everyday lives and local economies," says Sophie.
It's not all about maths
"A lot of my role involves analysing accounts," explains Sophie. But she adds that there are other skills besides maths that are just as important in the audit process. "For example, I also have to write reasoned reports explaining what I've done, the results I've gained from the work performed, and my conclusions about the state of the company's accounts."
Good communication and interpersonal skills are also essential because auditors spend a lot of their time with clients, questioning them in order to understand the way their accounting system works. "Every client is different, so there isn't one simple approach to getting them to be as clear as possible," says Sophie.
Sophie adds that time management has been one of the biggest challenges. "At the moment it's the busy season when many companies need to be audited, so I'm out of the office a lot visiting clients," she explains. "It's meant I've had to learn how plan my time very efficiently because we're all working to tight deadlines."
Becoming part of EY
Sophie's industrial placement at EY has given her the chance to get to the heart of a variety of interesting businesses. "I get to visit some really exciting clients," she says. "I've audited a five star hotel and got to see it all from behind the scenes, which was fascinating." In March she'll be off to Luxembourg for a week. "The client I'm working on has a company there that does part of their accounting for them, so we need to go there and assess the work they're doing. I'll be going with four other people in my team - it's quite exciting!"
Another reason Sophie has enjoyed her placement so much is because of the way EY makes its industrial placement students feel part of the team. "EY are really great when it comes to training and support." Sophie had a full week of formal training on all the basics of audit practices as well as an introduction to EY, but she's also found her colleagues to be a great source of knowledge. "The people I work with have been really supportive and if I have questions, they've been more than willing to go through things with me, even if it's something quite basic."
At EY, industrial placement students are assigned a buddy and a coach, who mentor them throughout the year, helping them to fulfill both professional ambitions and personal goals. "My buddy is a third year who's just qualified as an accountant," says Sophie. "She gives me lots of tips and advice on things I may have missed that I could use in my work for my clients."
During her placement, Sophie has had the opportunity to develop some key skills that will help her in the professional world in the future. "Perhaps the best thing I've learnt is the importance of understanding what you're doing," she says. "If someone tells you to do something, but you don't really know why you're doing it, you're not going to learn anything from it," says Sophie.
Although it's too soon for her to decide where her career path will take her, Sophie has found her industrial placement at EY rewarding. "There are so many opportunities to see different businesses and companies and meet lots of different people. I've got a real idea of how the different teams here function, and how businesses work."
What is an industrial placement?
Students on industrial placements spend a year working at a business or company whose work may be related to their degree subject. Usually, these students are required to undertake a placement by their university, and do so between their penultimate and final years.
EY offers a number of industrial placements across its main service areas Advisory, Assurance (which includes audit), Corporate Finance and Tax. Places are available in EY's offices across the UK and Ireland, from London to Leeds, Bristol to Belfast, and Scotland, too.
EY placements and graduate roles are open to anyone with a B or above in GCSE Mathematics and English, and either a predicted or obtained 2:1.
Why do an industrial placement?
An industrial placement is a great way to find out whether an employer firm is right for you, and also greatly increases your chances of securing a job for when you graduate, at the same employer or elsewhere.
Placement students at EY are treated very much the same as graduates joining the firm - you'll be expected to do the same work and have the same number of clients to look after. Placement students who return to EY after they've graduated will also qualify a year earlier because they'll already have taken two exams towards the ACA accountancy qualification during their placement year.