When Rachel Buxton completed her A-levels she did not think university was the right route for her but neither did she know what the alternatives were. 

Rachel said: “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after my A-levels. I had a fear of going to university, not choosing the right course and then being stuck with it for three years.  

“I explored the apprenticeship route, and I was very lucky that the first apprenticeship I was offered was in accountancy as I’d always had an inkling that was where I would end up and the rest is history if you like!” 

Most Rachel’s school friends were heading to university, but Rachel went against the flow and considered what, at the time, was the less conventional route – an apprenticeship. 

Rachel said: “My closest friends probably weren’t surprised. I think they could see my drifting away from academic study towards the end of my A-Levels. I was offered university places but I didn’t feel that I should enter into three more years of full-time study without knowing what I really wanted to do.  

“I didn’t know any other person apart from me, who went onto an apprenticeship. Most went off to university. At that time, apprenticeships were mainly in trades, construction, and engineering. The perception was that an apprenticeship was a route you took if you didn’t do well in your academic exams.” 

Rachel started her employment placement with Howsons Chartered Accountants in December 2002. At that point there were only September intakes for the courses, so she started the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) course on day release at Stoke-on-Trent College in September 2003. 

Rachel said: “This actually worked in my favour as I got nine months of work experience before starting the apprenticeship.  

“The AAT Apprenticeship is a great base qualification for accountancy, which was my first step. You can stop at AAT and even start an accounting practice with an AAT certificate, but I chose to go on further and complete professional exams to become a Chartered Certified Accountant and then finally a Chartered Accountant reflecting my thirst for knowledge.  

Rachel joined Thompson Wright Accountants in 2014 as a senior client manager and team leader and became a director and shareholder in 2020. Rachel has recently completed a two-year term as President of Staffordshire Moorlands Chamber of Commerce. 

Rachel said: “I absolutely love my job; I can’t imagine what I would do if I didn’t do this. 

“I would advise any 18-year-old considering studying for a degree to take some time to get work experience in a related job to sample a real-world scenario to help the career decision making process. I think that university degrees are fantastic but apprenticeships are a really underrated alternative and I am really pleased that so many accountancy firms now offer apprenticeships, giving young people the opportunities I have had.”