Grace Bayton, 20, from Abertillery has always had a thirst for knowledge and was eager to learn.
Her academic abilities and ambition has paid off as she was recently awarded the unbelievable title of ‘Youngest Accountant in the World’ by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) – the global professional management accounting body.
Grace’s academic abilities were noticed early on when she achieved the highest results in Caerphilly County Borough during her attendance at Newbridge High School. Although she was offered scholarships to two prestigious private colleges in Cardiff, Grace turned down the opportunities in favour of remaining with her friends at a local college. However, the pressure of performing soon became too much for Grace and she became unsure of what her next steps should be.
“I felt an overwhelming amount of pressure being placed on me to perform well and I just didn’t want it anymore. It was having the opposite effect of encouraging me and instead making me lose focus. I had enough of people telling me ‘you’ve got to do well’.
While studying her Welsh Baccalaureate (Welsh Bacc), a programme designed to provide broader, real-life experiences for young people outside of school, Grace began to question whether University was the right path for her.
I loved maths but the Welsh Bacc made me question what would I do next if I got a Maths degree. I knew I didn’t want to teach at the end of it so I and I wasn’t keen to get into student debt with no obvious career at the end of it, so that’s when I started exploring accountancy and looking at the different routes into it. I saw an advert for an accountancy apprenticeship with ACT and I realised that’s what I wanted to do.
Grace began an apprenticeship with a local business in Cwmbran, while undertaking her Level 2 and Level 3 Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) qualification with ACT. The apprenticeship enabled Grace to earn and learn while she gained a practical vocational qualification, leading to a successful accounting and finance career.
“When I realised I didn’t necessarily need to have a degree to start my journey into accountancy qualifications I knew I’d found the right path for me. Family and friends were terrified I was making a mistake but I really wanted to earn and get some life experience. I went into ACT once a week to do my AAT training alongside working and I absolutely loved it and made some great friends. AAT is a great, robust, qualification as it teaches you the core basics and sets you up with great foundations for a job in accountancy. My tutors at ACT were incredible and I felt so supported.”
After completing her Level 3 AAT qualification, the pandemic struck and Grace used this time to begin studying her Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) to become a chartered accountant.
“ I bought a CIMA book and basically studied everything from it and then went and did an exam every month. As I was gaining qualifications I also knew my worth was increasing on the recruitment market, so I changed jobs and continued to gain more experience while earning more.”
The average time to complete the CIMA qualification is 4 years but Grace finished in 2 and is now recognised as the youngest Chartered Management Accountant in the world. She is currently working for the Institute of Physics in Bristol and thanks to her qualification is able to command a much higher salary than the average income.
Grace is eager to spread the word about the value of apprenticeships and to raise awareness that university isn’t the only pathway to success in a career.
“University is a great experience for a lot of people but it’s not the only way. You can also do something very academic like accounting and not necessarily go down the degree route. I think sometimes people can be quite stuck in their ways about how we go about things. I want to break down traditional attitudes and encourage people to break free of confined thinking. Anybody who wants to change career, no matter the age, I think they should consider an apprenticeship – especially as it’s Welsh funded. You can break through the mould and still be successful. So long as you commit, and you enjoy it I don’t think you can go far wrong.”
With the accountancy world at her feet at such a young age, Grace has a dizzying array of potential paths to follow in the future. One thing she knows for sure though is she is the master of her own destiny.
“Being happy is the most important thing for me. In the future, I’d love to start something of my own, maybe an accountancy firm, but as the ‘youngest chartered account in the world’ who knows what offers will come my way. I’d like to advise people about their businesses financially and really make a difference to the lives of others.”
If you’re inspired by Grace’s story and think an apprenticeship could be for you, then check out our Apprenticeship vacancies here. We have hundreds of vacancies available with top Welsh employers, who are looking for talented young candidates like you. What are you waiting for? Apply now