The Value of Volunteering – Chris Docherty CA
Discover the role of volunteers in the ICAS Foundation and how you can get involved
I grew up on the south side of Glasgow and, because I achieved good grades at school, my teachers encouraged me to think about the future. I enjoyed subjects such as Maths and Business Management, so I set my sights on a career in accounting. I was the first in my family to study at university, and I chose to study at the University of Strathclyde Business School as it was both local and had an excellent reputation.
I joined RSM UK as an Audit CA trainee in 2008, and over time progressed through the company to my current role as Audit Director in the Glasgow office. We have a diverse portfolio of clients including SMEs, pension schemes and social housing clients, and as part of an international firm, I also have exposure to global audits and the opportunity to work with teams across a variety of offices. My role is fast-paced and challenging, but always interesting, and I am very lucky to have found the right firm where I can grow and develop.
After qualifying, I decided that I wanted to volunteer to give back and help others, by sharing my experience of studying at university and later moving into a professional career. My Office Managing Partner suggested the ICAS Foundation, and right away I felt a real affinity for the Foundation’s work as it helps students who come from similar backgrounds to my own.
I know I would have significantly benefited at university from the type of support provided by the Foundation, particularly the mentoring assistance, which would have helped me understand the importance of relevant work experience at an early stage in my studies. I took a part-time job to help support my studies, but it could sometimes be challenging to find a balance between work and dedicating the right amount of time to university. I can see the value in the bursary provided by the Foundation to its students to help support them financially, for example, so they can reduce their work hours around exam time to focus on revision.
Mentoring support would also have helped me to better navigate the incredibly difficult process of moving from university to a professional role. I started applying for jobs after leaving university but initially found it challenging to know which roles I should apply for, or how to present myself in applications and at interview. I didn’t understand the difference between roles in accounting practice and in industry, the way that opportunities vary depending on the size of the firm, and how to be proactive in looking for roles and experience. Not having this type of support, or knowing anyone I could ask for advice, contributed to my two-year gap between graduating and starting a CA training contract.
The students I mentor can benefit from my experience however – I can share what I’ve learned with them, and this helps them make informed and timely choices about their own future careers. My proudest moments as a mentor have been when, after my mentees have completed a work experience placement in my office, colleagues have come to me afterwards to comment on how impressed they were by the students. It is very rewarding to hear how they are now progressing in their CA training.
Over time, I’ve encouraged other qualified CAs in RSM to become mentors. I think the mentoring experience is particularly valuable for those approaching the end of their CA training, as they prepare to move into the next stage of their career. Many newly qualified CAs don’t realise the range of skills they’ve developed through their university studies, through their firm’s training programme and through studying for the CA qualification. Through my mentoring, I’ve become a better manager, and by working with current university students I gain a good understanding of what challenges new CA trainees in my team may be facing.
Mentoring isn’t time-consuming, and the Foundation team provides a range of support to help mentors carry out their role. It is important to remember that being a mentor does not mean you have to provide all the support yourself - my team and colleagues at RSM have been happy to help with discussions, surveys, work experience and mock interviews, and this support has been of incredible value to the students I’ve mentored.
In 2018, I was asked to join the ICAS Foundation Board of Trustees. All the Trustees are extremely qualified and experienced in their individual fields, and it is a privilege to work together and focus first and foremost on how best we can ensure that every Foundation student succeeds in their university studies, no matter their individual circumstances. My role as a Trustee has helped me learn how I can more effectively support my Audit clients at RSM, and I have also benefited from the shared experience of my fellow Trustees.
For me, the ICAS Foundation represents equal opportunities and fairness. Whatever challenges a student may face early in life, the Foundation’s support can help a student overcome some of the barriers they encounter while studying and find a more equal footing with other students in our sector. Overcoming the challenges of my personal background – including where I grew up and my family circumstances – has provided me with a unique and varied skill set. My experience of working with ICAS Foundation students is that by overcoming their personal challenges, they have also developed a variety of skills. ICAS Foundation students are hardworking, eager to learn and incredibly appreciative of the opportunity they have; in fact, many of them are the uniquely talented individuals that accountancy firms are desperate to recruit.
I believe CAs are really proud of the ICAS Foundation and its work. It is so important that we support the Foundation at every stage of our career as accountants, whether newly qualified, mid-career or nearing retirement. Every CA has the opportunity to make a contribution to the future of the profession by providing this support, whether through a monthly donation to the Foundation or by volunteering as a mentor. I would encourage all CAs to assist the ICAS Foundation in its work and discover the positive impact you can have on the lives of its students.
ICAS Foundation Alumni Amy Mellis and Ryan McVey were mentored by Chris Docherty CA while at university. You can read their stories on the ICAS Foundation website.
You can help ICAS Foundation students by:
- Volunteering to mentor a student at any Scottish university, Lancaster University or the University of Birmingham.
- Giving a financial donation to the ICAS Foundation to help support our bursary scheme.
- Offering a work experience or internship opportunity to an ICAS Foundation student.
The ICAS Foundation is a charity registered in Scotland SC034836. You can find out more about the ICAS Foundation and how you can help at https://www.icasfoundation.org.uk/ or contact the ICAS Foundation team at firstname.lastname@example.org / 0131 347 0121.