The title of accountant trainee is typically reserved for people who have education or training in accounting but are not licensed by a licensing board. You can become an accountant trainee for many employers by obtaining a four-year bachelor's degree with an academic emphasis in accounting or by completing a curriculum of structured coursework in accounting at a trade or proprietary school. Because of the practical applicability of accounting, it is possible for an employer to forgo the educational requirement for the accountant trainee position and substitute on-the-job training in the style of an apprenticeship.
Professions that require a license typically prohibit people from practicing in the profession without one. For example, the legal profession requires lawyers to be licensed and makes the unauthorized practice of law illegal. Likewise, the medical profession requires doctors to be licensed and makes unlicensed practice illegal. The accounting profession, conversely, licenses its professionals but does not prohibit laypersons from handling accounting matters. In fact, it would be very difficult to prevent people from practicing accounting because keeping track of revenue and expenses is the core of business financial management.
The accounting profession licenses its practitioners based on mastery of the accounting code established by a licensing board as the best practices in the industry. This process merely distinguishes accountants and does not prevent anyone from operating as an unlicensed accountant if the person can master the basic concepts. Employers typically use the title of accountant trainee to indicate that they want to hire someone who has a basic understanding of accounting principals but who has not progressed far enough in the profession to seek official licensing as a master.
To become an accountant trainee, you will ordinarily need a bachelor's degree with an emphasis in accounting. You can typically also substitute specialized training in a proprietary accounting program for a bachelor's degree. This will qualify you to work for most accounting firms or businesses, particularly if your expressed desire is to eventually obtain a license. In the private context, an accounting firm is more likely to call a trainee an accounting associate, but government agencies have a propensity to use the trainee title.
Obtaining a bachelor's degree is not the only way to become an accountant trainee. Because companies use bookkeeping and accounting as critical managerial inputs, it is often more important to demonstrate proficiency in doing the job than it is to have a formal education. You can become an accountant trainee by obtaining practical experience in accounting in many ways outside of a college or a formal educational setting. Some people learn the fundamentals of accounting by helping run the family business as children, for example. Others have run their own businesses and have had to learn as a necessity.