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An account of Annie’s study life: on wheels!

by Yvette Maurice

Imagine touring Australia in a caravan, stopping at all the places you’ve always wanted to along the way. Accounting student, Annette “Annie” Birch from Rockingham, Western Australia lives a life that many people would be envious of.

“What can I say? – Travelling around in a caravan is really cool!”

For many of us, this is the Australian dream – taking each day as it comes, going where the wind blows you. But imagine completing your career and study goals at the same time?

“I often joke with my husband that maybe we did it 10 years too early!” Annie laughs. “We were not retired, not by any means! I still wanted to work and we were able to secure “little bits and pieces” of work wherever we went.”

Annie found that having bookkeeping and accounting skills was valuable for this, as they allowed her to find work wherever she traveled to.

“We have just moved back to WA which was our home before our travels,” this online student says. “We’ve been living in Townsville for the past 18 months.”

Annie already had extensive career experience before embarking on her caravanning journey. “For pretty much my whole career, I have been in the accounting field,” she explains. “I worked as the assistant to a director in a medium-sized accounting firm. I did that for about nine and a half years. I have been in the field for almost my whole working life.”

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For many, travelling around Australia in a caravan is a dream come true!

But sometimes experience isn’t enough. “Last year I realised that although I have lots of experience, I don’t have that “piece of paper” that demonstrates I am qualified. I was a bit surprised when I moved to Townsville for work. I was getting to the second stage at interview but I wasn’t quite getting through. I went to a placement agency and they suggested to me that I needed to get formal qualifications (in accounting and finance) to get ahead of the pack.”

As the job market becomes more and more competitive, many highly-skilled and experienced workers are returning to study to give themselves a better chance of securing work – wherever they are. A great number of employees have considerable experience, skills and training – often enough to make them proficient in a role.

However, increasingly, hiring managers are requesting to see formal qualifications that show when and where we have studied, and whether we achieved the qualifications we set out to. So, that’s what Annie set out to achieve by studying the popular FNS40611 Certificate IV in Accounting course online.

“I’ve always been a numbers person,” explains Annie, “but I really enjoy high-end administration like accounts payable and receivable but I felt that I didn’t really want to go into straight accounting where I would be preparing tax returns and all that.”

Her time on the road allowed her to reflect on exactly what skills she had, and what type of roles she would be aiming for post-study. “I enjoyed the administration accounting part of it the most rather than the more complex issues such as capital gains and other tasks that an accountant might do.”

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Living the Australian dream – life on the road – but while studying online!

Annie certainly had a solid career foundation in the finance industry, as she explains. “My work history is varied. At 17 I worked in an accounting firm and my husband joined the police force so we travelled a lot around Western Australia. For a period of around 10 years I was doing roles in payroll but once we moved back to the city, I decided that I wanted to go further in my career.”

“So, I focused on getting back into an accounting firm – that was my career goal. I was able to do this by becoming a personal assistant. I worked in that role for about 10 years and then my husband and I decided on a sea change. We moved from Perth to Bunbury, WA.”

“I started out by doing contract bookkeeping which I really, really enjoyed. After that, the Australian Government changed the rules!”

A few years ago, the Australian Federal Government and Innovation and Business Skills Australia (ISBA) changed the regulations relating to accounting qualifications needed to practise as an accountant.

“I found that to do the job I had always done, I now needed accredited qualifications,” Annie says, but she also had other challenges.

“There were other pressures too. The GFC hit and I found myself losing clients. So my husband and I decided to pack up and go travelling!”

“So we got in a caravan and spent 18 months on the road. That’s how we ended up in Townsville. I have been working for a large retail and work wear company for the past year and a half. I have been doing their payroll, and accounts receivable and payable. My husband and I decided that we wanted to move back home for family reasons.”

Annie then got a job offer. “I had just secured a really great job from a former boss – asking if I might like to come back and join their finance team.” She needed to find a way to work and study flexibly, to live her dream of travelling around Australia in her caravan.

“Life on the road is really good,” she says. “I think we’ve decided to do the journey about 10 years too early! I still wanted to work and my husband and I did manage to get work in as we travelled. I managed to get some bookkeeping work as we went. After all – I was a bit too young to be a “grey nomad”!”

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Annie and her husband say they are not “grey nomads” and want to continue to work while travelling.

So, travelling, working and studying was all on the cards for Annie, but how did she manage it?

“Because I was working full time, I needed the added benefit of finding a course that was self-paced. There are a lot of places out there that offer online courses but Open Colleges has a good reputation. I read a few reviews online and I’m really glad I did it!”

The student also found real support. “My trainers and assessors were really good,” she explains, “I had one particular trainer and assessor, Melissa Nettle, who was brilliant. As I hadn’t studied an online course before, at first I thought, “Oh my gosh – what have I gotten myself into here?” But I got over that first hurdle and Melissa was really, really good.”

What’s next for Annie? “Now that I’ve completed my study, I am focused on getting a great job in the industry. I want to work for a company with a solid structure, a company that was “quality assured”. I wanted a “meaty” job, a “challenging” job!”

“(Studying online) is not easy. I worked with a couple of study buddies and I noticed that one of them was falling behind. I avoided this by working out a study plan, so I got through my course in the recommended length of time.”

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Could the inside of a caravan be the perfect place to study an online course?

So what would Annie suggest to other potential online students who might be concerned that they would struggle with their studies?

“My advice is, don’t let the course work “drag out”. This might defeat the purpose (of your studies) because you lose interest and forget what you’re learning about. Each Study Period complements the next and you may not even realise this until the end, but there is a structure to the course. It’s like a stepladder, really.”

Annie achieving her study and career goals while living her dreams was no small measure.

“Getting my final qualification was very satisfying,” she explains.  “I constantly looked forward to getting my results back from my trainer and assessor, because I put so much work into the course.”

A final word to online students: “The more time and effort you put into your course, the more you will get out of it,” she says.

Want to study accounting and finance online?

Open Colleges offers a range of flexible, accredited courses. Annie chose to do the FNS40611 Certificate IV in Accounting, which has a maximum time frame of 24 months.

Looking for a different course in accounting? Search online accounting and finance courses on the Open Colleges website.

Images by: richard baxter, John Metzner and Caravan & Camping Industry Association.

Originally published June 2014.

1 Response

  1. Congratulation Annie!!

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