A key part of QAO’s Graduate program is giving staff the opportunities and support they need to develop and grow right from the beginning. Rachel Stevens and Nick Dow started their careers in auditing in 2018 as part of the program, and in November 2022 headed off on secondment to Audit New Zealand. Below, they share their thoughts and highlights from the past 5 years at QAO and abroad.
Our journey from graduates to now
Our cohort in the graduate program had 12 auditors with a vast variety of different backgrounds and experiences, ranging from university graduates, banking and finance, nursing and even a former baker. Despite our different paths, we all had a shared goal to grow and develop our skillsets to support QAO’s vision of better public services.
As we reflect on our journey from arriving as graduates to now, we are thankful for the development opportunities QAO provided and the challenges we have faced along the way. From day one we were given responsibilities on our jobs, and while that may seem daunting to some, we received constant support from our peers and mentors and found that this on-the-job experience is one of the best ways to learn. QAO also provided us with comprehensive in-house technical and non-technical training and supported us in achieving our professional accounting accreditations.
Over the course of 5 years, we’ve progressed from our roles as graduates to become assistant managers. We’ve worked with a variety of clients across different industries and locations throughout Queensland, and expanded our skills and learned new areas of the business and auditing. We’ve had excellent opportunities to travel across the state. For instance, we have worked on financial audits, information systems audits, data and analytics, performance audits, and reports to parliament. These experiences improved our technical understanding of the functions QAO performs and allowed us to grow stronger relationships with our colleagues.
Before leaving for a secondment to New Zealand last year, Rachel worked on energy, local government, and performance audits. Her experience provided her with the technical and soft skills necessary to perform work in New Zealand on a medium to large local council and manage and build relationships within the team and the client. Similarly, Nick had recently worked on university, water, local government, and infrastructure audits. His experience helped him excel in New Zealand, where he supported a manager who was working remotely and facilitated on-site discussions with the client.
Our New Zealand secondment opportunity
In November 2022, we were both chosen for a secondment to New Zealand. To say we were excited by the opportunity would be an understatement. We were eager to take on this new challenge and provide assistance to Audit New Zealand to deliver its audits.
The journey to New Zealand was a very new experience for both of us – we had never worked in a different country, or state for that matter. From our base in Brisbane, we flew into Auckland and then took a quick flight to Wellington for our on-site induction where Audit New Zealand provided a detailed overview of its methodologies and standards. This supplemented the online induction we completed a few weeks prior with the earlier secondees from QAO and other audit offices. We then made our way to Christchurch – our base for the next 4 weeks.
Our colleagues at the Christchurch office warmly welcomed us, showing us around and introducing us to the local coffee shops and food stops near the office. We were also given an induction on the office and our new roles. It was a great opportunity to meet new people and learn about a different work culture.
During our time in Christchurch, we were involved in various projects, including auditing local councils and an entity that contributes to the rebuilding efforts after the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. It was a unique experience to be part of such an important project, and we learned a lot from the work we did.
One of the challenges we faced was managing relationships between colleagues and clients in hybrid working arrangements. We had to be flexible and adaptable, as we were sometimes working remotely or at client sites. However, this experience helped us promote our communication and teamwork skills, which we had grown from within QAO, to facilitate meaningful discussions within our teams and with clients. While at the office, we also attended social events to meet more people and create meaningful relationships with colleagues.
One of the biggest benefits of the secondment was gaining international audit and business experience. As the methodologies and reporting environments were similar, we were able to leverage our existing knowledge and skills. Between QAO and Audit New Zealand, there was a willingness to transfer skills and share learnings to develop knowledge, which we both embraced and benefitted from. Our exposure to working on different procedures within a different reporting environment gave us valuable insights and skills that we could bring back to QAO.
But our secondment to New Zealand wasn't just about work – there was plenty of time for play as well. After work, we both took advantage of the longer days and went for walks in the park or played footy. We made a point to try out different restaurants every night and give back to the local communities after the difficulties of the past few years.
On the weekends, we had more free time to explore and pursue our own interests. For example, Rachel went on some amazing hiking adventures and explored new areas and environments. She came back to the office with some incredible stories and photos and was able to share those with our colleagues in the Christchurch office and back home.
Meanwhile, Nick spent his weekends exploring the local golf courses. In total, due to the favourability of the natural light extending into the evening, and his sheer drive to play as many rounds as possible, he managed a total of 13 rounds of golf in 3 weeks, on 3 different courses. He also took a trip to the base of Mt. Cook, where he soaked up the stunning scenery and managed to sight the glacier from the base.
Our secondment to Audit New Zealand was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we will always be grateful for. It allowed us to gain valuable international experience, connect with other audit offices and share skills, work on important projects, and meet new people. While at times a challenging experience, it helped us grow both professionally and personally, and gave us a wonderful opportunity to explore a new country and pursue our personal interests.
Our advice – if you are given the chance to go on a secondment, we highly recommend taking it!
Overall, our experience at QAO over the past 5 years has given us the confidence and ability to succeed within the audit profession, provide meaningful insights to our clients, and apply our skills across different working environments. The personal relationships we have built with our fellow graduates, colleagues, and clients are invaluable. Starting from the graduate program allowed us to achieve this – it was an excellent base to learn and develop a strong understanding of QAO’s methodologies through hands-on experience, training, and guidance from our mentors and fellow team members. Our opportunities to travel across the state on our audits set us up strongly to excel on our New Zealand secondment, and we are very thankful of both QAO and Audit New Zealand for this opportunity.
QAO's graduate program
For more information on where a career at QAO could take you and opportunities open for applications now, see our website: www.qao.qld.gov.au/careers