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Educating next generation accountants on the power of professional development

Jacquetta Griggs’ first accounting job was a part-time public practice position in 1996. She was drawn to the field out of a natural tendency to want to help others and be a trusted advisor. At school, the subjects Jacquetta enjoyed were economics and accounting – a sign that accounting was in her DNA from an early age.

"Professional development allows you to understand what you want to learn ….. identify your knowledge gaps, and flexibly manage the outcome."

Jacquetta Griggs

Today, Jacquetta is CFO for Australian Industry Standards, the Deputy President of CPA Australia’s Victorian Divisional Council, and recent chair for the Small-to-Medium Enterprise Committee. Her enviable CV demonstrates how she’s remained true to who she is, while continuing to follow her dreams of doing something she really enjoys.

Jacquetta has never strayed from her belief that accounting is a profession that allows individuals to carve careers on their own terms. It’s this belief that’s spurred her deep interest in professional development and finding ways to cultivate the ‘right culture’ to ensure today’s accountants have access to education and support to help them stay ahead of the curve.

Creating the ‘right culture’ is something that accountants, Jacquetta believes, are uniquely positioned to do. And it’s partly because she wants to see more of this culture that she works tirelessly to educate both herself and her colleagues.

Here, Jacquetta reflects on her career to date and the importance of professional development in helping her remain relevant in today’s competitive business world.

How did you get started in accounting?

“I started in public practice, where I was able to consolidate the technical knowledge I gained at university. [Accounting] was the role that allowed me to work with varied clients and businesses. It was the exposure to many clients and their experiences that lead me to work directly in industry.

“I knew after joining the film industry that my passion was not to consult to many clients, rather it was to work within an organisation to form and be a part of its culture and strategy.
“I spent a number of years in the defence industry, and it was a distinctly memorable experience. I had the opportunity to visit a number of Army barracks in Australia, and to be able to see the equipment in the field and speak with the men and women who relied on the technology was valuable. It absolutely gave meaning to what I did from behind a desk and [showed me] that everyone has a role to play.”

Define professional development and explain why it’s so important to an accountant’s career.

“Professional development is an investment in yourself. Once you become an accountant, you are looking at a career spanning many years [and that will come] with a great number of opportunities. It ensures your capabilities keep pace and you keep up with relevant accounting standards and legislative changes.

“[Professional development] is crucial to success. You really need to continuously improve your understanding of your own behaviours and what you’re learning, and how that impacts others. It’s important particularly as time goes on, because who you are as an accountant at 20 looks very different to who you are as an accountant at 40. In order to stay engaged and enthusiastic, you need to go on that journey of learning and share what you’ve learnt.

“Accounting has moved from financial statements to playing an important part in organisational culture and strategy. The integrated reporting framework was released in 2013 and it incorporates organisational strategy, governance and performance.

“As processes are automated, accountants need to engage in new technology and embrace change. Professional development allows you to understand what you want to learn, [helps you] identify your knowledge gaps, and flexibly manage the outcome.”

What has been the most useful professional development experience for you?

“I have been a CPA for 20 years and professional development has never been more important. For me, the most useful professional development has occurred when I have sought to understand how an organisation operates, understand its strengths and weaknesses, and how it fits into the industry.

“[Specific to my time in defence], we would attend the factory floor meetings to understand expected delivery requirements, and whether or not there were customer or even supply issues in moving the product.

“Having that knowledge allowed the finance team to engage with operations and be able to forecast revenue, expenses and cashflow effectively. The professional development in this example came from sitting in meetings and observing business-critical conversations.”

You are Deputy President of the Victorian Divisional Council. Does your high-level involvement with CPA Australia intersect with your passion for education?

“When I get to see my teams grow and evolve and move into finance manager roles – I get such pride from that. Education is now part of industry, and when it’s being led by industry, I think that’s really exciting.

“What’s always been really important for me in any role I’ve worked in, is looking for better experiences and getting mentors along the way. A mentor can be someone from a different department, someone who can help us understand more about the business, about the industry, and everything that we do as accountants.

“I’m passionate about seeing accountants succeed and have a voice […] and that’s how I can contribute to the change that’s happening in accounting where the focus is on culture and governance. It’s about turning accountants into the exciting, smart, and collaborative people that we are.”

What do you think the future challenges of the accounting profession will be?

“The challenge for me is utilising technology for smarter outcomes. As businesses continue to evolve, as technology changes and as we embrace it, we need to be in front of it to be able to influence where we head with our technology and what businesses are going to do with it.

“And part of that is making sure that we’re managing risk across the organisation so that we’re a part of the strategy. We’re not just the people in brown suits.”

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