In 17 years, Katrina Watt CPA has gone from being a fill-in receptionist to teaching international students.
By Carolin Lenehan
When Katrina Watt CPA was offered her first role as a junior accountant in Mildura, in the Sunraysia region of Victoria’s north-west, her initial reaction was to run a mile. “At the time, I couldn’t think of anything more boring than number crunching and, honestly, I said no – that sounds terrible,” she confesses. Yet Watt is now a regional representative on CPA Australia’s Victorian Divisional Council.
Her path to accounting was unorthodox. “It was 2000 and I was filling in as a receptionist at Local Telecom & Internet in Mildura,” she says. “I told the chief financial officer I hadn’t done maths since year 10 and I didn’t know anything about accounting. He said, ‘Yes, but you’ve got good communication skills, and you’re efficient and organised. I can teach you accounting, but those skills are a lot harder to teach.’”
Buoyed by his confidence, the then single mum took a chance.
She worked for a year before starting her accounting qualification. “I went back to front,” she says. “I found that I was quite capable of doing all the entries, but I wanted to know more. I wanted to understand the ‘why’ behind it all.”
"It just confirmed it for me: I loved accounting. I could see the full picture, and the potential."
La Trobe University has a Mildura campus and Watt started a commerce degree with an accounting major. For the next seven years she studied part-time, worked, got married, and had two more children. In 2006, her third-year results saw her invited to join the Golden Key International Honour Society, which accepts only the top 15 per cent of students.
Studying was eye-opening, she says. “It just confirmed it for me: I loved accounting. I could see the full picture, and the potential.”
After graduating in 2009, Watt joined CPA Australia’s Sunraysia Branch Committee and ploughed straight into the CPA Program, gaining her designation in 2013.
Her true passion, however, is in sharing knowledge. In 2009, she began tutoring accounting students at La Trobe University. In 2013, she started as financial services teacher at Sunraysia Institute of TAFE, pairing it with a part-time accounting role with GTS Freight Management.
“Then one day both of my employers needed someone full-time. I had to make a difficult decision between two great jobs that I loved. I chose the TAFE role as I felt I’d be of more benefit to the industry working in education.”
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Watt is currently focused on creating pathways for Chinese students to study and work in regional Victoria. In late 2017, she headed to China on an International Specialised Skills Institute Fellowship, and she will put what she learned into practice when she welcomes a new crop of international students to Sunraysia TAFE this year.
Her CPA Australia relationships also help Watt in her teaching. “In a regional area like this, it’s a way to keep in touch with the industry. My CPA Australia connections are a great network for peer review, to make sure my assessments reflect what we’re still doing in industry. The CPA Australia website is a fantastic source of information for students as well. It doesn’t matter how far from a major city you are, you have access to the same great resources.”
At school, Watt had never thought about accounting as a career, but now she is helping train a new generation of finance professionals.
“I like to think that because I love this industry so much, combined with my practical experience, that helps to motivate students,” she says. “It shows them that if I can do it, gosh, anyone can do it really.”
ONE PIECE OF ADVICE
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