AFMA Member Michelle Sonsee talks about her learning curve and proves it’s never too late to go back to school. But can you really teach an old dog new tricks?
I didn’t do any further study after year 12 and didn’t do tertiary education. Through AFMA I was able to use my membership and work experience as a segue into the course. I’ve wanted to do some kind of further study to have that solid education behind me, even though I’ve had a lot of experience in this kind of work. But there’s an attitude that you might not be able to cope with the extra workload, let alone actually grasp the information.
I wanted to be able to provide a biography of experience and not having a qualification on there bugged me. Especially when reassuring customers that I know what I’m doing, it helps them feel better by having that qualification. I had a co-worker doing the same course and we occasionally worked together.
It was quite seamless to set up and get going. The course is made of four units in business management, and all have a leaning toward fleet management which I do every day. Apart from the accounting unit I’m doing now, it’s all focused on the work I do based on a framework we use on regular basis anyway. So it’s good to fill in the gaps.
I originally got into fleet management by working with a dealership, selling fleet vehicles, mostly to LeasePlan as a primary supplier. I then transferred into retail, but the hours were killing me, so I looked around for a while, before getting a call from the state manager at the time asking if I wanted a job at LeasePlan. So I said yes, of course.
Even though I already understand and know a lot of the course so far, often what you miss or forget in establishing yourself in a role, is the reason for doing it; the ‘Why’. So I’ve been getting a much stronger connection with my career in that way. It’s important to remember and know why we do something, to keep us on track. Having that framework supported with why you’re doing it, gives your customer service a much stronger sense of purpose.
There were plenty of moments where it’s helped having a tutor there to explain things, assisting with your writing through feedback. Most of the people doing the course haven’t done university study before and getting used to the academic writing takes getting used to. So far the marks are coming along pretty well.
It’s giving me a better understanding of what our customers are looking for, the common is managing costs, and knowing what they’re looking for through the financial reporting we’re providing them. So already the learnings from the course are coming into play and having a positive effect. It’s not always on paper you see the results, but in a lot of conversation, depending who we’re dealing with whether it’s HR or procurement or finance, it’s working.
Group assignments are quite interesting, trying to coordinate a report with different work requirements, home demands and of course time zones, it’s challenging. Especially when various members are relying on the others. You resort to things like Skype and FaceTime to do it by correspondence. It’s very different to sitting in a classroom.
Getting the most out of it means putting in much more than the required hours, especially the reading – lots of reading. I’ve had to work around it by adding on extra daycare to get that time back. It’s disruptive, but you’ve got to find the time and keep up. It was a little daunting, but if you’re interested in the subject you’ll get a lot out of it. The project management unit and performance management stuff I’ve done was pretty good, and by contract the accounting units are much more challenging, but then it’s just about adapting my brain.
As for the future, it comes down to a balance of cost, time and what I’ll get out of it. It’s still not cheap to do tertiary study, even when you have a decent job. But it’s definitely something others would find worth doing, and it’s not as scary as it may seem. It wasn’t as hard or scary as I thought it would be once I got my head around the format. It’s one unit per semester which isn’t too much, but it is a lot.
Once I finish this section, I’ll assess whether to follow through with the MBA. With a three-year-old and working three days, it’s something I’ll look at depending on circumstances. It’s about finding a balance. We’re quite a car family with more vehicles that we have licenses for and love to hook up the camper trailer and head off the beaten track four-wheel driving.
Once the accounting unit is dealt with and I’ve had enough of numbers, I’ll enjoy some normal life and see where things are. There are lots of people who get degrees which they don’t end up using, but this has been a great experience which I’ll definitely take to work and apply every day. In fact my experience has made it even easier to learn new things.