Born and bred in Masterton, James didn’t grow up with big accountant aspirations. Yet, James found himself with multiple job offers before he officially graduated, thanks to his diligent studies, high marks, and his warm and open-minded nature towards others.
2021 was the beginning of the end of life as he knew it, as James went through a divorce with two young kids in tow and, within a few months, had bought his own house in Masterton.
“I was working in the retail sector at the time and felt something was missing, I wanted something challenging and fulfilling, and an opportunity to earn the income needed to provide the kind of life I wanted to be able to give my kids.”
“I have a marketing degree already, but even back then, I found that I was better at the accounting papers within the degree than the actual marketing papers. My grandad was an accountant too, and you know, he was an absolute rock star to me when I was young, so no doubt there was a level of positive influence there when I was deciding what to do next.”
“I chose UCOL for a few reasons; it was close enough to Masterton that I could see my kids on the weekends, they had a mid-year intake, and the fees were cheaper than the competitors.”
“Those first few weeks while I was settling in, I found UCOL to be very welcoming. The lecturers were friendly, and the other kaimahi (staff) I met were all supportive,” explains James.
“Initially, my favourite space was the café in the Atrium, but after a chat with one of the lecturers, I made my way to Te Hiringa i te Mahara – the whānau room.
“There, I found a quiet, welcoming space where I met a group of amazing people that made my time at UCOL feel like a true journey. It is hard to put into words for those who haven’t experienced, the wairua (spirit) of the space and how much of an impact the whānau room community has had on me. It is such a supportive space and perfect for calming the nerves and settling into studies. There, I also began attending kapa haka, waiata and karakia with students and staff alike, beginning my own journey with te Ao Māori and becoming a firm fixture of the whānau room community – gaining my nickname, Hemi, which means James in reo Māori.”
“I gained a major shift in my mindset thanks to being exposed to a community and culture that I had never experienced. I was able to have conversations that challenged my beliefs and understanding of the world. Te Ao Māori was a foreign concept to me, even though it’s indigenous. I had no exposure to it, and once I did, all my unconscious biases became obvious, and I worked to change that thanks to the support and awhi (embrace) of the whānau room community.”
In the classroom, James found joy in smaller class sizes than his previous university experience, which ultimately led to more contact and discussion time with lecturers.
“In my final semester, I undertook the Industry Project course, which gave me the opportunity to work at MASH Trust for my internship, spending one or two days a week for 15 weeks, working in an accounting role.
“I learned a considerable amount working alongside the team there - most importantly, what it is like in the industry, which can be very daunting coming straight from studying.
“My main task at MASH Trust was supporting the team to create the annual budget, giving me exposure to all forms of accounting techniques and tools while applying all the theories that I had learned in class,” James says.
One of the internship assessments is the creation of a poster showcasing the internship experience of each ākonga. These posters are then presented during an event for fellow ākonga (learners) and business and industry representatives, where ākonga finishing their internships can chat with those who are just about to begin theirs. Industry and business professionals also have the chance to meet the talent coming out of UCOL and be inspired by all the different projects provided to ākonga to help them prepare for having their own intern.
“My efforts paid off as I was awarded best industry project poster for the business school.”
James’ commitment to success continued to shine as he gained full-time employment with Waka Kotahi (NZTA) while still studying.
“I applied for a role within their accounting team and thanks to the skills learned both in class and through my internship, I was grateful to have been accepted. There, my boss was impressed with the level of knowledge I had gained in the 12 months of study.”
“I’m so grateful to my lecturers’ support during that time too. They were so approachable and supportive - even going as far as being able to change the delivery mode for some of my last courses to allow for online learning to accommodate my mahi at Waka Kotahi.
“Overall the programme was run really well and led me on a path to success. The course was challenging in a way that helped me understand each topic well and has set me up to succeed in my new role and to complete further study towards becoming a Chartered Accountant.”
James has gone from strength to strength, having now accepted an accounting role with Sellar & Sellar, the biggest accounting firm in Masterton, after they reached out.
“It felt amazing to be approached, even before completing my final exam. Accountants are clearly in demand, and I’m so grateful to be able to move back to Masterton and be closer to my kids.”