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I was an engineer; now I train the new generation of Singapore accountants

Joanna Cheong now works right at the forefront of the Singapore accounting profession. As a lecturer of Kaplan’s Preparatory Course for the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Examination, she’s helping to groom the next generation of accountants in the Republic.

But Joanna didn’t start her career in an accounting role, or in any kind of finance-related job.

“I studied engineering at university and it was only after working for five years as an engineer that I decided to make the switch to accounting,” says Joanna, adding that her career path now provides an inspiration for the Kaplan students she teaches.

“I was looking to the future and wanted a stable and interesting job. Every company needs accountants, regardless of the industry they’re in,” she says.

To make her big career change, Joanna decided to become ACCA-qualified. And to get herself in the best shape possible for the exam, she enrolled at Kaplan part-time while still working in the engineering industry.

“I chose ACCA because I needed very technical accounting knowledge and because I saw ACCA people were in high-level jobs in Singapore,” she says. “While you can study for ACCA on your own, it’s a demanding exam and it’s certainly a lot better to get expert help from the experienced teachers at Kaplan.”

To succeed on the ACCA Preparatory Course requires “determination, discipline and desire”, says Joanna. “It’s not easy, don’t treat it lightly. It was tough for me to balance study and work, but I passed the exam because I had strong willpower and great support from Kaplan.”

Joanna received her ACCA qualification in 2007 and then needed to be equally determined when it came to job hunting.

“I sent out about 100 CVs and only about 20 companies replied, but I did get a job at a medium-sized audit firm in Singapore,” she says. “I was already fairly experienced as an engineer, so when I moved to accountancy I had to take a step back in seniority at first.”

By 2010, Joanna had moved up the ranks in accountancy and was enjoying the challenges of working in her new profession.

And it was that year she decided she liked to help other people make similar career changes by becoming a part-time lecturer at Kaplan. “I also wanted to see if I enjoyed teaching and if I was cut out for it,” she says.

As it turned out, Joanna was a natural teacher. She has been with Kaplan ever since and for the past two years, been a full-time staff member teaching financial accounting, management accounting, tax, and financial management on the ACCA Preparatory Course.

“Most of my students are taking the ACCA to make a career change, so I totally understand where they’re coming from and what they’re going through in the course.” says Joanna.

“I went through a major journey myself and I now like bringing my story into the classroom. I tell them that it will be difficult to move into accountancy, but it’s definitely possible – I’m proof of that,” she adds.

All the teachers in the ACCA Preparatory Course have industry experience as well as academic prowess.

“Our role is to make difficult accountancy concepts easier to understand, so we relate our teaching to what’s happening in the world. We often go outside of the textbooks and bring in real-life events to support the theories,” she says.

Joanna describes her teaching style as “passionate and systematic”. “Because of my engineering background, I take a step-by-step approach to each topic, and I like to use diagrams to explain concepts. Students have told me they really enjoy this approach.”

She says she has become a better teacher through seven years of trial and error. “I even look at YouTube teaching videos to see what I could change. If one method doesn’t work, then I try another.”

It is also important to make classes “as interactive as possible” and encourage students to express their opinions, says Joanna.

“And I also adapt my teaching to suit different groups of students. People studying part-time, for example, often have some work experience and are a bit older, so I give them examples from the workplace that they can relate to,” she says.

For Joanna, one of the most satisfying parts of being a teacher at Kaplan is seeing her students go on to get good jobs in accounting.

“Students can use the ACCA qualification to start their careers at mid-tier accounting firms, or get interesting positions in the corporate or public sectors should there be fewer opportunities at the Big Four,” says Joanna. “With the ACCA qualification under your belt, you certainly have a lot of career options.”

AUTHORKaplan Learning Institute

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