AAT led me to my dream career… and my husband

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Lynn Hayes is Head of Inspection Services Branch, Department of Education Northern Ireland.

Starting out, she never expected to be in charge of government budgets, or to help shape education policies. She tells us how an admin job in the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) led her to AAT, the Department of Education, and also to her husband.

How did your career start?

I never considered a finance career. In fact at school I hated maths. I was much more interested in English, literature, history and languages. Jobs were few and far between at the time, so when an opportunity came up in civil service administration I went for it.

How did you turn to finance?

My managers soon realised I had a flair for numbers and started to give me more financially focused tasks. I found that I actually enjoyed them. This continued to a point where I was being trusted to make decisions based on the financial information I was handling. I had staff coming to me with invoices too. It was crazy when I look back because I was a junior and here I was taking care of everyone’s finances. It was then I realised that there were much more senior members of the team who were dealing with the same responsibilities. It became clear that I could get more out of this, in terms of a rewarding career path.

It seemed my line manager had come to a similar conclusion. They approached me and asked if I wanted to take part in the NICS trainee accountant scheme that had recently begun.

How did studying AAT change things for you?

If it hadn’t been for my studies, I wouldn’t have ended up where I am now. When working to gain my AAT qualification I moved to a finance-related post in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Within the space of three years I was promoted twice. My starting role with the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) within the Department of Education required a part-qualified accountant, so that’s why I was able to go for it.

I suppose I could also credit AAT for leading me to my husband. He was my line manager in the Department of Education and trained me up. Once we were no longer working together we became romantically involved. So yes, lots to thank AAT for!

What does your role involve?

I manage ETI budgets but also a big part of my job deals with answering Assembly Questions Data Protection and Freedom of Information requests. I am also heavily involved in shaping specific policies for allocating budgets, so it’s much more than balancing books.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

When I first started in the Department of Education I have to admit it was daunting. However, while it was hard work and challenging at times, I learnt so much and my confidence, knowledge and expertise really grew. I became a lot more confident in decision making. I am very grateful to have had these opportunities and responsibilities come my way.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned?

Working with the ETI has given me a whole new perspective on the education system and the government’s role: I’ve learned just how much money is actually spent on education, and the range of different needs schools have. And also seeing the role of school inspectors in a different light – I remember as a pupil our teachers were so nervous about their visits, but they are on the side of the schools.

You mentioned you are involved in policy making, tell us more?

We wrote a policy based on the allocation of funding to help children with English as a Second Language (ESL). It wasn’t just a case of looking at numbers, I went out to speak to teachers, parents and even the children themselves to understand the needs of both schools and students. It’s very important to gain that insight, and it was a very interesting learning experience for me.

What does the future hold?

After working very hard for a long while, we’ve made some changes to reduce the stress in our lives. Both my husband and I now work part time. I still do much the same in my job as before, except I no longer manage a team. We’ve also moved to the north coast, so when we are not working we spend a lot of time walking the dog and on the beach, as much as the weather allows that is – Ireland isn’t having the best summer this year!

Kayleigh Ziolo is a freelance journalist and writer based in Ireland.

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