Kym Baker moved four hours north-west of Brisbane but her professional life has almost completed a full circle.
Baker’s undergraduate degree at the Queensland University of Technology was in Applied Science majoring in Property Economics, and her career ambitions lay in the area of property valuation.
Life doesn’t always turn out as planned, however, and Baker’s career path had to factor in life choices such as having a young family and moving from Brisbane to a rural property at Gayndah, which claims to be the oldest town in Queensland with the oldest horse race.
“Once my sons started kindy that’s when I started working for the local council, but in a casual position in the libraries,” says Baker.
“That required quite of lot of travel, because the council has six centres and I was filling in when someone was needed, and it gave me a really good feel for the work the council was doing and all of its functions.”
The initial library work developed and Baker transitioned into her current position as the finance officer at the North Burnett Regional Council, created by the amalgamation of several smaller councils back in 2008.
The closing of the career circle has come through Baker’s increasing involvement in asset management, where she is able to apply some of the principals and perspectives she learned as an undergraduate, when her goal was to work in property valuation.
She has added to her skills through a scholarship with Local Government Finance Professionals in Queensland which enabled her to gain the IPWEA Professional Certificate in Infrastructure Financial Management, completed in August this year.
“It was a really good opportunity for me to gain some more knowledge about asset management, and understand the whole framework and way of looking at assets,” says Baker.
“I have some property experience, but it isn’t specific to local government, and I’m not an accountant or an engineer, but the certificate showed how all these disciplines can work together to provide a better solution.
“Because in local government we all have to be on the same page and understand where we are all coming from.”
North Burnett Regional Council has over $1 billion in assets, but they are spread through a thinly populated area with small population centres and a large road network.
Around 10,000 people live in an area of 20,000 square kilometres.
Baker explains that the region comprises more than 4000 kilometres of rural roads and 130 kilometres of urban roads.
Other assets include water treatment plants and a number of older buildings, community halls which date back many years.
A legacy of the council amalgamation is that different operational areas are also located in different population centres within the council area.
In this context, community consultation and stakeholder management are very important, along with the effective communication of decisions.
“We might have a very old and actually obsolete asset, but people are very attached to it,” says Baker.
“So if we think about renewing or replacing that asset we have to think about how the community will respond.
“Funds are limited, so there is some education to be done around explaining if people want their roads to be at a certain specification then there are other things they might have to give up for that.”
The IPWEA certification has also helped Baker understand that even if assets are donated or given through a grants process, their management is often a new cost to council.
“We’re going to have to maintain that asset and potentially replace it in the future,” she says.
“So there are the depreciation and maintenance costs, so we always have to be thinking about this and reminding people who put programs in place that getting the money in the first place is not the end, it is often only the beginning.”
Baker’s career development path still has some way to run, and she is currently studying a Certificate in Accounting and Bookkeeping with a view to doing an accounting degree, with a focus on asset accounting.
“The original degree I did in property economics gave me some understanding on the valuing and revaluing of assets,” she says.
“I’m dealing with assets on a daily basis now so while that first degree was a good base I feel the need to really add to my knowledge and skills, and I’ve done that with the IPWEA certificate and can continue that journey with accounting.”