Caroline Parker was born and bred a farmer, but the hours are long and arduous so, after having children seven years ago, she made a dramatic switch to accountancy. She now combines that with her farming experience. Workingmums asked her how she made the change.
A love of animals and the outdoors was always on the cards for Caroline, coming, as she did, from a farming family.
‘’I never thought I would do anything else,’’ she says. ‘’When you’re on a farm, the work is 24 hours a day, no day off, and it was something I really enjoyed. Being female, to get to the higher level jobs in farm management I think you need that bit more of an edge. I was the youngest in my family and there wasn’t enough work on our farm so I decided to take an HND in agriculture at college.’’
During the practical side of the course, Caroline left her parents’ farm in Kent to work as a shepherd near Hawick in Scotland. She joined the local young farmers’ club and it was there that she met her future husband, Andrew.
The pair decided to move to Yorkshire. Andrew found a job with an agricultural machinery merchant while Caroline worked on a pig farm. ‘’I spent nine years working on the pig farm, in charge of artificial insemination and acting as midwife. Working with animals suited me until I went on to have children. I would work 12 days on and two days off – I’d have to start some mornings at five o’clock. Three days a week I would be working till 11 o’clock at night. Andrew started work in a quarry when the agricultural machinery firm went under, so he would begin work at six o’clock in the morning.’’
Caroline and Andrew were going through IVF in a bid to have children and were mindful of how much their working hours would impact on family life. ‘’It took eight years for me to fall pregnant,’’ says Caroline, ‘’so I wanted to have more time at home. School holidays are always the busiest times for farming, so I often worked 70 hours a week. Andrew did similar hours and it was impossible to find a nursery that opened so early in the morning .’&rsquo
Caroline resolved to find more flexible work when she became pregnant. ‘’If I had stayed in the same job, I knew I would be missing out on valuable time with my daughters and most of my salary would have been spent on childcare. Suddenly I needed more flexible employment and retraining was my only option.’’
Caroline had noticed several job adverts calling for part time accounts roles, so at the age of 28 she began the AAT accounting qualification.
‘’Immediately I was faced with a challenge before I even began studying with the AAT,’’ says Caroline. ‘’Since I was still working in farming at the time, my local college refused to accept me as I didn’t have an office-based job. Instead, I had to travel a long distance two evenings a week to attend another college. Juggling college with working on a farm and raising a family was a massive challenge, but I was determined to qualify and build a new career. Times have obviously changed since then and students are now accepted as career changers without office-based experience.’’
After getting a GCSE in accounts, Caroline went on to get an A-level in accounts. She then studied two evenings a week for two years to gain an NVQ level four in accounting.
When she was pregnant with twins Elizabeth and Megan Caroline was working in an office doing administration and accounts. She went back to farming for a short while after the girls’ birth, but then gave up work. Sadly, Megan fell ill and died from a genetic condition at the age o f 21 months.
It was at this point that Caroline combined her farming and accountings skills and began to do the accounts for a farmer. ‘’That brought me further work by word of mouth,’’ she says. ‘’I never had to advertise.’’
More work followed on and Caroline, now 39, has a thriving work and home life. Two days a week she works in farming accounts and 15 hours a week she does accounts for a charity. On the final day of the week she teaches accounts part-time. She alternates her week between working in an office and from home.
Elizabeth is a pony-mad seven-year-old and Caroline is delighted with the way flexible working helps her to spend a lot of time with her daughter.
‘’Since qualifying, my accounting career has grown from strength to strength,’’ she says. "I now work as a finance officer and I have kept true to my agricultural roots by doing the bookkeeping for a livestock dealer – I was even involved in lambing a ewe whilst discussing small business relief. The hardest thing I have found to say is ‘no’. When I first started I didn’t want to turn anything down, but I had to acknowledge I took on a bit too much work at times. It’s important to be able to say ‘no’. I now enjoy an excellent work-life balance, which I was only able to achieve once I had studied with the AAT