I have never been the type of person who plans their career, knows what they want to do five years from now and puts goals in place to make it happen. I am not sure why that is (some accuse me of laziness) but suspect it is just in my personality to see where things lead and follow opportunities as they appear – and luckily, this has worked out pretty well for me.

In Year 12, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career (and to be honest, still don’t!) – I was equally good at the STEM subjects as I was at the humanities so fortunately my options were wide open upon graduating.  Initially toying with the idea of doing Bachelor of Arts (much to the disapproval of my parents), I landed up at the University of Western Australia undertaking a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering (BEng).

I honestly did not enjoy my degree as much as I had hoped, finding it overly theoretical rather than practically focussed and did have concerns early on in my career as to whether I had pursued the right thing for me. In hindsight, however, my BEng has opened so many doors and opportunities, it has been the perfect platform in launching my many different career paths over the last 22 years.

Starting out as a graduate engineer working for a multinational industrial company, my career roles have included design engineer, maintenance engineer, project manager, business owner, operations manager, R&D tax consultant, management consultant, lobbyist/advocate for an industry body and more recently as a Partner in one of the Big 4 Professional Services firm, KPMG (all happening alongside the more important roles of husband and father!).

It is in my current role at Partner at KPMG that truly highlights the diverse (and what would on the surface appear to be strange) career paths for STEM graduates. My team and I assist companies undertaking Research and Development (R&D) projects access government tax incentives – while the R&D tax incentive program operates under tax law, there is also a need for my team and me to understand the often complex R&D being undertaken by these companies in order for us to be best placed to assist them.

Given we deal with companies in sectors as diverse as mining, biotech, information technology and manufacturing, the majority of my team are STEM graduates in these fields – this allows us to interrogate the companies R&D projects at a technical level and determine if they are eligible for the incentives according to the relevant tax law.

Currently in my team I have personnel with the following STEM qualifications:

  • Bachelor of Science (Neuroscience)
  • PHD (Neuroscience)
  • Masters of Technology (Innovation)
  • Bachelor of Science (Biomedical Sciences)
  • Graduate Diploma – Public Health
  • Bachelor of Science (Geological and Earth Sciences)
  • Bachelor of Science (Geology and Geochemistry)
  • Bachelor of Engineering (Computer Engineering)
  • Masters of Science (Computer Science)

In addition to the STEM qualifications, many of my staff have also undertaken business focussed studies including Bachelors of Commerce and Masters of Business Administration (MBA).

By employing STEM-qualified personnel (in a traditional tax role), KPMG are able to provide a very specialised service to our clients – instead of having our clients trying to explain complex technical projects to accountants, they can have much more informed discussions with our STEM staff. This allows us to maximise their R&D tax incentive benefits while at the same time minimising their risk of registering incorrect claims.

Finally, when I ask my team what they enjoy most about their jobs, the most common answer is the variety – the variety of companies (from start-ups to multinationals), sectors (IT to agribusiness) and R&D projects (continuous improvement to world changing) they get to immerse themselves in on a daily basis.

About the author:

James Edwards is a qualified Engineer and Partner within KPMG’s tax practice. James has worked in a diverse range of roles over the past 21 years including engineering, innovation/R&D, project management, advocacy/external affairs, management consulting and taxation, advising a range of clients from tech start-ups to ASX 100 companies across all industries including mining, oil and gas, IT and manufacturing.