From astronomy centre to accounts department - an unusual career switch...

"I like to follow things through and see results and that's what I love about the job I have now. My day-to-day work at the council involves projects that, both in the short and long terms, will materially deliver results."

The number of gifted scientists employed at the Joint Astronomy Centre, Hawaii, during its 35-year existence runs into hundreds - but only one of them ever quit to join the finance department at Warwickshire County Council.

That was Vicki Barnard. In 2005, she chose to swap star-gazing for number-crunching - not a career-switch you see every day.

Fourteen years later, Vicki has just been appointed as the council's Strategy and Commissioning Manager, Infrastructure and Sustainable Communities. Her role is a broad-ranging one with areas of responsibility which include regeneration, town centres, country parks, HS2, planning policy and infrastructure delivery.

That's a full agenda and the job is a challenging one - a far cry from astronomy, just as Barrack Street, Warwick, is a far cry from the Pacific Islands of Hawaii.

But has Vicki ever regretted the switch? Not for a moment.

"After getting two degrees in astronomy, a job opportunity came up in Hawaii and that was hard to turn down," she said. "I did enjoy my work and life there but soon realised that, for several reasons, it wasn't for me long-term.

"I saw the amount of money that was being spent on astronomy and that made me start to think about getting maximum value out of public funds. I wanted to do something where there was an end-product that you could see and use; rather than just to do the scientific research, to actually help make things happen.

" Hawaii is lovely in many ways but very isolated in the middle of the world's biggest ocean so I felt it was time to come back to the UK. Public sector finance appealed to me and Warwickshire County Council were advertising for a trainee accountant.

"With my background, I knew that I was a bit left-field but acknowledged that in my application and was really impressed by the council's willingness to think outside the box. I think that

people with backgrounds that are a little bit unorthodox often have a lot to offer."

That was 2005 but Vicki’s time at the council has not been unbroken. Between 2012 and 2017 she was a consultant at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy. She learned a lot from the variety of organisations she worked with, but was left eager for a role where she could see projects through to fruition - to affect things directly.

"The role of a consultant is to advise and many are content to do that and then that's it, their involvement ends," she said. "That's fine, but I was always keen to know what happened next - what outcomes my input led to.

"I like to follow things through and see results and that's what I love about the job I have now. My day-to-day work at the council involves projects that, both in the short and long terms, will materially deliver results.

"Our country parks are the ultimate example. We need to look after them day-by-day and plan for the immediate term as well as taking the longer-term view. They are a very special part of what I do because they are such amazing places. The county council is proud to be custodian of our country parks and we take that role very seriously, but we’re always looking to do more with them as well.

"Then there are the bigger, longer-term projects like Transforming Nuneaton and HS2 that will hopefully bring new benefits far into the future. We are very proud to be part of the Transforming Nuneaton programme which will galvanise the town centre for years to come. HS2 is not everybody's cup of tea, of course, but we are doing everything in our powers to minimise disruption to communities during the construction and maximise benefits to the region in the years that follow.

"I certainly have plenty to do and I am still very new to the role, but I have the huge advantage of having some really excellent people working around me. It is fantastic to see such high levels of expertise and commitment being poured into ensuring that Warwickshire remains such a great place to live and I am proud to have joined the team."

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