Turning Project Management Experience into a Diploma

HSEQ (Health, Safety, Environment, and Quality) compliance expert and business owner, Symone Mercer, recently turned her extensive career experience into a Diploma of Project Management through Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL).

In the following story Symone takes us through her career journey from jillaroo to grain classifier; auditor and compliance expert to business owner. She discusses RPL for consultants, providing sensitive documents, women at work, and encouragement for more women to ‘have a crack’ when it comes to applying for jobs and turning their experience into qualifications.

Symone Mercer - Project Management with Churchill Education

Symone’s Career Journey

Symone grew up on the land in central Queensland. After finishing school, she worked as a jillaroo on various outback stations, but the drought meant she had to look for work further afield.

She worked in the mines for a while and then moved down to Emerald to work for The Grain Board as a grain classifier.

Her position involved a large degree of work, health and safety (WHS) as she worked with machinery, moving parts and confined spaces.

WHS was rapidly growing in importance at the time so it was a great space for Symone’s future career development.

Symone then took her experience working with machinery, to a transport company that carted explosives and dangerous goods around Australia.

The role had a strong compliance aspect which became a foundation for the rest of her career.

“Back in those days, you had to be compliant with a company called PACIA. They accredited organisations such as Orica who manufacture explosives. I became a PACIA auditor. There were only three in Australia at the time,” she shared.

Starting a business

In 2007 Symone turned her 10 years of experience in WHS, compliance, auditing, and risk management into her own business – SBH Consultancy, providing HSEQ (health, safety, environment & quality) compliance services to a range of clients.

Over her years in business, she has gained strong project management experience through managing her own projects and the projects of her clients.

Symone does some project work for one of her clients, Prizm Engineering in Gladstone, including writing their tender submissions and managing all their tender documents.

Turning project management experience into a qualification…

The directors of Prizm encouraged Symone to turn her experience into a project management qualification so that they could offer her project work for their clients.

Manie, one of the Prizm directors, is a Churchill Education Alumni and recommended Symone get in touch.

Find out what you are eligible for

Symone said she feels very fortunate to be working for such a supporting organisation that treats their contractors like employees. They encouraged her every step of the way and helped her get the required work examples together for her RPL assessment.

The Recognition of Prior Learning Process

Symone got in touch with Churchill and worked with Skills Recognition Advisor, Amanda Smith.

“Amanda was very patient and helpful. She gave me the time and flexibility to get my work examples together,” Symone shared.

Sharing sensitive information

The nature of work examples is that they often contain private and confidential information which can make providing the required documents for RPL seem difficult.

However, this is something we have been doing at Churchill Education since our beginning in 2006.

“As a contractor I’ve got to be very careful about what I provide. I’m lucky with Prizm because they were happy for me to use examples of different jobs,” she said. “And the Churchill portal for uploading documents was very simple and straight forward.”

The Recognition of Prior Learning Process

Symone mentioned that she has been through the RPL process with other RTOs and found it to be an onerous and time consuming process. As a result, she admitted to dragging  her heels with getting started with Churchill.

We were very curious to know what her experience of RPL with Churchill has been like?

“It was easy and clear about what I needed to provide. I had several conversations with Amanda via phone and email which really helped with clarification. I then needed to delay a few weeks due to work commitments.

Amanda wasn’t pushy. She checked in every couple of weeks to say hi and let me know she was there to help when I was ready. There was no pressure. The whole process was so much easier and less stressful than my experiences with other RTOs,” she shared.

Diploma of Project Management  – Looking to the future…

Symone turned her consulting experience into BSB50820 Diploma of Project Management, thanks to the encouragement of Prizm.

Find out what you are eligible for

This qualification will mean that Prizm can offer her subcontracting work for their clients’ projects and will also open doors for consultancy work with other clients of her own.

“It gives me more confidence to back up my statement of project management skills and capabilities with a formal qualification and potentially opens more doors moving forward.”

Women at Work

Here at Churchill Education only around 25% of our graduates are women, despite making up almost half the workforce. We wonder why that is? Partially it can be due to more women holding higher university qualifications, however there are other reasons too.

Self Confidence

We’ve noticed that men are more likely to ‘have a crack’ when it comes to throwing their hat in the ring for a job application.

A woman will tend to look at the listed criteria and only apply if she can tick off on 9 or all 10, whereas if a man’s got 5 or 6 he’ll still have a go.

We are always interested to hear from our female Alumni on this as we’d love to see more women getting the career recognition they deserve, so we asked Symone…

“Yes, I’m one of those women. If I can’t tick 9-10 then I don’t think I’m qualified. It’s really important to work in an environment that supports and encourages women to maximise their skills and experience. I was very lucky in that respect. When you’re doing it off your own back it can be intimidating.

It comes down to having the confidence to articulate what we know and can do.”


Along with a lack of self-confidence, many women also feel they are too old for more qualifications.

“I have a friend who is amazing at what she does. I suggested she should RPL her business administration experience. She fobbed it off saying she’s too old to worry about it,” Symone shared.

Household budget

Symone also mentioned that there is the price consideration.

“I did some research and price comparisons online and found Churchill to be well-priced. For a lot of women who have families, price is a big factor.”

Find out what you are eligible for


The other big factor for working women is finding the time to gather work examples.

“Even though you can spread it out and spend an hour a week for 6-10 weeks, sometimes that hour is not exactly as easy to find as people think it is.”

This is where forward planning and future proofing is important, because although gathering work examples does take time, it is miniscule compared with studying the same qualification and can mean an increase in income and more opportunities in the future.

Symone’s Advice for women who have the skills but not the qualifications…

“Give it a crack!”

“At least make the call and talk to someone. Reach out and get that free initial qualification appraisal done.

The hard part is taking that first step. You’ve got nothing to lose. At the end of the day we’re only driven by our own fear, and that fear holds us back.”

So true!

Big thanks to Symone for sharing her story. We hope it encourages you to back your skills and experience with formal qualifications.

Contact us on any of the methods below to get started…

Spotlight on: Diploma of WHS

Demand for WHS professionals continues to rise, making this one of our most popular qualifications.

Turn your career experience into qualifications with Recognition of Prior Learning.  Apply for a free assessment today!

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