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Written By

Rachelle McCabe


College of Business, Law and Governance

Publish Date

3 April 2024

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From country girl to regional economic expert

Like so many school leavers, Holly Marson had no idea what she wanted to do after the final bell sounded on her high school years. Fast forward almost a decade and she’s kicking some serious economic goals working as an economist at leading consultancy firm AEC Group, whilst living in her favourite regional city – Townsville.

Holly, who studied economics at JCU, has a hand in many of the high-level infrastructure evaluation reports and strategic plans that precede some of northern Australia’s biggest projects.

She started working for AEC Group, which also has offices across Queensland and in Sydney, straight out of university, quickly acquiring the skillset needed whilst working on the job. She says every day was different, keeping her work life engaging and challenging.

As an economist, Holly conducts research and compiles reports and documents for private and corporate sector clients and all levels of government.  Projects vary considerably in scope and background, with saleyard expansions, tourism plans, cultural centre precinct proposals and local government strategic plans just some of the tasks to come across her desk.

“I spend a lot of my day writing reports for a wide variety of clients. We prepare massive documents all the time, they can be 60-plus pages,” she says.

Holly Mason at home in Townsville.
Holly Mason at a formal event.
Holly loves the relaxed lifestyle on offer in Townsville (supplied).

Learning to talk the talk in her dream job

Holly says she has acquired substantial general knowledge in her six years working as an economist.

“We do a whole range of different projects, which is just the nature of a consultancy business. We are smaller than some of the country’s biggest economic consultancy firms. So, our team have a wide range of projects and therefore a broad range of skills,” she says.

“You have to learn as you go, which in turn keeps it interesting. I don’t think I could ever be completely across the different requests and projects that come across our desks. You learn quickly how to find the information you need to do your job.”

The nature of the work requires Holly to have high-level, detailed conversations with some of the region’s most powerful people. She’s also benefited from the guidance and advice of senior economists who played a mentoring role in the early years.

"You start to feel comfortable talking to all kinds of people and having those conversations that felt very intimidating at first. I’m talking to CEOs of councils and community leaders all the time now and that again, builds confidence,” she says.

“Each day is different. We could be doing a report for a cultural centre one day, a tourism destination plan the next, then a sale yard master plan the next day. These are all totally different concepts usually involving people from very different backgrounds.

“We've done some massive projects for our clients which include all levels of government, private enterprise and some not-for-profit as well.

“Much of our work comes from local government across the country. Because we have offices in Brisbane, Sydney and Mackay, our clients come from all over. But here in the Townsville office we tend to specialise in Northern Australia.”

Holly Mason at her office in Townsville.
Holly Mason with her dog on the beach in Townsville.
Left: Holly Marson at work; right: with her dog on the beach (supplied).

Becoming an economist

Holly had no idea jobs like hers existed when she was growing up. “Being a Burdekin girl, I grew up on a farm in Clare, and that’s all I really knew. I took a gap year to think about what I wanted to do and worked at a financial planning firm in Ayr,” she says.

“I excelled at accounting at school, so when I was ready to go to university I initially thought I’d study accounting. But after my first year, I realised I didn’t really enjoy accounting and much preferred the economics subjects,” she says.

“I found economics intriguing. There was a lot of different theories behind the course content whereas accounting was quite set in stone, it was black and white. With economics, you can be a bit more creative, so I went down that path.”

Holly says when she started looking for work after graduation, she was convinced she would have to move to Brisbane, or another major city, for a job. But then a consultancy position at AEC Group came up, with Holly lucky enough to secure the role, allowing her to live and work in Townsville.

Going to uni with the right mindset

JCU was always the university of choice for Holly, who says staying close to her Burdekin family was a priority. “I really enjoyed university. After I had that gap year, I went to university with the right mindset and studied quite hard,” she says.

“However, adjusting to Townsville and the massive university population was a lot for me at that time, coming from a small town. I’ve since grown to love it here. I love the laidback lifestyle. We have everything here without the hassle of big city life,” she says.
Holly’s advice for those interested in pursuing economics?

“I would definitely suggest getting a degree. It is a job that can be a bit difficult to get into straight out of university, but be persistent,” she says.

Holly says education is an ideal way to accelerate progress for both women and men. “I think education is important for everyone. There are specific jobs where you need a degree to work in that field. Then there are other jobs where a university degree gives you an edge when you are looking at getting into an industry like mine,” she says.

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