From musical theatre to cyber security

By day, Florence d’Alquen works in the tech industry as a cyber security higher apprentice. By night, she’s the lead singer of a band, does painting, salsa, bachata and loves to crochet and knit.

Florence d’Alquen had never really thought about working in cyber security, it just happened by chance.

After finishing high school, she was studying musical theatre and was very much in the performing arts space. When COVID struck and after suffering several injuries, Florence began to wonder if musical theatre was the right career path for her.

She decided to try hospitality and ended up managing a restaurant in St Kilda and working in fine dining in the CBD. But she still felt like she hadn’t found her calling.

“I started talking to a friend who had done Pricewaterhouse Coopers’ (PwC) Higher Apprenticeship Program and she said applications were open and I should give it a shot.

“I decided to apply and see what happened.

“I went through all the interviews and at the end they said, ‘we’d love to offer you a job, how would you feel about cyber security’?”

The Higher Apprenticeship Program offers an alternative pathway to start a career in professional services. Instead of going to university, getting a degree, doing a grad program then starting work, the program allows you to earn, learn on the job and get your qualification all in one hit.

With significant demand for skilled workers in cyber security, Florence knew the career prospects were promising. She decided to go for it.

“It was a huge change of direction,” she says. “I had no IT skills or experience. Going into full-time work and studying in the IT space was fairly daunting.”

Florence spent a month onboarding with PwC and learning the business, then it was straight to work.

“Within two months we were into databases and programming, which was a huge jump,” says Florence.

Despite being thrown in at the deep end, Florence absolutely thrived. She completed Chisholm’s Certificate IV in Information Technology (with a skill set in cyber security), while at the same time gaining real-world skills through her Higher Apprenticeship at PwC.

“Coming from a background with so little knowledge of IT and how it all works, it was such an interesting insight into it,” says Florence.

“Everything to me was a big question mark. To be able to have someone explain what’s going on with the computer and the software, and what it takes to make that happen, gives you a huge appreciation.”

Florence excelled at Chisholm and was named Trainee of the Year at the 2023 Chisholm Education Awards. She went on to enrol in Chisholm’s Diploma of Business.

Florence says she is really enjoying working in PwC’s cyber security and digital trust branch. “It’s super varied,” she says. “I really enjoy getting experience in a vast array of areas within cyber and talking to people in different areas.”

All up, the higher apprenticeship will take Florence two years to complete, then the world is her oyster. She’d love to eventually be able to travel with work, connect with other teams across PwC and expand her scope of work.

Florence encouraged others who, like herself, struggled in mainstream educational settings, to consider industry-based learning through a higher apprenticeship.

“There isn’t just one pathway, there are other pathways available,” she says.

“Finding the right path for you, dependent on your learning needs, is going to be extremely valuable in the long run.”