14 December, 2016

TAFE Success Stories

By Michelle Purdy

Where can a disability qualification take you? Two Tasmanian women are on the way to finding the answer to that very question. Both made the choice to be stay at home mums and give their children a good start in life but then there came a time when each knew they needed to look at how they could achieve their personal goals to gain a qualification that would lead to meaningful employment. While both had a similar starting point with the Certificate III in Disability through TasTAFE each has since trodden a different path.

Carla Willcox believes that she is on a journey of learning. In 2015 her original ambition was to gain the Certificate III in Disability and get an entry level job as a support worker but along the way Carla’s vision changed and now she aspires to eventually set up her own business in the disability sector or follow a pathway into management. Either way she wants to support others to become disability support workers as well as push the boundaries for more inclusion for people with disabilities. She believes that through the NDIS her clients can be a valuable asset in the community. Through Active Support methods those working in this industry can help bridge the gaps to make disability clients world as near to normal as possible.

Carla must have impressed the employer when she did her course work placement as she was offered work soon after. Coastal Residential Services on the North West coast has since made Carla permanent part-time and she puts in 60-100 hours per fortnight which enables her to integrate her clients into the community.

When asked what qualities and skills she thought disability support workers needed she thought “The industry needs people with lots of life skills, a broad range of interests and hobbies as well as being active in their community. The people we work with have high needs and are high functioning with mental and intellectual disabilities. Our clients need workers who can problem solve and tweak or find ways around barriers so our clients can find a way to help themselves and become as independent as possible.”

Before returning to study Carla wasn’t sure if she could cope with the demands of caring for her four children, a fly in fly out husband and full time study. She puts her success down to being very goal orientated and the wonderful support, mentoring and education she received at TasTAFE. She feels very fortunate to have had a teacher with such passion for the disability support industry whom she could always count on for advice. Earlier this year Carla won an inaugural TasTAFE Student Excellence Award for her studies. Since then she has become a confident public speaker and has had the opportunity to speak at industry and student groups on a number of occasions. Now studying her Certificate IV in Disability Carla is finding working in the disability industry a most rewarding career.

Lydia Scotney is an Aboriginal woman living in Hobart with a different story to tell. After a 15 year study break where she had 3 children and went through the heartbreak of losing her son Cohen who passed away in late 2014 after being diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2009, Lydia realised she could either let life destroy her or she could continue on with the courage and strength that her son showed during his illness and push forward. She really wanted to assist people in enriching their lives for the better, whether it was to help maintain dignity and compassion at the end of life, reaching independent goals, aiding in the advancement of people to live their life to the fullest potential or helping to teach lifelong skills that would hopefully aid in good life choices. With this in mind, Lydia looked into courses at TasTAFE because she had heard so many great stories about the way teaching was delivered.

In just 12 months Lydia completed Certificates III in Aged Care, Home and Community Care and Disability as well as the Intro to Nursing. During her studies in 2015 Lydia’s focus crystallised and she realised she wanted to work more broadly in the health industry. This had been influenced by her son’s illness and death the previous year.

Lydia has a very clear plan for the future; finish the Diploma of Nursing which she started this year and work in the industry for 6 months before enrolling in the Advanced Diploma and working for a further two years to gain experience before training to become a registered nurse. Her one regret is that she won’t be able to finish her training with TasTAFE to become a registered nurse. Lydia can’t speak highly enough of her TAFE training and how it has changed her life and outlook. TAFE has been adaptable for her needs as a mature student and boosted her self-confidence immensely. Unexpectedly it has also brought her many sustained friendships to help her through difficult times.

Lydia states: “I would like to work in various health care industries, including my own Aboriginal community and be able to deliver Indigenous appropriate health care to help empower my people and to hopefully show my community that I am dedicated to improving our health care system, especially a health care system that will be able to support their needs. I hope to educate non-Indigenous workers in our rich heritage and show us as a proud people to aid in the understanding of the deliverance of health and how important this is. I have not worked in my community as yet, but am eager to participate and become a community member that people will be proud of and to actively participate in the delivery of health care services to assist in achieving Close the Gap targets.”

Her mantra has become “Choose courage over fear”. Lydia acknowledges that if she had given into her many fears she would still be hiding in her house. Although she still feels blue and the fears haven’t gone away she has learned to live by those words as she has people depending on her. By choosing not to let her fears win she says “returning to study has given her a new life and TAFE has been a big part of that.”

At the 2016 Tasmanian Training Awards in Hobart on 2 September both women were recognised for their outstanding achievements. Carla Willcox was announced Vocational Student of the Year and will represent Tasmania at the Australian Training Awards in Darwin in November. Carla wants to use the awards, both state and national, as a vehicle to advocate for people with disabilities and create a greater awareness in the community.

Lydia Scotney was a finalist in the Aboriginal Student of the Year award and received a Certificate of Commendation. Both Carla and Lydia speak highly on the benefits of their education through TAFE and the difference it has made to their lives and in turn how their study continues to make a positive impact for their families and the people they work and study with.

Michelle Purdy is an Aboriginal VET Officer at TasTAFE. She is also Federal TAFE President of the Australian Education Union.