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My Pathway to Employment

29 February, 2016

Study, volunteering, employment and the future...

Hi, my name is Sharyn and I acquired a spinal injury at the C6/7 level in November 1982 as a result of diving into our backyard pool. At that time I was in year 9 at Shepparton High School.

It had always been my goal to join the Air Force and complete training as an officer once I completed year 12. Clearly my career direction needed some adjustment after my accident and I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do for a long time. My main goal at that point in time was to get back to school and at a minimum complete year 12.

In summary, I completed year 12 over two years, then gained successful entry to a university course but failed to finish for a number of reasons. So that puts us at around 1989, where we were living in Gisborne after relocating from the Shepparton area in 1987. In 1990, as a family, we relocated to Kyabram which is half way between Shepparton and Echuca.

Essentially the main goal that I set for myself was to move out of home and get a job that paid well enough so that I could eventually buy a house. There were a number of blockers at that point, the main ones being that I only had year 12 qualifications and had a disability. So as a result, my employment prospects were limited; that and I could not independently get in and out of my car. The other main blocker was my confidence, as I had failed a number of subjects when attempting university in 1988.

As we lived in a small country town employment options were limited. So I decided to volunteer my services at the local community centre. I was at reception fielding enquiries and answering the phone. As my confidence grew I completed a number of short courses at the community centre which included volunteering as a life-line volunteer.

Having succeeded there, I felt encouraged to apply for a few short courses at the TAFE in Shepparton. Being encouraged by my success, and in turn increasing my confidence, I decided to go back to university to increase my employment prospects.

In 1991 I was assisted by the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service to apply for a university course in Melbourne. They funded a new wheelchair that I could independently get in and out of the car with and they assisted with the cost of books. I found accommodation through the paraplegic and quadriplegic association. I moved to Nunawading in 1992 to commence a Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration at RMIT. In the meantime, my family had relocated to the Geelong region.

After successfully completing my degree I moved back home. I applied for numerous jobs but was unsuccessful. As volunteer work had assisted in my development prior to university I decided to volunteer again;  feeling as though that looked more positive on a resume than simply being unemployed.

I volunteered on reception at a community organisation that organised leisure activities and carers for people with disabilities. Through the volunteer work I established various networks. This led me to find accessible accommodation, and a part-time employment opportunity at another disability organisation which I was successful in obtaining.

I worked with this organisation for 18 months. I left this job without having another job lined up and in hindsight that was a mistake; it’s much easier getting a job when you are still employed, as you have up-to-date skills and relevant referees. I was unemployed for around 10 months, in this time I continued to look for work. I had a relative who worked in the call centre for the Department of Social Security (now known as the Department of Human Services). So my interest in a role within the department was driven by the role they had available, which was a customer service officer taking calls in a call centre environment. 

I tried on three separate occasions to gain employment through a recruitment agency employment service. On my third try I was successful in gaining entry to the group interviews and continued through the process until I was offered a position in September 1997.

During my 18 years with the Department I took every opportunity I could to develop my skills. I put my hand up for any openings such as training or taking on additional roles. I found myself a mentor who was able to give me advice on how to develop towards a leadership role. I was successful in gaining a permanent Team Leader position in March 2000. I am now on a 12 month secondment with the National Disability Insurance Agency which started November 2015.

"During my 18 years with the Department I took every opportunity I could to develop my skills. I put my hand up for any openings such as training or taking on additional roles."

"If you are not working, take the time to research appropriate volunteer roles, look at the availability of TAFE courses and take a risk. You may not always be successful but at least you have tried."

I believe the only way to move forward is to look back and learn from your mistakes. Accept feedback from the people you trust and always make yourself available for development opportunities, whether they are offered to you or you have to seek them out. If you are not working, take the time to research appropriate volunteer roles, look at the availability of TAFE courses and take a risk. You may not always be successful but at least you have tried. Courage, determination and goal setting are three very important essentials in moving forward.

Good luck to all of you, in your pathway to employment!

Sharyn Craven

Tags: Blog, Career, employment, study