A chance conversation over a lunch meeting with a friend opened up a whole new world of possibilities for Valerie Brodin. Having worked in retail management and customer service for most of her life, Valerie began to questions her work/life balance … and the rest, as they say, is history!
Valerie is now a support worker, offering assistance to clients through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Her retail skills are still being put to good use – and she couldn’t be happier!
Hi Valerie. What’s your relationship with the Manning-Great Lakes area?
I’m a drop in from Sydney, who has been living here for 17 years with my husband, two girls and three horses.
I’m a backpacker by trade, and happened upon meeting a Swede on a kibbutz in Israel in the early ‘80s – the rest is history! We are the poster family of multiculturalism, being born in three different countries and speaking two languages.
On cold and dark winter nights in Sweden, my husband and I would pore over the map of Australia, trying to decide where to move back to. My criteria was that it had to be a three to four hour drive from Sydney – and here we are.
What’s your career background?
Retail management, business owner and customer service.
At age 58, it must have been a daunting decision to change careers. What led to this decision?
Retail is hard work, and there is always a lot to do. It is rewarding, but also demanding. Anyone entering into retail management knows that it is hard work – long hours, especially when there are special promotions, budgets to meet, staff to work with and no time off over the major holidays. I loved my job and my staff.
However, there comes a time when you query your work/lifestyle balance – or lack of it. I had one of those enlightening moments Christmas 2017. It was a combination of events and things that got me questioning if this was what I really wanted to do until retirement.
After Christmas, I finally caught up with a friend of mine for lunch. Janett and I have known each other for 15 years; we met through Pony Club with our children. Janett mentioned in conversation that she was looking for a new support worker for her youngest child, Sui. I asked her what the job entailed, and she nearly fell off her chair as she understood the implication of my question.
From retail management to support worker is quite a big change too. Why did you choose this particular career?
I was at an impasse of what I wanted to do with my life. Janett unintentionally presented me with an opportunity. She had to talk me through it, because if I was going to start supporting people with disabilities as my newfound career, I wasn’t happy at the thought of personal care. She explained to me how it could work and how I could use my retail background to give back to those seeking inclusion in the community.
She also put me on to the ABC series Employable Me. Smart woman, that Janett! I was in tears when watching it and became committed straight away! Everyone should watch at least one episode.
What agencies/organisations assisted you starting your new career?
Sui’s family self-manage her NDIS funding through an organisation called Hireup, who provide an online platform for people with disabilities and their families to find the right fit support worker for them. I registered with Hireup as a support worker after gaining my First Aid Certificate, police and working with children checks.
I can nominate the type of support that I am able to offer through my profile. Hireup becomes my employer and provides insurance cover for both parties.
All Sui’s bookings for support work go through the Hireup website. I now have a second client, whom I have just helped get his first job.
Please introduce us to Sui, your lovely client, and describe the tasks you help her with on a regular basis.
Sui is 25 years of age and has Down Syndrome. Her speech isn’t perfect, so there is a lot of laughter and sometimes frustration when I don’t always get what she says. She volunteers at Big W and Woolworths in Taree four hours a week each. I support her, and I expect her to perform her tasks in a professional manner and teach her to have pride in what she accomplishes.
We also engage in company policies such as manual handling, evacuation and theft. Sui watches me like a hawk, so I have to be a very good role model.
Both business and staff have made Sui feel like part of the working family. She has her own locker and name badge and knows exactly what to do. There is a particular staff member who stirs her up, and she LOVES it. I also support Sui at home with housework and cooking.
How much have you enjoyed your career change?
I love it. I never imagined that I would be doing this sort of work. In true me form, I found a course to study. As they say, knowledge is power. I am currently enrolled in Cert III Individual Support through OTEN.
What I didn’t factor in was the 120 workplace hours that I would have to complete. I approached Sunrise Supported Living in Tuncurry, where my mother recently moved to, and they said yes. However, this has led to another job opportunity when I finish my course!
When my mother was told that I was becoming a “nurse”, she said “No, you’ve got the wrong person”. Remember earlier my concern about personal care? Who would have thought that I would have morphed from retail to personal carer? What a difference six months can make – all because of a lunch date!
What would your advice be for those considering a complete change of career?
The biggest obstacles in making a career change is often fear of the unknown, inertia and financial risk. Sometimes you don’t even realise that there is an opportunity to be had, even though you want one. Go with your gut feeling, and don’t be afraid to study to make it a reality. I’m not talking about completing a university degree; TAFE/OTEN offer plenty of courses. Between the NDIS and the ageing population, there is a growing need for workers in this field.