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Sharon was searching for a career change and hasn't looked back after leaving IT to work in leisure and health.

I decided to pursue a career in leisure and health, and in particular aged care, as I was looking for a change having worked in the IT sector for most of my working life. I began volunteering for an advocacy organisation as a community visitor to aged care residents. It was an area that I really enjoyed and I was able to connect with older people quite easily. I saw firsthand the difference I was making in their lives, not only to their physical health but also to their mental health.

I decided to investigate what aged care-related courses were available. I wanted to study through TAFE Queensland because of its credibility and reputation in education. I found the Certificate IV in Leisure and Health (CHC43415) ticked all the right boxes in terms of the subjects taught, length of the course and job opportunities. I could also study the course online. At the time, learning remotely was important as I began my training while living in another state before eventually moving to Queensland. I was also eligible for government funding which helped reduce my course fees and that was the final deciding factor for me to begin my training.

I studied remotely with weekly zoom classes held once a week. This allowed me the time to work on my assignments and to do the necessary course reading at a pace that I was able to manage around my everyday commitments. Classes were a great time to ask questions and have discussions around the current unit. I personally learnt a lot during that time in class. I highly recommend attending the classes as my teacher shared so much practical advice from her own personal experience working in the sector. I enjoyed hearing from the other students as well. Some of them were already working in the sector in other roles and during class they would talk about their real-world experiences and how they could relate them to what we were studying. I am still in touch with one of the students and it has been great to have someone with the same aspirations and like-mindedness to share thoughts, goals and experiences.

I was impressed with the amount of information the course covered. My training enabled me to feel confident and up-to-date with sector standards and practices whilst doing my vocational placement. When I attended my placement, I was the organisation's first student in the leisure and lifestyle area and they were pleased and excited to have me on board. Because my placement went well for both the organisation and for me, they offered me a job and are keen to offer student placements in the future.

A typical day for me doesn’t really exist - no day is ever the same and it's one of the things I enjoy most about my role as a Leisure and Lifestyle Coordinator. There are planned activities on certain days, but outside of those activities I have the ability to use my time for one-on-one visits that are specifically suited to the resident’s interests. I build relationships with their families as that gives me a deeper understanding of the person’s needs and goals. If we have a new resident I will spend time talking with them to hear their life story which is then added to their profile so that we can organise activities that are person-centred. I undertake regular assessments so that I keep up-to-date with their changing needs. We have a pet cat, birds and fish at our facility and part of the leisure and lifestyle team's role is to feed and care for them.

I help organise Zoom or FaceTime calls for residents who have family elsewhere and ensure our residents are able to be connected with their loved ones. I help coordinate scheduled bus excursions each week and we organise special activities to celebrate occasions like Australia Day, EKKA, Remembrance Day, Mother's Day and Father's Day. Armchair Travel is an especially fun and popular activity for residents where we create a space that resembles the inside cabin of a plane. We print passports and boarding passes for residents and staff dress up as pilots and flight crew. Once everyone is seated and we have run through the inflight safety instructions, we take-off to whichever country we have decided to visit that month. We watch videos of the country, have trivia quizzes, residents reminisce about their travel experiences and we read out facts and points of interest about the country, while our 'flight attendant' serves refreshments.

People often ask me about my work and if I enjoy it. My answer is I love what I do. To bring joy, meaning and purpose to a person's life, even if it’s only for a few minutes or an hour, is beyond rewarding and fulfilling. There are of course days that are emotionally challenging when a resident passes on or begins end-of-life care, but we are well supported by our fellow staff and we all get through it together. I often say to people that I am so glad I stepped outside my comfort zone to do my training in a sector that I feel so passionate about. If you are looking at getting into the aged care and disabilities sector, know that the personal rewards are many and that you will be supported and surrounded by like-minded people.

Image by Sharon Hobbs Photography

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