They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but these go-getters suggest otherwise. Meet four adults who learned brand new skills to pursue a completely different career – despite the challenges. They’re proof that you should never stop learning…

Meet Vanessa Norimi
From Teacher to Builder

What was the one thing or moment that made you decide you needed to change your career?
Like a lot of people, I was unhappy in a career I fell into, rather than planned for. I’d always liked making things as a kid and halfway through my second renovation I thought, ‘Gee, I’m really good at this!’. Then, while watching an episode of TV show ‘Grand Designs’ about prefabricated housing I had an epiphany: This is the future, and I want to be part of it. I knew then that I wanted to be a builder.

What learning did you have to undertake to pursue your career change?
To be a good leader you need to know your stuff so, at the age of 34, I quit my job to become a carpentry apprentice… for $14/hr! At night I would drive two hours from my worksite to the Ashmore TAFE campus to study the Cert IV Builders course. Looking back, I’m not sure how I managed it. It was the learning on the job, however, that transformed me from a naive, academic girl into the confident leader I am today. I was asked by builders, ‘What are you going to wear?’, and told, ‘No one is going to take direction from a woman’.  I ended up just doing my own projects to gain experience. When people say no to you, move on. There will be another way, so don’t be disheartened.

Did you enjoy the learning process? Why or why not?
A physical job certainly has its challenges – I was 45kg when I started out, and I gained 10kg of muscle within the first six months. But facing failure was the toughest for me. Prior to my apprenticeship I’d never failed at anything before. Ever. Now I was failing everyday, fumbling with screws and tools, struggling to push a nail gun overhead with enough force to make it fire. How satisfying was it, though, to succeed on the 50th attempt?! Within a year it all came together – my strength, accuracy and speed. The day I realised I was as productive as my male peers was a good day. Although some days were hard, I was part of a great team of professionals all working together to reach a common goal. It is so rewarding to step back from a building that you’ve contributed to with your own hands, knowing that it will serve the community for decades to come. It’s nothing short of alchemy!

How has your career change affected your family, if at all?
It actually inspired my husband to also take up a trade, and he started his apprenticeship at the age of 37! We were both on minimum wage for three years – what were we thinking? He is now a plumber and gasfitter and we own a construction company together. More importantly, we are building (pardon the pun) a family legacy – my nephews and my niece have a future if they so choose, and my Builders Licence can help my family to make serious money through developing property. That’s financial independence on an inter-generational level. It’s life changing.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of re-skilling to pursue a new career?
For a 360-degree career change you should expect the process to take four years and be prepared to start again from the bottom. Grab the opportunities you get with both hands, maintain a positive attitude and throw yourself into each task with gusto. I am proof that if I can do it, anyone can.

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