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PartnersSeptember 14, 2023

Good change: Five people on how a career pivot transformed their lives

(Image: Archi Banal/Getty Images)
(Image: Archi Banal/Getty Images)

Today’s job market is changing faster than ever before – and so are the skills needed to keep up. But for the people who don’t want to just keep up, what’s out there to help them find a new gear? We spoke to five people about their decision to go back to study.

In the past, cultural narratives about jobs and careers tended to be pretty one-note. You trained or worked in your field of interest, climbed the ranks and retired some decades later. But these days that simplistic narrative is being disrupted. Increasingly, people are not just changing jobs, but entire career trajectories. In 2020, the New Zealand Productivity Commission found that over the course of the year, 12.1% of workers switched industries. That number may well have risen even further, as data from Australia shows that more employees are changing their job or approach to work post-pandemic. 

For a variety of factors including burnout, family commitments and the fast-changing nature of the modern job market, more people than ever are looking to take the next step.

To pull off a career or job change, gaining new skills and confidence is a good place to start. In New Zealand, one provider of such courses is academyEX, which offers tertiary programmes designed to give students a head start in evolving industries and prepare them for the next stage of their careers. Their courses specialise in business disruption, digital transformation, leadership, sustainability and contemporary education. Below, five students describe how they came to academyEX, and the opportunities they’ve had since.

Dan and Lesieli Oliver (Image: Karl Sheridan)

Lesieli and Dan Oliver

During the lockdowns of 2020, Lesieli Oliver founded Lālanga in a bid to help Māori and Pacific students who had disengaged from education. As she began running mentoring programmes and engaging with students in low decile schools, Lesieli quickly realised the barriers for disengaged students hadn’t changed since she’d been in school. 

Driven by a desire to understand the root of the problem, Oliver decided to pursue research. Oliver says she considered other universities, but signed up to the Master of Technological Futures (MTF) at academyEX as the practical nature of the course appealed to her. 

“I wanted to create a solution but at the same time I was driven by a curiosity to understand the problem – why it exists and the factors. Then I spent time thinking about the technology you could possibly develop to address the problem.”

It was during this course that Oliver came up with the Lālanga toolbox programme, which is now reaching over 200 Māori and Pacific ākonga. Oliver says MTF redoubled her drive and passion for her business. 

“If I didn’t start with academyEX I could’ve easily closed up shop. Now, I know so much about the problem and I’m aware of the opportunity that technology can give us, so it’s really hard for us to walk away.”

Around a month into MTF, Lesieli’s husband and Lālanga co-founder Dan also signed up for the programme. The couple completed related projects which became the basis of the Lālanga Toolbox. Dan had already completed another Masters, but says “what won me over was hearing just how practical it was… it’s geared towards creating something that’s making meaningful change.” 

But Dan says the academyEX course could also easily be taken by someone with no tertiary experience. 

“They’ve set it up to fit around work easily, and there’s plenty of guidance from experienced people on how to conduct a research project and how to perform data analysis,” he says. Dan and Lesieli are now the first couple to graduate from an academyEX programme in the same cohort. 

There were moments that it was hard, says Lesieli. But “it shows you that you can achieve what you think is impossible.”

Zoey Gruener

For Zoey Gruener, undertaking a course with academyEX meant her role at Tara Iti Golf Club has “transformed and evolved”. From a straightforward executive assistant role, Gruener is now leading her organisation and the wider industry in utilising new technologies, shaping the future of amateur golf in Aotearoa. 

Gruener first came to academyEX through their Digital Skills for the Workplace micro-credential, offered with full scholarships for those who may want to improve their digital skills for the modern day workplace, and looking to dip their toe back into study. On completing the course Gruener moved into a Postgraduate Certificate with academyEX. 

“A lot of what I’ve learnt through academyEX is coming up with initiatives and being able to roll them out,” says Gruener. That included a Tara Iti Club app as well as an employee website. Gruener has also overhauled the organisation’s intranet and internal structure. Now, she’s working on an employee exchange programme.

Being a founding employee at her company and working in a “small and intimate” environment, Gruener says she was able to use learning from academyEX to “assist my colleagues in building this place”.

“I’m not afraid to encourage us to work agilely in the environment and be relatively quick to adopt new technologies.”

After finishing her Postgraduate Certificate, Gruener is now completing the Masters of Change and Organisational Resilience (MCOR).

“I’ve had such a positive experience with it all, and to be honest I would never have envisaged doing a masters degree. I’m in my 40s and I’ve been in the industry for 25 years. I didn’t look to go back to learning, it was just one thing that led into another. 

“Anyone can do it, and I think that’s what’s so great about academyEX. They break it into bite sized pieces so those first smaller assignments are manageable. It builds your confidence and then you take the next leap.”

Katy Lloyd (Image: Karl Sheridan)

Katy Lloyd

At the beginning of the pandemic, Katy Lloyd was working as a human resources representative, doing “work for works’ sake”. But during the major disruptions of Covid-19, Lloyd took a leap and began a Masters of Technological Futures (MTF) with academyEX. 

During the course, the conversations Lloyd had with colleagues and the diversity of thought she was exposed to led to new opportunities. Now, Lloyd has moved internally into a new role as a regional business development manager in Tāmaki. 

The skills Lloyd now uses every day were an integral part of the course she took with academyEX, which Lloyd describes as a “Swiss army knife”.

“It was awesome to get exposed to so much innovative and future focused thinking. The people that came to talk to us are incredible, and open your mind to new avenues and different ways to engage with information.”

Juggling being a full-time mum, holding down a job and doing the Masters was definitely challenging, says Lloyd. But she describes the experience as one of the best decisions she’s made. 

“The network of people at academyEX – students and lecturers, advisors – are incredible. The connections you make uplift you. I try to go back and talk to students and go to events because it’s a community I really want to stay connected to and supported by.”

Jonathon Kelso

Prior to going back to learning, Jonathan Kelso had been with New Zealand Museums and Galleries for 14 years. During his time in the industry, Kelso says he observed cultural challenges and issues that he wanted to address. 

“I’m interested in social outcomes and change,” he says. “I had zeroed in on change as something I might like to work in, but there was nothing around.” 

Having first tried business school, Kelso came to MCOR instead, as it gave him the flexibility to pursue this interest while still having academic guidance and support. 

“It’s a fascinating course because it’s broad and self-directed. The scope of what you’re able to do is entirely up to you, but they offer you guidance and structure. There’s lots of interesting reflective learning, as well as meaningful stuff about NZ context – cultural capability, Te Tiriti workshops and learning about diversity and inclusion space as well.”

Kelso describes the course as a serendipitous opportunity that is helping him achieve his goals. Ideally, Kelso would like to one day open a consultancy for organisations looking to change their culture from a hierarchical one to a more democratic process of decision-making. 

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