Finding connection at 47 through education

Being a single parent didn’t stop Wendy Sheppard from focusing on herself and going back to study.

Returning to study at the age of 47 was a daunting experience for Wendy Sheppard. As a single parent of 3 children, Wendy’s time in high school was a distant memory. She’d gone straight from school to working in the international freight industry after picking a job card off a wall at an employment agency. Starting as a receptionist and making her way up to account manager, it was a job that paid the bills for 22 years.

‘I know I didn’t take the typical route after school and go into tertiary studies but with my parents on a pension, I didn’t want to impose more education costs on them,’ Wendy said.

It was only when she returned from her second maternity leave that Wendy realised her heart wasn’t in it anymore and the job that she had devoted 22 years to wasn’t enough. Then the pandemic came uninvited into Wendy’s life like it did into the homes of many around the world and gave her the gift of time. Time to re-evaluate her life and what she really wanted.

Time for change

Wendy experienced financial hardship during the pandemic and in that time found herself as a single mum looking after her 3 children. She was grateful beyond words for the support she received during this difficult time, so much so that she became motivated to pay it forward and pursue studies in community services.

‘I came across a TAFE ad on Facebook after googling courses and I plucked up the courage to give Kangan Institute a call and enquire about a Certificate IV in Community Services,’ Wendy said.

‘I had nothing to lose and because of Free TAFE, I found comfort in knowing I didn’t have debt to stress about.’

In a mixture of nerves and excitement going back to study in her 40s, Wendy realised that change can happen if you want it.

‘There’s people out there that are willing to help if you need support and as much as you may feel alone, you’re actually not.’

Wendy enjoyed her studies so much that she wanted to further it and took up another 18 months of study to complete a Diploma of Community Services. The diploma includes more advanced study and work experience placements.

Wendy’s dedication was recognised by her tutors, and she was awarded the Student of the Year for both the Community Services cohort and overall amongst all Kangan TAFE students. A big achievement for someone returning to study after so many years and in an area entirely new to her.

‘My career change wouldn’t have been possible without a Free TAFE course,’ Wendy said.

Balancing being a single parent and study

With 2 full days of on-campus learning a week, plus regular assignments, Wendy says her studies have been comprehensive while offering a real balance, allowing her to look after her children.

She advised others to not let being a parent stop you from pursuing further studies. Striving to be a role model for her children, Wendy wanted to show that they can do anything they want to do.

‘I know how proud my daughters are that I work and go to school, which is teaching them that you can do both,’ she said.

‘My weekends are taken up by a lot of assessments, but my kids know that doing this will mean I will have a better job later on and everything will work out.’

Wendy really values that her teachers are actively working in the industry and can provide her cohort with real-life insights to prepare them for work in the field.

‘I’m super motivated and the TAFE courses are so inspiring seeing teachers from places that you also want to work at.’

As she nears the halfway point of her Diploma of Community Services, Wendy feels like she is learning the critical skills needed to hit the ground running upon graduating.

‘I want to make a difference and the practical element of my course has put me in a good position to enter the workforce and prepare me for any situation,’ Wendy said.

She is currently doing a placement in an emergency response centre providing support to those experiencing domestic violence and going through alcohol and drug addiction.

As someone who used community services in the past herself, Wendy is excited to give back to the community when she graduates.

Finding her calling

‘It took me 47 years, but I’ve found my calling – my purpose here is to help people going through their own struggles,’ Wendy said.

Wendy feels prepared and supported to achieve her new career goals, which she hopes will see her working with people that experience addiction.

‘The hardest and bravest thing someone can do is ask for help - I find those people super courageous and want to be part of their journey and help them through hard times.

‘I feel connected through education and have found meaning that I didn’t have in those 22 years working in the freight industry.

‘The only person that’s stopping me from getting what I want is me and once I recognised that, I realised there’s nothing I can’t do,’ Wendy said.

For more information on how to get involved, visit: Free TAFE program.