Take two: women busy switching careers in strong job market

After 20 years working as a graphic designer, both in Australia and overseas, Kylie McCaffrey started to look around for a different career, a profession with more stability and more face-to-face human interaction.“I started to feel the desire to study something else,” she remembers. “I felt like I was doing the same thing all the time and I just wanted to learn something different.”

Like many women, McCaffrey wanted to reinvent her professional life. Some women want to turbo-charge their skills and make the leap upwards on their chosen career path. For her part, McCaffrey found the idea of a pivot to a different career very attractive.

Teaching beckoned. McCaffrey had friends who were teachers, and one of her graphic design clients was a school. Her thoughts frequently turned to education; to how people learn. After some research, last year she enrolled in a Master of Teaching degree at Southern Cross University, a two-year course which included practical teaching in schools. She now works two days a week as a technological and applied studies teacher at Normanhurst Boys High School in Sydney’s far north.

“I now get to teach things like digital technology and introduce students to programming,” she says. After she graduates in late 2022 she will be able to look for a permanent position in a NSW high school.

“I’m enjoying the process of getting to know the kids and learning about the best ways to teach my subjects,” she says. “It’s a very, very complex job. You’ve got 30 different relationships you’re trying to manage in the classroom.”

McCaffrey’s professional career began very differently two decades ago with a design degree straight after high school. After graduating in 2001 she worked as a graphic designer for newspapers and magazines and other employers in Australia and Britain and later, as an experienced designer, she set up her own business.

“Design could be really fun, I had some beautiful clients and interesting jobs, but I started to feel it was always one-way,” she says. “I felt I was churning it out, going through the grind. Despite my beautiful clients I started to feel I was losing a bit of passion for it.

“I felt like I was spending all my time in front of the computer and I didn’t get to interact with people as much as I’d like.”

Teaching, by contrast, is a very social profession and McCaffrey has enjoyed her side-step from a largely solitary working day to a working day filled with enthusiastic and energetic teenagers. “It’s such a gift to change to such a meaningful profession – I feel like my mind is fired up again.”

For Angela Kielly, too, further education was a driver for change. Now 40, she took on two degrees mid-way through her career to hone her skills and win professional recognition. From Maryborough, north of Brisbane in Queensland, Kielly says she had already learned a lot from on-the-job training before graduating with her first degree, a bachelor degree in accounting and human resources, in 2020.

“I had done 18 to19 years in the field and I thought it was probably time to get myself accredited to do what I’m doing,” she says, adding that she is employed by a Maryborough company which provides pre-mix concrete, sand and gravel to construction businesses and employs 38 people.

“My job was pivoting and I needed to be more strategic,” she says. “I needed more skills.”

So, in 2021, Kielly began an online master of business administration degree, specialising in manufacturing, at the University of Southern Queensland. Married with two older children, she has studied almost full-time while working full-time and she expects to graduate with the MBA credential early in 2023.

“I’ve found it very useful. It’s based on your industry, so it’s tailored to you,” she says of the MBA course. “You’re not just learning information; you’re learning proper skills that are beneficial to you.” Because of her employment, all her MBA projects and assignments have been connected to the manufacturing industry or, with an even tighter focus, to the company where she works.

The MBA course, she says, broadened her outlook and helped her consider the potential consequences of various decisions and developments, and how to negotiate change and overcome obstacles.

“We looked at culture in my actual organisation and looked at where improvement is needed,” she says. “You do it to benefit you and the business you’re working in.”

For her part, Giselle Siano, 37, already had two university degrees under her belt when she embarked on her third – a master of business administration from Deakin University in Geelong, Victoria – a degree she thought would hone her business skills and assist her on her new career path.

Graduating with an MBA in 2021, Siano has since joined her husband to run and manage the  aged care company the couple jointly founded in 2018, Home Instead Geelong. Currently employing as many as 300 people, the company provides in-home care for the elderly in a range of settings.

“The MBA really helped us learn how important culture is,” she says. “Our focus will continue to be on training, education, engagement and retention of our people. Our caregivers and our employees are the heart of our business.”

Her earlier degrees, she says, taught her important technical skills, but little business or commercial understanding.  “That was fine when I first graduated,” she says. “I wasn’t thinking bigger picture. But after you work for a little while and you work with amazing teams that are very, very competent, you want to be better.”

Siano’s first university course was in biomedical science. She then went on to take a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy, graduating in 2010 and working in research and development for a large pharma firm for seven years. “After working in high-performing teams for seven years, I thought there must be something I can do to elevate my skillset as well, and become a better person, particularly in leadership.”

So in 2017 she began the MBA course at Deakin, (as well as working and having two children – both now under four). She followed in her husband’s footsteps – he has also completed an MBA course at Deakin. “I was very inspired by him,” she says. “I saw him grow, professionally and also personally. He just became a more rounded person.”

Siano has found the skills she learned and the knowledge she absorbed during the MBA course both relevant and useful.  “You realise you have gaps,” she says. “The MBA was perfect to fill those holes and fill those gaps. It really took my husband and I to the next level to be able to run a very successful business.”