COVID career change: ‘My last first day ever’

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a rethink in many people’s working life, but few would have had a career change as dramatic as Stuart Beattie.

Stuart spent 10 years working for travel agency Flight Centre – and now he is happily employed at Brisbane’s St Andrew's War Memorial Hospital in the Central Sterile Services Department (CSSD).

“We were stood down from Flight Centre in March 2020 and asked to work from home, and then in October 2020 we all got the redundancy letter,” he said.

“This was actually my second redundancy from the travel industry – prior to that, I had spent 10 years with Qantas Holidays.”

Although there were other opportunities in the travel business, Stuart said he was not keen on working from a home office.

“I really enjoy the social aspect of working, so working from home doesn’t suit me, it’s just my personality I guess,” he said.

“So I just put the call out on Facebook that I was looking for work. I was contacted by a friend of a friend who was at the CSSD at St Andrew's and said, ‘We’ve got jobs going’.”

Despite the fact it was completely different from his previous experience, Stuart said he was keen to “give anything a go”.

“It’s a team environment, which I like, and it’s not sitting behind a desk,” he said.

“I went in, under supervision of course, and had a look and I decided to take that leap.

“I had to do a Certificate III in Sterilisation, which was a financial outlay for me, so I really had to decide that this was what I wanted to do. 

“I looked up things on YouTube about sterilisation and what they do, and after having a look there for the day I decided that this could be good for me.”

Stuart said he loved every aspect of the job in the sterilisation department.

“It’s a very chaotic job, but I think that’s the times we live in with COVID,” he said. 

“I find it absolutely fascinating; all the equipment, things that I never would have thought are used in a medical context. 

“There’s screws and wrenches and it looks like it belongs in someone’s shed, not in a hospital.

“When the orderlies bring things back after theatre, you never know what you’re going to see – it’s always a surprise, it could be a giant mallet.”

He said he was also conscious of wanting to work in an industry that was not going to be upended.

“I wanted something more secure and something that I could do later in life,” Stuart said.

“Seeing the department and seeing who works there, there’s people who I guess you could say, are in the autumn of their career. 

“And I realised this was something I could do until retirement. So on my first day, I said this was my last first day ever!

“Being in your mid-50s and having to start from scratch, it can be hard. I thought if I can build myself up again now, there’s no reason to have to go backwards again.”

According to Stuart, COVID had impacted everyone’s lives, and it was a chance to reassess where you wanted to be.

“With COVID, there’s a lot of people transitioning into other industries and other areas, everywhere you go,” he said. 

“If you’re a good team player, if you’ve got common sense, don’t be afraid to transition to something else. 

“You’ve got transferable skills that can easily be used elsewhere, even if you don’t necessarily have experience in that area.

“My advice would be don’t rule things out, ever. 

“I feel I have a good work/life balance now, it’s a great industry to work in and I love it.”

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