The events industry felt the impact of COVID-19 faster than most. As the virus spread and events were cancelled around the world, the industry was quickly forced into a future of uncertainty. For events worker Aurelie Jammes, who had been working at a winery in Perth’s Swan Valley region, COVID-19 left her without a job. We talk to Aurelie about how she turned a job loss into an opportunity to further her studies.
Moving to Australia
Before moving to Australia, Aurelie was already a very experienced traveller. Brought up in a small village in the South West of France, Aurelie moved overseas for the first time when she turned 19 and quickly fell in love with travelling.
“I wanted to come to Australia first, but my parents said no. They said that if I want to take a year break then I could stay in Europe and go to Australia afterwards. So I went to Ireland, where I learned English, and I thought, ‘I will never go back to France’. I went to South Africa, the United States and Canada. I fell in love with English culture and feel more at home in this culture than French.”
Aurelie returned to France to complete her education and decided to finally travel to Australia in 2017.
“I had just turned 29 and I said to my best friend, ‘It’s our last chance to go to Australia as backpackers and lead our no-worries life’. I convinced her after 10 years of trying. We arrived in Brisbane two years ago, in 2018.”
Life in Perth
Aurelie didn’t find it hard to settle into a new life in Australia. She had fun exploring the country before finding a new home in Perth.
“It was never really hard for me, as I used to travel a lot. I don’t have any culture shock anymore and I can adapt very easily,” says Aurelie. “When we first arrived, we travelled around and saw beautiful landscapes and did our farm work in Tasmania, but when I arrived in Perth it was like love at first sight.
“I really love it here. In the morning, you can decide: Do I go shopping? Do I go for a hike? Do I go to the beach? Do I want to do a wine tour? Everything is here. I have travelled a lot and for me, Perth is by far the best city in the world.”
Returning to study
Having already graduated from university in France with a master’s degree in Event Management, Hospitality and Tourism, Aurelie hadn’t considered furthering her studies in Australia. She changed her mind, however, when she discovered an interest in a different area of event management.
“At the beginning, studying here was not the plan at all,” says Aurelie. “When I arrived in Perth, I worked as a food and wine attendant in a winery. I had never seen that part of event management; when you organise the event, you leave before the function starts. I found I really liked it.”
During one of Aurelie’s shifts, Tourism Western Australia held a conference at the winery. Here Aurelie had the opportunity to listen to their future plans regarding tourism events in Perth.
“I thought it might be a great opportunity to study here and focus on the organisation of the events. I had an events background already but I wanted to see a different part of the industry. When I researched the classes, I could see they had classes on functions.”
It was during this time that COVID-19 arrived in Australia, leaving Aurelie without any work.
“I was doing my shift in the winery when the manager came in and said we are shutting tomorrow; this is our last event. I lost my job and I lost everything because there were no more events. I couldn’t find another job. I looked everywhere, but there were no companies relevant to my experience that were hiring, and the shops were hiring students and juniors.
“I didn’t give up because I knew it was only a few months and everything would be okay again. That time gave me a lot of time to think; to make my decision to study events again and to go back to the industry.”
Studying event management with TAFE International Western Australia
After speaking to other students, Aurelie decided to enrol in a SIT50316 Diploma of Event Management at the Bentley campus of South Metropolitan TAFE (RTO 52787). This 12-month course offered her access to the latest events technology, trends and practices, as well as the opportunity to team up with industry experts and businesses to work on live events and gain the confidence to work independently.
“I spoke to a girl who was studying at TAFE and she said that I should do it because the lecturers and the people were great. I had completed a master’s degree in France but I hadn’t studied for six years since, so going back was a big challenge. But I feel very welcomed by the class, the lecturers are just amazing. Even some classes that I thought would be boring are actually very interesting.”
Aurelie has particularly enjoyed the practical components of the course, as they allow her to test her ideas in the real world.
“It’s not only studying; you’re actually doing stuff. It’s real practice,” she says. “I had a class where I planned out a concept and the clients I found were interested in having me organise an event for their bar. I organised the event by myself and turned my concept into reality.
“The event was a huge success; it was such a success that I’m organising another one in October. I have the experience now and it’s something new I can put on my resume.”
Learning from hard times
Losing work during a global pandemic while living in a country far from home would be hard on anyone. But with some motivation and a positive mindset, Aurelie proves that it’s possible to make the best out of a bad situation.
“When COVID-19 happened and I lost my job, I had a lot of time for myself, so I started to practice yoga and meditation to relax. I realised I can do everything I want to if I have the motivation! I changed completely; I decided to live a healthy life and see the positive parts of it instead of the negative. I think it’s a hard year – we cannot say it’s easy – but you can try to see the positives and make the most of it.”
When work in the events industry dried up, Aurelie didn’t give up and decided to temporarily change paths, finding work as an au pair with a local family to make ends meet.
“I moved to stay with a family as an au pair because I didn’t want to spend all of my savings. It was a great experience! They helped me through everything and I still babysit the children. I met new people and during this time I was able to think about my future. If I cannot work in events, I will go back to study it. I’m going to get experience and create a network, and from there I will move on. It’s not easy, but life is not easy.”
The future of the events industry
Despite the harsh impact of COVID-19 on the events industry, Aurelie remains positive about the future of the industry as a whole. She believes that the worst changes will be evident in corporate events.
“Corporate events will change a lot because Zoom is a lot cheaper to organise conferences and meetings. But there are so many other types of events. There will always be festivals, there will always be weddings, there will always be some event. I think the industry will resume in another four months – though it won’t always be the same.”
Aurelie believes adaptability is the key to surviving in the fast-moving events industry. She explains that the industry will always be changing, and that it’s important for events workers to step out of their comfort zones.
“I think that if you want to work in events, you need to always keep updated about the different types of events. Change and be flexible,” she says. “I travelled to so many countries, so I feel flexible and adaptable. It’s always a bit hard at the beginning but I know it is possible.”
For now, Aurelie is enjoying her studies. However, she has some ambitious plans for her future career in the events industry.
“I want to finish this course and then I’m thinking of studying for another year. I’d like to create my own company in event management, and for now I want to get as much experience as I can so that I will be ready. I think having experience in different areas is great because I like to challenge myself and learn in different departments. Once I’m ready I will start to create my own company.”
Advice for future international students
“It’s always hard to move away from home and start a new life in a country that you might not speak the language of. But It’s such a rewarding experience I would say just go,” says Aurelie. “Just go and try. Don’t be scared; just go and live your dream. I don’t regret any single minute of this experience. It’s really worth it. Just go!”