After graduating from university in his home country of England with a Bachelor of Science, Martin Gillies worked as a jeweller for over six years. Eventually, though, he realised he couldn’t see a future for himself in his current job. While considering options for a new career, Martin applied for an Australian working holiday visa and started an epic trip from Melbourne to Sydney and around the rest of the country. When he arrived in Perth, he immediately knew it was the perfect place for a fresh start.

“I really enjoyed the lifestyle in Australia and I just completely fell head over heels for the country,” he says. “When I got to Perth, I was very instantly settled and felt at home. I really enjoyed all of WA, but Perth itself just felt very easy and accessible. The people were incredibly welcoming and that just helped me integrate pretty seamlessly.”

From diamonds to community services

Before coming to Australia, Martin’s work involved buying and selling diamonds and making fine jewellery. He enjoyed the hands-on aspect of the job, but felt that he wasn’t fulfilling any larger purpose. After some volunteering experience, he decided to enrol in a Certificate IV in Community Services at South Metropolitan TAFE.

“It got to the point where [working as a jeweller] felt very conflicting with my values and beliefs, because I was just making rich people richer. I think working in community services is much more closely aligned with who I am. I started looking up what I could study to continue to seek full-time employment in that industry and that’s kind of what led me to TAFE.”

During his studies at TAFE, Martin has worked for St Jude’s Disability Services and Cahoots, an organisation providing opportunities for children and young people living with disability. He has also volunteered with the Release Support team at AccordWest, which assists people who are soon to be released or have recently been released from prison to integrate back into their daily life.

“Before, I was doing a lot of the things I am passionate about outside of work, so it has felt a lot better to be able to more closely align the things I enjoy doing and my profession.”

The TAFE difference

Studying at TAFE has significantly improved Martin’s career prospects in community services. He cites the small class sizes and up-to-date lecturers as the major benefits of choosing TAFE.

“You get a lot of space for close contact with the lecturers and they have to be current in their knowledge, so they have such valuable insights. They are able to provide you with the anecdotes and stories from their experience. It feels as though the lecturers really have a rounded experience of what the industry looks like.”

After completing a Certificate III and Certificate IV while working part-time, he has lined up full-time work in the industry for when he graduates in November.

“The Cert IV has opened a lot of doors for sure, because it’s widely recognised and TAFE itself has got a really good reputation. A lot of the lecturers have industry contacts so they’ve been able to advise us on people to get in touch with,” he says. “I’ve found that a lot of people in community services have actually studied the course themselves, so they have that understanding of where I’m at.”

Coming to community services from an international background has been a challenge, but Martin says his studies have prepared him well for the real-life interactions he has on the job. At TAFE, he has learned about the government and social services available in Australia, as well as the specific needs of some members of Perth’s Aboriginal community.

“Aboriginal culture and history was something that I didn’t have any knowledge about before coming to Australia,” he says. “But working in this industry, Aboriginal people are an important part of the client base, so it’s been a very steep learning curve to be able to do my work successfully. But I have felt pretty suitably supported on that side of things.”

Perth living

For Martin, Perth’s population of around two million residents makes it just the right size. He lives in Highgate, near one of the TAFE campuses and not far from the inner-city foodie hub of Northbridge. WAAPA, the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, is located on the other side of Highgate, making it a popular spot for students from all over Australia and the world.

“The beautiful thing about Perth is how easy it is to navigate,” he says. “I could be out at the beach in half an hour [and] the beaches are absolutely stunning.”

Martin has also spent time exploring WA, including the Margaret River coastal wine region and the rest of the state’s gorgeous beaches.

“Perth feels really remote because it’s not busy at all, which was really appealing to me. I think that has helped me balance my studies and working, just having that landscape to enjoy myself in is super beneficial. I’ve travelled extensively and this is by far the best part of the world.”

Advice for other students

Although he felt very welcome in Perth when he first moved there, Martin has made an effort to grow his network even further and get involved in his new home.

“Moving into a sharehouse opened a lot of doors for me in terms of social circles and meeting people who are like-minded to hang out with,” he says. “That just made me feel almost instantly accepted which was great.”

Martin has also used his love of sports to make connections. He regularly volunteers and participates at his local parkrun, and has joined soccer and cycling clubs.

“Being involved in the community has added a lot of value to my studies. There are so many clubs and societies and everything going on, it’s just about getting stuck into them. Everybody’s always really approachable and that’s given me that balance between work and having a social life.”