After working in hospitality for 30 years, Jason Butcher embarked on a career change – enrolling in a Diploma of Community Services at VU Polytechnic. He’s working at a Neighbourhood House while he’s studying, and already making a difference.
“I believe that community services can help build a better world; or at least help make the world we have, more comfortable and inclusive. I learnt that through life experiences, both good and bad. I've seen people close to me experience hardship, and I've seen the positive change that can happen when you foster in individuals the ability to help themselves.
I chose VU because I'd heard good things from friends who'd studied there – they spoke about the focus on practical learning, and that the educators are from industry.
After 30 years out of formal education, I needed to learn how to study. My teachers were helpful; they were approachable and available to support me – whether with core content or if I was having trouble meeting a deadline. Many educators at VU have had a career change, so they understand.
I've been amazed by the breadth of my educators' experience. They talk about real-world implementations and applications, which brings the theoretical concepts to life. Everyone at VU, from the library staff to student services, is there to help you.
Working in community services, I draw on the interpersonal skills I developed in hospitality. Building rapport with people is at the core of community development; theoretical frameworks are meaningless unless you can engage with individuals.
I secured work after my placement at the pop-up Neighbourhood House at Docklands. My supervisor, Carolynne, has been a great mentor. I've managed inter-agency relations in areas such as homelessness and mental health, helped to design training programs, and learnt about all stages of the community grant process.
During the COVID-19 restrictions we’re running regular Zoom sessions to catch-up and check-in with volunteers to see how they’re doing and keep people socialised. We also have a care register which allows us to get in touch with anyone who’s struggling. We’re planning for what we can do to promote community mental health when restrictions are eased.
My five-year plan is to complete a Bachelor of Social Work. The disciplines of community development and social work are interdependent. You can't empower an individual to improve their life unless the community around them has the structures in place to enable their development.
My favourite part of studying at VU? The student group. There are many mature-age students and it's great to share experiences and debate ideas with people who have a similar mindset.”