As her kids fly the nest, Keri goes back to school to start a new chapter

Keri at her workplace standing in front of machineryFor the past 30 years, Keri dedicated all her time, love and energy to raising her kids. But at 53-years-old, her kids no longer needed constant care and she was looking to get back into the workforce to try something new.

Through a recommendation from Centrelink, Keri was encouraged to go to WISE Employment to help find her the perfect job. Employment Consultant and Business Manager of WISE Women, Lisa Ryan, realised upon meeting Keri that this was a customer who needed to think outside the box when it comes to her skill set for the next phase of her life. Keri was very keen to work and roll her sleeves up, but was at a bit of a loss as to what to do. She was also dealing with some things in her personal life that were impacting her career decisions.

Together they touched up her resume and started applying for a variety of positions. “I didn’t want to offer her a normal administrative or service-type role, encouraging her to have a go at learning a trade. I reassured Keri if it didn’t work out, at least we had a crack at it,” explains Lisa.

A position came available at AMTIL, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) operator training at Chisholm Institute Dandenong. The course teaches students how to operate and maintain a numerically controlled computer, which follows a program to cut and shape metal. The course teaches engineering skills such as basic engineering measurement, inspection and workshop safety.

Keri always had an interest in auto mechanics and fixing cars, so she thought a hands-on, practical skill would be a good start. “I’m not a girly girl in the slightest,” says Keri. “If Lisa had suggested something like hairdressing I would’ve said that’s not going to work,” she chuckles.

Keri fell in love with the course straight away, learning how to use hand tools, chisels, saws, and filing, while exploring metrology and maths. “I suck at maths, but it’s an important part of the course, so I made sure I put my hand up and asked for extra help when I needed it,” says Keri.

Russell Morrison, teacher of Mechanical Engineering at Chisholm Institute Dandenong, noticed quite quickly that Keri was a standout student. “She showed up every day and had a willingness to go above and beyond – asking the ‘why’ questions and wanting to learn more outside the course curriculum,” says Russell.

Keri also toured the factories and the workshop environments, which solidified her love for the industry even more. “It gets me so excited – I’m even getting my kids to look into it. I’ve met high-ranking people in this field and can see with my own eyes that you can work your way up from the bottom to the top. All you have to have is an open mind and a willingness to learn,” she adds.

Given engineering is such a male-dominated industry, Keri is also humbled to be a part of the wave of women taking over the field. “When I  was in my 20s and 30s, I couldn’t even be in a workshop with men, now look at me!” she laughs.

Lisa hopes to maintain the friendship she’s formed with Keri across her training and extend it into her first operating role. “Keri’s personality and humour are unmatched, and she would do anything to put a roof over her head and provide for her family. I’m excited she’s found a career pathway she cares about and that she excels in,” says Lisa.

While Keri is sad the course is over, she is thrilled to have already found employment thanks to the help of WISE Women, AMTIL and Chisholm Institute Dandenong. “I’m not going to stop at one machine, I want to learn how they all operate and hopefully in time I’ll even be programming the machine myself!” she says.

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