Creating connections to careers for students with disability
Being the first can be hard, but Jonathan Wood, the first dedicated careers consultant in Equitable Learning Services (ELS) and disability at RMIT, has taken this role and made it his own.
He is the first to hold the position at RMIT, which has given him the perfect opportunity to shape it to the needs of his students.
It’s a role he believes there should be more of.
“I’m not sure how many careers consultants around Australia in universities have this particular role in servicing students living with disability, but for anyone reading this article, I absolutely encourage you to do it because there’s student need there,” Jonathan said.
It wasn’t his first foray into disability support. Jonathan had previously worked for GradWISE, helping RMIT students and recent graduates with disability to find and maintain employment.
You might say careers guidance is a logical step for Jonathan. He himself has had multiple different careers. He started as a teacher, worked as a fire officer for a while, owned a day spa for a few years, worked on a game shooting estate in Scotland and then in pastoral care at a university student accommodation service.
Despite the varied career choices, the common thread running through Jonathan's work is the idea of helping people. It’s something he really enjoys, and it’s partly what led him to work at RMIT.
He’s also able to use his own experience to help students.
“I think if my own story is anything to go by, it’s less about what you study and more of an understanding about the skills you have, the skills you like using and how you like using them,” he said, reflecting on the anxiety that students experience when trying to choose the ‘right’ career.
“I think that’s the advice that I offer students a lot of the time.”
The role keeps him busy but also offers variety. Jonathan said in any given day, he’ll move between holding in-depth careers appointments with students with disability, to holding workshops on careers topics, or doing employer engagement activities. This involves working directly with organisations that have diversity targets or have affirmative measures roles available, to connect them with students.
Connecting with other people is what keeps the job fun, but Jonathan says he also loves the job satisfaction moments where he realises the impact of his work.
“Sometimes in the professional setting it’s really hard to measure those achievements and realise the impact of the work you do. But to do all that work, to get those little times where someone submitted their first job application or they got their first interview, or they got their first job or started their career, and they come back and tell you how much of an impact that your advice has made not only on that situation but on the rest of their life, is just what gets me out of bed in the morning,” he said.
“Regardless of whether you’re a person living with disability or not, job seeking is hard. It’s [good] when you get those moments to celebrate the success.”
To help remind him of those moments, Jonathan keeps them filed away to read when he needs a pick-me-up.
He’s faced his own learning curves over his time in the role, trying to find the right resources and learn new ways of doing things.
“It is a bit like chasing rabbits. If you follow one down a hole, you’re not sure where you’re going to end up!” he laughed.
“But I think fortunately, because of the nature of my career, I’ve always had to learn how to do things from scratch.”
Building relationships with those around him has helped provide the support Jonathan has needed to learn what he needs to know, from terminology to the makeup of the sector.
Jonathan said he has been fortunate to have “fantastic” mentors and managers along the way. Edward Osano, Head of the GradWISE program, was especially helpful in allowing him to grow into careers consulting.
Osano gave Jonathan some advice that has stuck with him to this day: “closed mouths don’t get fed”.
“To seek change you need to start by asking - and remember to tell yourself - what is the worst that can happen. I find myself saying this to students when they need to seek reasonable adjustments or if I’m engaging with employers and trying to advocate for a student; the key is to ask and have those conversations,” Jonathan explained.
“The important thing is to own what you don’t know. And as long as you’ve got that curious mind to continue exploring and learn, it really helps you.”
Although he has only been in the role for a year and a half, Jonathan said he has already seen positive changes within the sector as employers look to leverage the abilities and talents of students with disability.
On the student side, he helps connect them with opportunities, provides advice on reasonable adjustments in recruitment processes or coaches them on how to self-advocate for those adjustments.
“I’ve just seen that engagement grow and grow. The absolute thirst in the employment market is only growing for people living with disability, which is fantastic. Along with that, is the knowledge that people are wanting to gain and do better by not only recruiting people with disability into their organisations, but supporting the ones who are already there,” Jonathan said.
“I find when I’m speaking with industry, a lot of our conversation is how to support, how to attract, how to maintain.”
Though it’s only been a little over a year, Jonathan is clearly passionate about his role. Asked what his advice would be to others in the sector, he doesn’t hesitate to offer his pearl of wisdom: don’t be ashamed to be passionate, because, Jonathan said, passion is what opens up connections with other people.
Written by: Danielle Kutchel