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Sally sails from service at sea to study

Free training opportunities are helping Sally O’Connor to steer her career in a new direction after life in the Royal Australian Navy.

Attracted to serving others, Sally O’Connor joined the Royal Australian Navy when she was just 19 years old.

“I was at University doing a science degree when I made the decision to leave and finish it through the Navy. I applied, was successful, spent six months at HMAS Creswell in Jervis Bay completing the initial officer training, and then my adventure began,” shared Sally.

“No two days were the same in the Navy, we travelled a lot, and there was so much comradery,” Sally began.

Sally was operationally deployed to the Middle East and has travelled to Japan, Malaysia, Russia, New Zealand, Christmas Island and Papua New Guinea - all while completing a science degree.

“I joined as a Maritime Warfare Officer and got qualified after many experiences and years of training. My role saw me responsible for everything that happened on the ship during my watch. You’re in control, you’re manning the bridge, running the routines - the responsibility is significant, and at any one time, you can be in charge of a crew of around 200 and all maritime activities associated with a ship. It’s intense."

In 2012 however, Sally felt it was time to pursue the second half of her career - one that would involve Human Resources. Sally completed a graduate certificate, followed by a Master of Human Resources, while working within Defence Force Recruiting and subsequently secured various positions in her new vocation, on graduation.

“I worked in HR for a number of well-known agriculture and mining machinery companies, and eventually went on to take a very senior role with an inflight entertainment aviation company. Then in 2020, COVID happened; we began a global headcount reduction process, which ultimately included me. At the time, my husband had taken 12 months' leave without pay to stay at home with our baby. It was the perfect storm - no income, a growing family, and the pandemic,” recounted Sally.

Fortunately, Sally was able to rejoin the Navy in a Reserve capacity and has since been working on projects remotely. It was during this time that she learned about the Queensland Defence to Civilian Training Program, run by TAFE Queensland.

The program supports transitioning Australian Defence Force veterans to move into civilian careers.

“I made an enquiry, and soon enough I was on my way to completing two short courses, to assist me with my planned small business,” Sally shared.

“I had a really positive experience with those two (unaccredited) courses, so I later jumped at the chance to enrol in a Certificate IV in Entrepreneurship (BSB40320), which was also heavily discounted to me as a veteran."

As part of her training, Sally was matched with small business mentor Margaret Aspin, who, for three months visited Sally’s home to work through the qualification and her business plan.

“Margaret’s tutoring was tailored to what I wanted to do - and the assessment was a completed business plan. So I not only graduated with a qualification but also a fully useful business plan, for which I now refer to when working on my ‘side hustle’,” Sally said.

“I’m not being insincere when I say that TAFE education is actually useful and practical. You get hands-on experience doing things that you’d actually do in the workplace.”

“Yes, I pack a lot in, but it’s all in preparation for the launch of my own business. That’s a 2025 career goal, and at the moment, I’m just taking all the steps to get there,” she said.