When Jyi Dalli lost his landscaping job in March as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, the 22-year-old found himself at a crossroads. Having already changed his career path once before, Jyi thought he had found his passion – so when he was confronted with the prospect of starting over yet again, he had no idea where to begin.
Now six months on and on the path to a rewarding career in fitness, Jyi said the experience had a silver lining, enabling him to assess his goals and discover his true calling.
“If you’d asked me three years ago what I’d be doing, I never would have envisioned this,” Jyi said.
“I’ve always loved the gym and exercising – I started at 17 and it’s always been a constant in my life – but I never thought about it as a career until after COVID-19 hit.”
Like many teenagers, Jyi was unsure what he wanted to do when he left high school, taking a gap year during which he undertook labouring jobs to support himself. But when one of his close friends lost his life in a car accident, Jyi said he felt the need to do more with his life.
“It was a real wake-up call. I realised life is too short and I wanted to start doing something I really loved doing,” Jyi said.
“I’d always been told I’d make a great teacher and I thought it sounded like a rewarding career, so I enrolled at university to study primary education.”
During his second semester, Jyi took a job with a small family-run landscaping business, working for them as a labourer to support himself while he studied. After becoming friends with the owner Paul, Jyi grew to love the hands-on work so much that he quit university and began an apprenticeship.
Over the next few years, Jyi said he became Paul’s right-hand man, and as he edged closer to gaining his qualification, he started planning his next step.
“I wanted to eventually go out on my own and start my own business. I had it all mapped out and was planning to own my own house by the end of 2020.”
But when tragedy struck and Paul passed away unexpectedly, Jyi’s plans began to unravel.
“Because it was such a small business everything was left up in the air. I was lucky enough to qualify through another business, then moved on to a commercial building company, but it just wasn’t the same without Paul,” Jyi said.
“I’d just started at a new business when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, so when the restrictions came in, I was laid off.
“Because I’d been so busy working 40 to 50 hours a week, I think that’s when the grief from Paul’s death finally hit me. I struggled to get out of bed before 2pm and was pretty unmotivated.”
Having sustained back and shoulder injuries from his time as a landscaper, Jyi said his exercise routine suffered too, and he began putting on weight. Worried about her son and sensing he needed to find a new path that excited him, it was Jyi’s mother who encouraged him to return to study.
“Mum was really worried so she sat down with me one day and made me think about what it is I enjoy and how I can make a career out of it,” Jyi said.
“I love teaching and helping people, and I love exercise, so personal trainer just made sense."
“I signed up for the Certificate III in Fitness (SIS30315) with the aim of dipping my toe into the industry. I figured it’s something I can use to help me understand my own body and how to recover from and work around my injuries, and if I liked it, I could use it as a stepping stone into a career in fitness.”
Jyi said the course has turned his life around, helping him to shed the weight and stress he gained during the restrictions, and renewing his sense of purpose. He is now on track to complete his qualification and has enjoyed the course so much, he wants to continue on to either the Certificate IV in Fitness (SIS40215) or the Diploma of Sport (SIS50315) so he can become a personal trainer.
“I’ve loved it from the moment I sat down for orientation. I was set on just keeping my head down and getting it done, but one person introduced themselves to me and then it snowballed from there – the whole class is friends now,” Jyi said.
“It’s amazing to think how far I’ve come in such a short time. When I’d gone to my physio for my injuries, I had no idea why I was doing certain exercises and how they were supposed to help me – all I knew was to do them. Now, I’m learning why it’s all so important and I’m surprising myself with how much I know.”
Jyi is among a surge of Queenslanders who have decided to pursue a career in the fitness industry in 2020, with the number of Certificate III in Fitness (SIS30315) enrolments at TAFE Queensland's Mooloolaba campus nearly doubling on this time last year.
TAFE Queensland Leading Vocational Teacher for Fitness, Brett King attributed the increase to the versatility of the fitness industry and the ability for those in it to take control of their future by working for themselves.
“Over the past few years we’ve seen a shift to a more health conscious culture, which I think COVID-19 has accelerated in many ways – people have either used this time to work on their health, or have gone in the opposite direction and are now seeking assistance to get back on the right track,” Brett said.
“Even with the restrictions placed on the fitness industry during the pandemic, personal trainers have found innovative ways to continue training their clients successfully."
“The increase in the use of digital platforms to run exercise sessions, especially during COVID-19 restrictions, has not only made exercise more accessible for busy or vulnerable individuals, but has also highlighted other opportunities fitness instructors can tap into to make their career more sustainable.”