Paddy Higgins: High School Dropout to Dux & Community Leader
Churchill Trainer and Recognition of Prior Learning Graduate, Paddy Higgins shares his impressive career from high school dropout to senior sergeant with the Queensland Police Service, through PTSD to a rewarding international career in training. In the following story Paddy discusses discovering a love for learning and climbing the heights of a career he loved, mental health impacts, and how recognition of prior learning helped him to take his experience into an entirely new career that he loves.
Listen to Paddy’s story on our podcast, The Churchill Education Experience:
Paddy’s Career Journey
‘It started way back. I didn’t have a very good education school-wise. In fact, I think I wagged it more than went to school.
As a result of a family situation in 1964 (my dad was mowing and he pulled the mower onto his foot and seriously injured himself and he couldn’t walk or work for a long period of time), I started work and I was only 13 years of age. I had a job as a messenger boy riding a pushbike around Brisbane, delivering taps and tap parts to various businesses.
I did that for a while, and I tried a number of jobs and then my father, who was a government employee, took me along to an examination called the October Clerical in 1966. After that exam I ended up getting a job in the Commonwealth Government, in the Taxation Department in Brisbane.
Not long after all that, I met my lovely wife Lee.
Eventually Lee’s father, who was in earth moving said to me, “You’ll never earn a lot of money working for the government, come and work with me and you’ll earn in a week what you’re earning there in a fortnight.” Which I did.
I started as a pipe layer, laying all the pipes for the sewerage around Brisbane. I then graduated up to driving/operating the machinery (backhoes, drotts, dozers and trucks), and I went on eventually to own machinery of my own.
A few years later our first child had come along, and I woke up one day and thought, I need something better.
So I went along to the recruiting office of Queensland Police and I asked them what the recruitment criteria were.
They said, “You can do the exam right now.” I had my son with me at the time, he would have been three or four and he sat on my lap while I did the entry examination in the Makerston Street Headquarters in Brisbane.
Sometime after that, whilst we were on holiday at the Sunshine Coast, I got a message from my mother-in-law saying the police wanted to see me. She was most concerned!
I called them back and they informed me that I had been accepted and that I would start my training at the Oxley Police Academy shortly thereafter.
Discovering a love for study
Six months later, I graduated from the Academy. I learned a lot while I was at the academy. Firstly, I learned how to study, and surprised myself with the amount of retention and study capability that I had.
In fact, I could have achieved the award of dux of my squad, had it not been for an event where I was investigated by the Academy administrators because I got 100% for one examination.
They called me in for my first investigation even before I had been sworn in… They thought I had cheated and they wanted to know how I’d got a copy of the exam paper and worked out all the answers before I sat for the exam.
I was investigated and they found that I had done so well as the result of hard work and lots of study. After the investigation they told me that no one would ever get 100% in another exam for the Queensland Police!
A long career in police begins…
My policing career started up at Caboolture Police Station. After my first 8 weeks I then went to Fortitude Valley to do my city service.
After that I was told I could have my choice of station. I selected Redcliffe because it was close to where I was living at Deception Bay. I went to Redcliffe Police Station and started my general duties there and within about six weeks, I was given the opportunity to take up a plain clothes position with the Juvenile Aid Bureau. That was 1981 and I remained in a plain-clothes detective position for nearly the next 10 years.
In 1986, I was partnered with a longtime friend and colleague and we started the Caboolture Juvenile Aid Bureau working out of Caboolture Police Station.
Back then it was just the two of us (Paddy and Shawn). These days this unit comprises over 30 staff members.
We managed incidents related to child abuse – offences committed upon children and also offences committed by children and young people. Our workload was extremely high and we covered the area from Bribie Island to Landsborough, out to Moore (near Kilcoy) and through the back of Deception Bay. Just the two of us – right through to 1991.
In 1991, I decided to expand my career and went back to uniform duties. I was a Senior Constable by then. I went back to Redcliffe Station in general duties. I got offered the opportunity of running the watch house at Redcliffe, amongst other things.
Then in 1993, I was promoted to Sergeant at the Windsor Police Station in Brisbane, and then to Senior Sergeant a few years later in 1995.
At that time a new divisional headquarters was being built in Hendra. I was on the project team for the construction of that particular police station.
In 1999, that station was finalised and put into operation. I was the first Senior Sergeant, Officer in Charge of the new Hendra Division.
In 2000, I was chosen to be a venue commander for the Olympic Games and sent down to Sydney with a number of my colleagues to be trained in how to manage a venue during an Olympic period.
I did that for about a week, and then we came back to Brisbane with the Olympic games starting soon thereafter. We did all the threat assessments and assessing all the venues, and hotels, and different things that were going to be used by the Olympic teams during the course of the Olympic games.
During that period, I not only managed my division at Hendra but I also managed the Brisbane Airport for the coming and going of all the Olympic teams, and what they call the Olympic family, the media, and all those sorts of activities. In doing so guess I would have been averaging probably about two or three hours sleep a night!
By this stage we had two grown up sons and a daughter still at home. My family and I lived in a house provided by Queensland Police. It was also a former police station and they wanted the signage up for visual purposes which meant I was getting knocks on the door in the middle of the night. People reporting all sorts of things and others committing all sorts of crimes. So, my policing day was often 20 or more hours long.
Burnout: PTSD and Depression
As a result of the stresses of the job, I suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression and I ended up having to spend three months in New Farm Psychiatric Clinic, and a then a further 12 months as an outpatient (conditions that I still manage to this day). Then the department basically gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse, which was to retire me medically unfit.
This they did and without much support other than that provided by my family and close friends as well as my doctors. I even had to fight the Queensland Police to have my condition recognised as occurring as a result of work-related issues. I floated for probably a year and then I decided to find out just what the future had in store for me.
So, I made some inquiries and I did a couple of TAFE courses and in 2003, I managed to get a job with the Department of Transport and Main Roads as a trainer in electronic document and records management.
I had a very basic trainer’s qualification and I wanted to look at something a bit more tangible that would give me more qualification in the training field. By that time, I’d spoken to a couple of people and Randall’s name got mentioned, and I said, “Oh I remember Randall” as I had crossed paths with him back when I was in the police.
Recognition of Prior Learning
I got in touch with Randall and we met up. Randall advised me that because of my experience I was eligible for some Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL).
I provided relevant documentation, role descriptions, everything that I’d done in the police from managing serious incidents, major incidents, running offices and projects. All the training I’d done and I ended up achieving some qualifications which stood me in really good stead going forward.
I ended up getting an Advanced Diploma of Business Management and some leadership and management qualifications.
Those qualifications opened up a lot of new career opportunities for me.
New Beginnings – Police Officer to Trainer
In 2006, my wife and I packed up and went and lived in London.
Because of the qualifications I had and my past experience, I was able to get work with the London Metropolitan Police, training the Police Community Support Officers (PCSO’s). They were all from different parts of the UK and Europe and they were used in the community to liaise with various cultural groups in the communities.
I then was headhunted by a company called Careers Development Group. They had the contract with Job Centre Plus (the equivalent of our CentreLink) for training people to get them back into permanent employment in the workforce.
This job turned me around the corner for the rest of my working life.
I had a very good period of time with them. I went through into their auditing area because we had offices all around the UK and Europe. I used to travel around the UK and Europe at their expense, auditing the various offices and making sure that compliance was met with, because we were funded by the UK International Monetary Funding Group.
It was an exciting experience. There were a lot of policies and procedures in place, which I eventually got the brief to overview to make sure that they were all compliant with the British Legislation at the time.
In late 2007, we returned home because of a family situation and I got an interim job running the Caboolture Business Enterprise Centre as the Training Manager.
Then I was contacted and asked if I’d be interested in a 12-month contract at the Commission for Children, Young People and Child Guardian in the city, dealing with young people and working with the HR Group, an offer which I gratefully accepted. It was probably one of the most rewarding 12 month periods of my working life.
Following on from this contract I applied for and was successful in gaining a position as the Training Officer in the Youth Justice space. I then spent the next few years training staff in the two youth detention centres located in Brisbane and Townsville.
I worked with some very knowledgeable people and we developed the whole training package for the Certificate IV in Youth Work for the youth detention employees. Then I got bumped up the ladder into head office, writing and reviewing policy and procedures and informing the executive on ways that we could improve the performance of the staff.
Eventually, under a change of government I was directly responsible for setting the training unit up as a standalone and accredited Registered Training Organisation (RTO) in its own right.’
Paddy Joins Churchill Education!
In 2016, I retired from that role as part of my age retirement at 65, and not long after that, I was contacted by Randall with whom I had stayed friends with.
He gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse!
I took on a group of students studying the Security and Risk Management qualification, Diploma in Security and Risk Management.
Since that time, I’ve continued in the role of Trainer for a number of courses over the years. Most recently a Government Investigations course for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and WH&S qualifications for the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
Randall has been a mentor for me in a lot of areas as has Tricia, who I also knew beforehand from her time as a barrister.’
The School of Life…
I sit here listening to myself, and I think my God, the journey I’ve had!
And all through, the one thing that stands out to me is something that Mahatma Gandhi said,
“You live like there’s no tomorrow, but you learn like you’re going to live for eternity.”
And through it all, I’ve had my dearly beloved by my side, 50 years married this year.
I didn’t know beforehand that I had the capability to study. I didn’t understand what study was. I thought it was going to school and I was getting bored with that. There were better options! Being free and easy and filling my day doing the things I wanted to do rather than the schoolwork. Nobody took the time to point me in the right direction.
It wasn’t until I joined the police that I realised I had the potential to learn, to retain and apply knowledge and then I discovered I had the potential to support others, and provide good leadership and management.
My policing career was very important to me, because it showed me that I had the capacity to learn, retain and gain knowledge. I’m very thankful to the police service for that.
I have people contacting me to this day, asking questions on how they can approach various matters. So I learned a lot of things on the fly in the school of life. I learned how to study, and importantly, what to study.
But once I got into the school of life, I started to learn very quickly.’
We hear a similar story from many of our talented Alumni…
From the 13-year-old scallywags skiving off school to a man with a long and ongoing career, Paddy is a shining example of the power of the School of Life, and the power of Recognition of Prior Learning to reflect lifelong learning in national qualifications that all employers understand and value.