You are Your Own Brand: Matching Qualifications to Experience / Senior Consultant (Work Health Safety and Risk Management), Ray Boekelaar recently achieved six of our top qualifications through Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) including the Graduate Diploma of Strategic Leadership. In the following story Ray discusses his career history, finding himself in senior level management with very few qualifications to show for it, the joy of gaining the recognition he has worked hard for, surviving cancer and the discovery of a surprise brother!
Listen to Ray’s story on the Churchill Education Experience Podcast
Ray left school and home at 16 and started an apprenticeship as a maintenance fitter with a large equipment hire company (now called Coates).
They were very progressive with internal promotions so by the time Ray was 21 he had worked his way up from the factory floor to operations management, and then into marketing. First as a general sales rep, then as a specialist rep (both on the road), then Ray became a branch caretaker and ultimately manager.
Meanwhile Ray also joined the Army Reserves in Commando Special Forces stationed at Fort Gellibrand in Williamstown, Victoria.
“I was a kid out of the working-class Northern suburbs of Melbourne, looking to get ahead. I just achieved what I could,” he modestly commented.
After 10 years with that company Ray was looking for a new challenge.
At 26 Ray went on to manage a division of Sandvik – a large, multinational engineering group. He ran a sales division and warehouse operation, and looked after Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, and the Northern Territory.
Ray worked at Sandvik for the next 12 years. They had operations in Perth, Mackay, Indonesia, Europe, and the USA.
“Basically, I spent my life on planes, trains and automobiles. Plus, I had three children by 26 and four by 31!” he laughed.
Ray eventually left Sandvik, seeking a better work/life balance. He did a few shorter stints in sales and operations management for different companies, including a manufacturer and installer of commercial high-rise windows, navigated a divorce, and then ended up back at the company as an operations manager, running and looking after safety on the side as well.
“I was there for another 10 years. And then I thought, ‘Ah, what am I going to do next?’”
At 50, with a wealth of senior level management experience, having run some of the most profitable divisions for a range of companies, the only qualifications Ray had to show for it were a forklift licence and a Certificate III in OH&S (now WHS).
“That had always concerned me. I had even attempted to go back to school many years prior but found it too difficult doing the job, working during the day, and raising children. As a divorced parent, I looked after the two boys, and my ex-wife had the two girls. So, juggling all that, and life in general, was a real challenge,” he shared.
Back to school
Ray eventually ended up taking a less demanding job in warehouse operations and logistics to give him more time and headspace to go back to study.
“My youngest son actually suggested it. I ignored him at first but a couple of weeks later I ended up doing it anyway. I always have a chuckle about that,” he laughed.
Ray had a career assessment and worked out a plan to start closing the gap between his experience and lack of qualifications.
“I can go and do all these qualifications but why is anyone going to hire me instead of a younger guy?” Ray asked the career counsellor.
“Because you’ve got what the younger guy doesn’t have… Qualification and experience. That’s worth gold to an employer,” he replied.
Ray went to TAFE and completed a range of certificate IV qualifications and a diploma in WHS, with a high distinction.
And then Ray got a leukemia diagnosis.
“I had cancer at 55, and they gave me an initial 10% survival, but I decided to commence treatment anyway,” he shared.
He did nine days of intensive care, 121 days in isolation and almost a year of daily chemotherapy.
“I said goodbye to the kids and all that,” he shared.
It was a long, challenging slog and the therapy was such an ordeal that he considered taking his own life. But he made it through to the other side and the blessing was getting clear on the important things in life…
Quality time with quality people.
Life after Cancer
After the best part of a year of treatment he trumped the 10% and was declared in remission.
During his TAFE stint he had completed a Certificate IV in Property Management. He had a couple of mates in real estate, so he ended up helping them while he recovered.
Then he wondered what next? He’d always had a passion for safety, so he started a new job with a consulting firm called Solve Safety.
“I met up with the owner, the director of the company, and even though I was still going through the remnants of cancer treatment, he took me on as a consultant to help with the business. I was very fortunate. That reinvigorated my career.”
Ray has become good friends with Jon, the owner and is now an integral part of the company. In addition to safety consulting, Ray is also involved with the marketing side of things.
With all these new skills Ray started thinking once again that it was time to bring his qualifications in line with his experience.
But this time it would be through Recognition of Prior Learning, not study.
Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)
Ray did some online research and came across Churchill Education…
“I found the articles, the information and the way the website was structured, very easy to step through. It helped me to understand what RPL is all about. I started chatting to Churchill about an Advanced Diploma in Work Health and Safety.
Because of my background I was skeptical at first. I’ve been waiting for Churchill to fail me. But they never have.
It’s probably one of the very few organisations that I’ve ever dealt with that has done everything they said they’d do,” he shared.
Six qualifications in five months
Once Ray’s concerns were allayed by his Churchill Skills Recognition Advisor – Amanda, a world of opportunity opened in his mind.
He chatted to Jon and together they realised the potential benefit of qualifications to the business. “If we qualify up higher and our guys qualify up higher, we can get better quality work, and a better-quality client.”
Over the space of five months Ray worked with Amanda to gather workplace examples for RPL in six top qualifications.
Amanda sent Ray a list of evidence required for each qualification, and Ray then went about methodically gathering the required documents and examples of competencies from his career.
Ray achieved the following six top qualifications through RPL:
- BSB80320 Graduate Diploma of Strategic Leadership
- Advanced Diploma Work Health and Safety
- BSB60420 Advanced Diploma of Leadership and Management
- BSB60120 Advanced Diploma of Business
- BSB50920 Diploma Of Quality Auditing
- TLI50221 Diploma of Logistics
What advice does Ray have for others with a lifetime of career experience, who find themselves in upper-level management, without the qualifications to fully reflect their level of expertise?
“One of the things that Churchill talks about is, the recognition you deserve.
It means a lot, and it’s not until you start to fight for your recognition that you realise how valuable it really is.
Has your career stalled? Are you stuck in a job rut and you’re not going anywhere? Has your potential promotional and earning opportunities plateaued? Have you been made redundant?
Are your job prospects being affected by an economic downturn or the disruptive trends of the Fourth Industrial Revolution of AI, internet of things, robotics, and virtual reality?
If the answer’s yes to any of that, (I’ve experienced a lot of that in my own working career) then have a look at RPL. RPL gives you the opportunity to turn those things around. That’s what it has done for me.
You’ve got to be able to reinvent yourself time and time again. Have you thought about closing that gap between your work experience and a lack of formal qualifications?
You’re never too old and it’s never too late.
You’ve got a brand and you need to keep that brand relevant.
You are your business and your brand…
Lifelong successful career outcomes don’t happen by chance. They happen through taking control of your pathway via mentoring, planning, nurturing, and coaching.
Simply stated, good people are hard to find. Whether your motivation is to correct an employment power imbalance, or to adapt to an ever-changing employment landscape, you need to be proactive in ensuring you are at the leading edge of your profession.
A critical contributing factor to career path success is complementing your experience with qualifications under the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) levels (1 to 10). RPL is one pathway to achieve this and means you don’t have to study what you already know.
Over reliance on your on-the-job knowledge and network of “old boy/old girl” working relationships only is not a secure enough approach for your entire working career. At some point you will hit a glass ceiling.
It is only by incorporating nationally recognised qualifications (those certified through the AQF), that your experience and expertise become a legitimate transferrable commodity.
Your life’s journey will always be yours alone, so self-reliance will always be the keystone to your ultimate future success. Having the self-discipline to drive yourself forward and stand independently can only be aided by the combination of formal qualifications.
Understanding this as a career learning concept is an absolute key fundamental if your aim is a successful career pathway till retirement.”
Ray is a great example of this. As of 2022, Ray’s qualification achievements include a certificate III, four certificate IVs, three diplomas, three advanced diplomas and a graduate diploma in a range of disciplines including work health and safety, property management, transport, warehousing, logistics, quality auditing, strategic business management and organisational strategic leadership. Some have been achieved through study. Many have been achieved through RPL.
So, what’s next?
Ray has always felt that life is about being the best you can be, whilst recognising that we are all a work in progress. He therefore plans to continue his pursuit of further and continuous higher learning going forward.
New perspectives and a surprise brother!
As Ray’s career and life perfectly demonstrates, the journey is rarely (if ever) a straight line. It is more like a mighty river twisting and turning its way through the landscape.
During cancer treatment Ray tried to end his life by not eating.
“It was confronting to realise I had stopped eating. It was a reaction to the multiple medical complications and unrelenting chemotherapy treatment program. It was a big game-changer for me; to know I was capable of choosing to end my life. But it’s made me look for quality in my life. Remission doesn’t mean it’s over; it just means I’m in a holding pattern.
It means I prioritise quality time with quality people. Spending my energy in quality ways. Being involved with good people like Jon, doing good things.
Spending a year in treatment in a hospital cancer ward full of courageously brave patients, is the most humbling experience of my life. There are no words to express my deepest appreciation and gratitude for the kindness and outstanding professionalism of all the medical staff that supported my case and the strength of my loved ones who tirelessly shared that challenging journey with me” he shared.
And often life has surprises in store…
Through ancestry.com Ray and his sister discovered they had a brother they didn’t know about. His mother had kept it a secret that she had given away a child.
“I sat down with Mum and told her I have a brother and you’ve got another son. I asked her to explain it. She broke down crying in my arms repeating, ‘he made me give the child away, he made me give him away.’ My father had forced her to give up my younger brother to adoption.”
Since the discovery, Ray and his sister have been in regular contact with their surprise brother Andrew. And it has given his mother the opportunity to reconnect with her son, and to heal old wounds, after a lifetime of carrying the burden of secrets.
“It’s an amazing experience to meet a 55-year-old sibling for the first time in your life, whom you never knew existed. I found out the DNA match at 9am on a Monday morning and by 5 pm that afternoon I was shaking my brother’s hand and giving him a hug for the first time in my life.”
Now Andrew is one of the quality people Ray chooses to spend quality time with.
“I knew he was my brother the second I saw him, it was an incredibly uplifting experience, something that I will never forget. Since that moment we call each other weekly for a chat and do regular catch ups as a family. How lucky am I? Fact really is stranger than fiction!”
We hope you are as inspired by Ray’s story as we are. If you take anything from his story, let it be to make the most of every moment, appreciate the little things, and always back yourself.