Being a Victorian Training Award winner has been a 'life-changing' experience for Bret Ryan, bringing him multiple job offers and a fast track up the management ladder. A marine biologist turned landcare conservationist, Bret is positive proof that it's never too late to learn and to re-invent yourself.
'I had a double degree in science which led to a great career in marine biology, but when I saw the fishing industry depleting before my eyes I knew I had to change direction,' says Bret.
At age 40, Bret moved from Apollo Bay to Colac and began a Diploma of Conservation and Land Management online with South West TAFE.
'It suited me,' Bret says. 'I really appreciated the flexibility it offered and I have a pretty good work ethic.'
Such a good work ethic, in fact, that Bret's teachers nominated him for a Victorian Training Award. He won the top prize as 2012 Vocational Student of the Year.
'The Victorian Training Award was a pivotal moment for me,' Bret says. 'The CEO of the organisation where I worked was so proud when I won. He could see my potential and that opened up conversations with him and others. I became sought after, and could pick and choose what I did next.'
Be your own boss
While fielding offers, Bret had the opportunity to apply for, and subsequently win, his boss's job at the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority. Keen to become more involved in management, Bret completed a Masters of Business Administration (MBA). In January 2019 he moved on to a new role as Business Services Manager at Southern Farming Systems in Inverleigh.
'I'm really enjoying the business side of things and in my new role I have the best of both worlds, managing a national landcare project while overseeing administration, communications and finances,' says Bret.
Reflecting on his journey so far, Bret says if he had his time again, he would have done a Diploma before his university studies. 'After finishing my Bachelor's Degree, I still felt I had no clear career direction. Then I did my VET course, and that was the springboard which enabled everything I have done since.
'The great thing about vocational education and training is that it provides a broad perspective to see what you like, and from there you can specialise. A lot of kids are thrown in the deep end when they finish school without having the opportunity to validate their true interests.'
'If they choose VET they have the opportunity to acquire practical, on the ground skills which then open up any number of pathways.'
As a VTA winner, Bret is keen to take on an Ambassador role for vocational education and training. 'I haven't met anyone who's won a VTA who isn't more than willing to give back – it's such an honour and a privilege,' he says.
Asked what he would say to someone thinking about nominating for the Victorian Training Awards, Bret said, 'if my experience is anything to go by, it will change your life.'
'Having jumped into the unknown with a complete change of career direction, the award was the game-changer that gave me the vision and the skills to carve out my future.'
Victorian Training Awards
Victoria Training Awards winners were selected from 39 finalists across 13 categories. They represent the state's best students, teachers, training providers and employers.
See all the winners at VTA winners.
See photographs at VTA official gallery.