WHEN Janelle McGregor, now executive director of people and culture at Mildura Base Public Hospital (MBPH), finished Year 12, she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life.
The uncertainty she faced after finishing her final exams, is something many Year 12 students will also have to overcome as they started their VCE exams this week.
But Ms McGregor encourages them not to rush into a decision about their future, using her personal experience as an example.
“To be honest, I was not sure what I wanted to do when I left school,” she said.
“I remember meeting with our career advisor, who recommended that I pursue a career in psychology, but the thought of leaving Mildura at 17 scared the life out of me.
“I was fiercely independent, but I wasn’t ready to leave for the big smoke just yet.”
Gap years were not yet common, but Ms McGregor, who grew up on a fruit block in Nichols Point, decided not to follow her brother to university, instead staying in Mildura and starting work as a trainee with Mildara Wines, now Australian Vintage Ltd (AVL).
She said the decision paved the way for a career in human resources and provided her with practical skills that can only be learned “on the job”.
“I found my first job with the help of a good friend’s mother, who was a case manager for a local employment agency, MADEC,” Ms McGregor said.
“She helped me prepare my resume and gave me the skill and confidence to pursue a traineeship at a local winery, which was then known as Mildara Wines, now Merbein Packaging, part of AVL.
“The traineeship was in payroll and this is where my love for human resources began.
“Starting in payroll enabled me to understand the legalities of the employment relationship and gave me a solid foundation in interpreting and understanding industrial legislation and frameworks, including awards and enterprise agreements.
“I was fortunate to start my career with a large company and was afforded many learning opportunities to build my foundational HR and industrial skills (HRIS).
“In 2002, with help from my manager, who was a wonderful mentor, I accepted an internal transfer to Foster’s Group in Southbank, Melbourne.
“I lived and worked in Melbourne as the first female remuneration consultant in the history of the company. This role further progressed my career and gave me great insight into remuneration and benefits, which is another facet of human resources.
“I then transferred back to Mildura with the same organisation to take up a project role in HRIS and payroll systems implementation.
“My hunger to continue to pursue human resources continued to be fuelled – the more I learnt about this career path, the more I wanted to know.”
Wanting to advance her career, and with strong industry experience behind her, Ms McGregor decided it was time to understand the theory behind her role and enrolled with a local training provider as a mature student, studying business and finance.
She graduated in 2008 with a Diploma of Business/Finance, Diploma of Human Resources and a Diploma of Management and Leadership and is about to complete Master of Employment Relations degree.
“While I have enjoyed my tertiary studies, having a practical and functional understanding of the career path was beneficial,” Ms McGregor said.
“Tertiary studies have given me the theory behind the complexities of human resource management and industrial and employment relations, but working and studying later in life has given me the opportunity to consolidate the skills I have learned in the workforce.
“For the best part of 15 years, I have learnt about the practical application of theory. I genuinely believe the way I approach situations considers both theory and on-the-job experience, allowing me to understand the realities of the HR function.
“Having exposure to the wine industry, not-for-profit sector and now health has given me a great foundation to achieve my career goals.”
Although Ms McGregor enjoyed her time in Melbourne, she always knew she would move back to Mildura.
“I moved back because at heart I am a country girl and I love that the experiences I have been fortunate to have can now enable me to give back to the community that I am a part of.
“This is my chance to make Mildura a great place to work and live and I am a real-life example that you can achieve great things, even if you chose an alternate pathway.”
Her advice to any young person who is grappling with what to do with their life is: “Do your best, but don’t be disappointed if you don’t get the grade or offer you are after.
“Look outside the square because there are many more pathways and options into university studies, including your work experience, so it is never too late.”