I met Kushla Wilson at the graduation in 2018. Her life story, and the transformation she experienced after having completed the Public Sector Management Program captivated me.
I wanted to learn more about her and invited her to share her study journey at a PSMP information session in 2019. Kushla’s workplace project was not just an assignment – it had an amazing impact on the lives of prisoners in a women’s prison. Her story is a testimony of personal resilience, courage, and how university education can be a great catalyst for personal growth. I persuaded her to share her story. Here it is. It is in two parts, her life, and the PSMP journey.
Me and the PSMP : Part One by Kushla Wilson
From a formal schooling perspective.
I left high school at the age of 15 after completing Year 10. My grades were good but there were never any discussions in my home about further education. At that time the narrative was that you only needed Year 11 & 12 if you were going through to university. You completed Year 10 and then it was okay to leave school and get a job.
So that was it, school was done.
I never gave tertiary studying a thought until almost three decades later when I participated in the PSMP program at aged 44.
From an employment perspective.
With the help of the CES office (now known as Centrelink) I was employed soon after leaving school.
My first job was as an ‘office junior’ in a Solicitor & Barrister firm. Over 3 years, I moved from answering phones, vacuuming floors, and emptying bins to being the secretary to a senior partner of the firm. My learning in this job was through experience and exposure; no formal studies/training.
My second job came about due to moving from the Northern Territory to Western Australia. I became a histopathology typist within a pathology laboratory. I found moving from recording legal terminology to medical terminology relatively easy; they are both just like learning a new language. Again, all my learning in the role was through on-the-job experience and exposure; no formal studies/training.
My next job was motherhood and during my maternity leave, I felt that it was time for a change, and threw myself a big curveball; I applied for a job as a Correctional Officer and got it! This decision came after a friend said, ‘you’d be great at it’ and I thought ‘oh well I’ll see what happens’!
This role involved some theoretical training initially in a classroom setting (6-weeks), then on-the-job training for a full year (a Certificate III in Correctional Administration was gained during this year).
Twenty-one years later, I am still working for the Department for Correctional Services, which has provided me with many opportunities to strengthen my skills, through role opportunities and support internal training programs.
In 2012 undertook an internal Managing in Corrections training program for a Diploma in Correctional Management which exposed me to for the first time to a formal training environment.
In 2014 I ventured into motherhood and again during my maternity leave I decided it was time for a change. This time I decided to gain some qualifications that reinforced the job I was performing.
After having professional development discussions with my line manager at the time, I anticipated I would be provided an opportunity to undertake an internal project management program. Instead, I was sponsored by my Executive Director to undertake the Public Sector Management Program. It was a much bigger step than I expected, and the butterflies started immediately. “What have I got myself into?”
My PSMP Day One Emotions
I’m raising three children, navigated successfully through many big changes in my life, marriage/divorce/marriage, raised two teenage girls and worked ‘on the floor’ in a maximum-security prison; but let me tell you those Day One PSMP feelings were another whole ball game for me.
I felt anxious, awkward, apprehensive, even overwhelmed… thankfully I still felt excited and invested… but I know on Day 1 those anxieties were very real.
It is easier for me to talk about it now, mainly because I’ve had a chance to pull it apart and be reflective… but, at that time, no matter what emotion I was exploring to try and find a reason – the answers resolved around one main factor for me “I was scared that I’d bitten off more than I could chew” and that “I was about to fall flat on my face in an embarrassing public way”. Probably best described as imposter syndrome; I just didn’t belong there.
So, if by sharing my story I can save anyone just a little bit of those overwhelming feelings – I’ll be happy.
A couple of critical factors you must consider when your head is playing these games with you:
- Your agency/department/manager has supported you to attend this program; that’s a lot of resources they’ve committed. So, let’s think about this logically… they’re running a highly scrutinised ‘public service’ department, they make decisions daily based on risk; AND THEY’VE BACKED YOU, so TRUST THEM.
- QUT accepted you into the program and AGAIN, they are business people, and they too make decisions based on risk; they can’t ‘afford’ a high failure rate AND THEY’VE BACKED YOU, so TRUST THEM.
Worthy of sharing…
Here’s a few things that I think are worthy of sharing, which may also ease some of your worries. The program covers many learning styles…. …. you simply couldn’t not learn.
You will receive your learnings in so many formats and mediums (you will hear, you will read, you will talk, and you will play):
- Written text provided is full of references that direct you towards experts, additional information if you need more to embed what you are trying to absorb.
- Podcasts and audio recordings, you’ll be encouraged to listen to. These were great, I could listen to them at any time and did. I commuted to/from work and these were my go-to travel activity.
- Days in ‘class’ (which may be a virtual classroom or an in-person experience). These occasions will be filled with a program facilitator talking, sharing their own experiences, engaging you in exercises that teach you to use the many tools discussed, and exploring the many theories they are exposing you to in workgroup activities.
- Assignment support starts in the classroom. We were provided with very clear expectations for each assignment. They were well defined, so you weren’t left guessing where to start and what to do. All my facilitators offered the group their email for after-hours contact too.
- Access to a very easy-to-navigate QUT electronic system; folders with specific unit information, timetables to keep you on track, resource library; everything I needed was there at a click of a few buttons.
- You’ll hear from guest speakers from a huge variety of backgrounds and expertise, all keen to share their real-life stories with tangible examples linking to the theories you are being taught. All were open to Q&A to help the group tie the information to their own work environments.
- But another great resource that shouldn’t be overlooked is the ability to connect with each other. You have opportunities in every classroom to pull apart the discussion even further and discuss/help each other grasp the concepts.
I am confident that you all came into this opportunity from different backgrounds, different life experiences, having gained different education levels etc. What this means is your classroom if FULL of experts/specialists on a many level, grow through this exposure.
My new mottos:
You gain confidence by doing! You’ll figure it out along the way; you’ll learn.
- Trust other’s confidence in you and believe in yourself. Always step into life’s challenges.
- You never know who you are inspiring by you stepping into this challenge.
- Undertaking this program, whilst working and most likely engaged in family commitments is challenging but it is also stimulating and life-altering. And the important factor is the “WOW I did it” feeling is so worth the effort.
On a personal note, after seeing me studying, my daughter went on and completed a Diploma in Early Childhood at University after initially feeling she was not up to it and was going to throw in the towel.
See more of Kushla’s story here.
The Public Sector Management Program (PSMP) is a nationally recognised and dynamic study option catering specifically for mid-level managers in the Australian public service and non-Government organisations.