Ashely Hillman has launched herself into a new career, and it's a surprising breakaway from where she was before.
Following secondary school, the now 30-year-old mother of four spent her early working life picking strawberries, doing packhouse work, and other odd jobs.
When she moved to Whanganui, she joined her aunty at a local meatworks. It was a reliable job — regular shifts, and good money. She reflects, "I didn't know anything other than that."
However, working 6am-4pm and latterly raising primary and preschool-aged children, she began to realise she was missing out on some of the simple joys of parenting.
"I didn't like how I couldn't take them to sports. I couldn't actually see them jump on the school bus. I decided I needed to be there for them."
After 10 years of working at the meatworks, Ashely took a leap and made a big change, moving into early childhood education.
She was offered a role at Te Heti Te Kohanga Reo, in Castlecliff where all four of her children have been educated since the age of one.
Her youngest two children are still attending. She took up a full-time role at Te Heti and her professional development began straight away, starting with Te Ara Tuatahi Level 1, through the kohanga. Te Ara Tuatahi is a one-year course supporting kohanga reo whanau who have very little or no reo Māori.
Taking things up a notch, Ashley enrolled herself on the Training For You online programme of study, Working With Children. The 20-week part-time online ECE course provides an introduction to the knowledge and skills involved in the education and care of infants, toddlers and children in New Zealand.
Graduates of the programme are awarded the New Zealand Certificate in Early Childhood Education and Care, Level 3.
New to tertiary learning, Ashely went for the online option because she wanted to continue working while studying. "I wanted to still be able to provide for my family, and study at the same time."
She managed to balance full-time work, family life and part-time study. She says, "If you want it done, you've just got to go and get it. I was motivated to get it done."
The adjustment to online study was fairly straightforward. "Michaela (Training For You Tutor) explained what the course involved, and what you had to do to complete the assessments. It was pretty clear from the start. And the iQualify system was easy to understand."
Ashely completed the course well within the recommended timeframe of 40 weeks, and her tutor, Michaela Newman, was impressed by her commitment to the programme.
"It has been an absolute pleasure to support Ashely in her study and ECE journey. While studying with Training For You, Ashely's confidence and self-belief in herself have grown. She is now ready to go on to higher study and share her skills, knowledge and experience with others."
Ashely has advice for people thinking about the online ECE course. "If you want to do it, just do it. Don't think about what the struggles might be. You gain so much when you've completed it. I've learnt so much in that short amount of time, and I've been practising it at work heaps."
Support for online students is provided by tutors. "I sent lots of emails and asked for feedback often. Michaela has been really helpful."
One of Ashely's colleagues at Te Heti is also on her way to completing the online Level 3 qualification with Training For You.
Ashely has been encouraging her workmate and helping to keep the motivation up.
The Level 3 ECE course also provides essential learning for those who want to move on to higher education in the subject. Ashely is now considering completing the NZ Diploma in Early Childhood Education and Care (Level 5) qualification next year, possibly with Whanganui UCOL.
"I wouldn't mind studying online again — it wasn't too bad. Michaela made it really easy, and not complicated. If I put my mind to something, I'll get it done. I don't like starting something and not finishing it. I can't wait to get started on the Diploma."
Until then, Ashely is completing Te Ara Reo Māori classes through Te Wananga o Aotearoa. She has colleagues that can converse in te reo Māori, "Working at kohanga, I want to speak Maori. But it's not going to just come to me — I have to go out and get it."
She has been working at the kohanga for just over a year now and is very happy. "I love working with kids. I actually didn't think I would — because I thought that mine were enough for me — but I love it. I weighed it up; the meatworks money was good, but I needed more time with my kids. And then I found a love for other people's kids."
Ashely now works within school hours and is thriving in her new career. "It's rewarding. The kids are awesome. I was lucky, to get the chance to work in an ECE environment. It gave me a new light on life."
Training For You is taking enrolments now for Working With Children. Both the online course and the on-campus course have spaces available. The on-campus course in Whanganui is fees-free.