Articles for Professionals, Businesses, People

There Is No Substitute For Learning On The Job


Professional Development.

It brings to mind courses, classes and other opportunities to gain additional qualifications and/or certificates. All of which are an essential part of being a well rounded professional, but is there anyone that would argue that the real development as a professional happens on the job?

Off site education is, at best, a ‘Heads Up’.

There is no substitute for hours at the coal face. And there is definitely no substitute for someone in the workplace to show you the way. Either consciously as a mentor or simply by virtue of being a great example.

I know that my early development as a professional was heavily influenced by few key people. Here’s some insight into my career progression and some of the influencers I met on the way…

During my time at the City of Port Phillip (as the Community Recreation Officer), one of my roles was to run a children’s holiday program. Over the school holidays we would operate out of multiple schools. In addition, each program would include one or more camps. Some involving air travel.

So I’m talking multiple staff, multiple locations, hundreds of kids and all sorts of potential for disaster.

To say that we needed great systems and strong leadership was an understatement. In fact, it was in this job that I first heard the statement ‘attention to detail’. By ‘heard’ I mean drilled. And by ‘drilled’ I mean, at the slightest infraction I would suffer the taunt of “Attention to detail, Dennis”, dripping with all the sarcasm my boss could muster.

My boss in this job was Jenny Robinson. While she was one of the best bosses I ever had, it wasn’t always easy. She could be tyrannical and off the charts crazy, but she was like a soothsayerHer attention to detail was the stuff of legend. I aspired to have an answer for every question she’d throw at me, and kick myself every time she found a hole in my systems or processes. I couldn’t be more grateful for the lessons I learned from her in that job.

Another great leader at the City of Port Phillip was Alex Gerdan. Not only did he have an attention to detail to rival Jenny’s, he was unflappable. Alex taught me the value of keeping your head when all around are losing theirs. Watching him deal with irate parents, grumbling staff, accidents and the vagaries of the public service was inspirational. There was nothing that he could not take in his stride – while giving all around him the confidence that everything was going to be all right.

Alex was also well known for proclaiming that nothing was free and that ‘somewhere, someone has to pay’. Never a truer word spoken.

Another great professional development leap was during my time as Personal Training Manager for Equilibrium Health & Fitness. Both Josh Buxton and Paul Kinghorn introduced me to the commercial side of health and fitness. Specifically, sales and financial accountability. Both very valuable lessons for anyone operating outside the bubble of the public service.

It was Josh that set me on a path of personal development. Josh loaned me a box of cassettes from a motivational speaker called Zig Ziglar to play in the car (yes, I said cassettes – it was a while ago). Those cassettes did plenty of trips before I decided there was nothing to listen to on the radio, so I might as well put one on. And that was all it took. I ended up listening to every tape in the box. And then every tape in every other box that Josh had. From there I went from one book to another on related topics. Beginning, of course, with Unlimited Power by Anthony Robbins.

While these examples were big leaps forward during my time as an employee, as many Personal Trainers and Club owners would testify, nothing compares to the learning curve of running your own business.

And, as the owner of HealthyPeople, this is where I feel most comfortable – testing myself and learning on a regular basis. Now I think about it, I realise the greatest jobs I’ve had are the ones where I was learning the most. Sure, some gigs were just for the money and the skill required was low (like housekeeping on Dunk Island) but even in these gigs I appreciated the skills learned (I still fold towels like a hotel).

Which possibly goes to the heart of why I enjoy working in the fitness industry as much as I do. There are so many brilliant innovators, astute business people, learned scholars and inspirational leaders that it is impossible not to learn something from one week to the next.

In the course of my fitness career I have completed a range of qualifications, from degree to certificate. While some inspired new ideas and others gave detailed insight, none compared to the value of receiving the right advice when I needed it.

What about you? Who would you thank for their part in your professional development?


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