The Toowoomba Regional Jobs Committee is profiling locals who have reached milestones in their career via indirect and less obvious pathways. Through telling their stories, we hope to inspire people early in their own careers to explore different options and not be disheartened by setbacks.

Natalie from Vigour Graphics looked back on her career path from School to Business Owner and Chief Website Designer and found there are recurring themes of a can-do attitude, fierce determination to succeed and a drive to keep learning.

At a regional NSW high school, her favourite and ‘best’ subjects were art and science, and she chose the simpler maths in society option only because a maths subject was compulsory.

‘What I really wanted to be, my dream job, was to be a palaeontologist! I wanted to dig up dinosaurs. But I was accepted into art school, and I was going to be an art teacher.’

However, ‘young love’ meant she didn’t want to leave her hometown. Her parents said, ‘You either earn or learn’, so Natalie knocked on doors of local businesses, and was offered a hairdressing apprenticeship. This entailed three weeks training in Sydney three times each year as well as the practical training in her employer’s salon. During the seven years in hairdressing, many of her clients were paramedics.

One regular told Natalie that the ambulance service was not a suitable job for women. This was taken on as a challenge, so she did a first aid course, almost topping the class. The local ambulance officer was looking for paramedics and suggested that Natalie apply. She had no experience with resume writing but did her best and was offered an interview. The pre-requisites were: a) be able to drive a large vehicle; b) be able to do first aid; c) be able to complete a fitness test; d) be available that Thursday.

She attended even though she was not fit, hadn’t done any first aid for a long time, and had never driven a large vehicle.

‘There were all these fit people in runners… and me!  I’m like long fingernails, fluffy hair, rainbow makeup, I even had heeled dress shoes on. But I went through all the things. I ran, I nearly vomited with the fitness test, then I had to drag a dummy up the steps. For the resuscitation I just blew in and couldn’t remember what I was supposed to do. Then I had to drive an ambulance around the witches hats and park it correctly.’

The Ambulance Service actively looked for trades people – because they were generally practical, able to make decisions, able to do things with limited resources and could work unsupervised. Natalie’s can-do attitude shone through, and she was offered the job. Ambulance training was like an apprenticeship, with three years as a student paramedic with theory at Ambulance Officers Training School (AOTS) at Southbank and on-the-job training at the home base station.

Being the first female paramedic in Toowoomba was quite challenging because there were no female toilets or uniforms, but Natalie was well respected by her 50 senior officers. She rose through the ranks from 3rd Officer who wasn’t allowed to drive, then 2nd Officer who could drive and finally after extra training, became a 1st Officer who could drive Code 1 emergencies. Natalie worked with Qld Ambulance for 11 years. However, marrying a fellow paramedic and raising twins made it very difficult to continue the job when they were both on call in a small town.

Her parents owned a newspaper and were graphic designers, so using her art background, Natalie took on their excess graphic design work.  Soon she needed a business name (Vigour Graphics) and an ABN and started receiving graphic design orders from local businesses. Natalie bought a local hair salon as well, hired a beauty therapist, and then studied beauty therapy herself. The business grew through good management and customer service and was eventually sold to the employees.

The graphic design business became a full-time occupation:

‘I did online courses because the internet was a new ‘invention’ and I needed new skills. I did day courses in Brisbane which involved a four and a half hour drive each way in a day. I found there were hassles with copyright, layouts and specifications of the professional photos that I wanted to use in brochures… so I did photography courses so I could use my own commercial photography resources.’

Her first website was designed in 2007 so Vigour Graphics is now in its 17th year. The business now offers much more than graphics, but the name will stay because it describes Natalie’s business approach: fast, energetic and vibrant! Natalie has stayed up- to-date through regular study such as Business Management, Diploma of Marketing and Cert IV in Workplace Training. Her current studies are with Hawk Academy, specialising in SEO and the back end of web design.

Natalie’s advice to job seekers is to go with your heart and if you really want it, make it happen! Take opportunities that come up, keep up with trends in your business, talk to people, and do the study to get more skills. Keep learning!

Perhaps one day Natalie will combine her art, graphic design, web design and dreams of being a palaeontologist … maybe there’s a dinosaur website in her future.