At 21 Emily Skawski decided it was time for a career change. The former electrician found herself sitting across from a program advisor at Stenberg College and on her way to becoming a Hospital Support Specialist. Now 23, Emily is at the start of a bright and promising second career. It was during high school that Emily began her career as an electrician. She began the Pre-Apprenticeship program at Fleetwood Park Secondary School in Surrey. Upon graduation, she went straight from high school into the Apprenticeship program at BCIT.
BEING AN ELECTRICIAN
As an electrician, Emily loved the diversity of the career. She saw something new every day working all around the Lower Mainland and in Vancouver, especially while working at Vancouver International Airport, where she had the opportunity to assist with a few small projects. “At YVR they were constantly putting money into the airport,” Emily recalls. “Every single day there was a new project. A lot of YVR when I walk through there to go anywhere is a part of the crew that I worked with, a big portion of [which] remains there to this day. It’s memories, it’s lasting, it’s there and I see it and remember the time where I was very proud of being an Electrician.”
Emily’s desire for a career change originated after a workplace accident involving a co-worker that she witnessed. Stressed by the incident, Emily took some time off work. During this period, she found herself ruminating over the words of her late mother, who passed away ten days before Emily’s fourteenth birthday. Her mother was only in her forties but she had been all over the world and seen so many things. Emily always thought to herself, “I’m not going to let myself die at 40 without seeing everything, doing everything, achieving something for myself.” Her mother had always said to her, “you need to have a career. You have to have something to back yourself. Whatever it is for school, do it. Don’t say ‘Oh, it’s a dollar amount.’ Don’t say that it’s a limitation. Just see what you want and do it.”
INTEREST IN HEALTH CARE FIELD
Emily’s interest in the health care field came from, in part, her father suffering a sudden heart attack scare while she was working as a third-year Apprentice. While her father was in the hospital recovering, she saw the nurses, doctors and team helping him. She thought to herself, “If there is anything I can do, I should do it. That way if he became immobilized or something happened at home, I would be able to take care of him.” That’s when she started looking at academic programs.
Initially, Emily had considered becoming a paramedic or a nurse. However she didn’t want to sign up for a lengthy program thinking, “I don’t know if I have that much time.” Her friend Kayla, a former Stenberg College student, suggested another path to Emily, such as taking health care registration courses, or the Medical Office Assistant or Hospital Support Specialist program. She explained that although these programs were shorter-term, Emily would still be learning “everything from the sides of all the medical terminology. You learn parts of the body. You learn everything about it.”
Emily was excited by the idea of working in the health care field. She thought to herself, “this is more than just first aid, this is people care. This is patient care. This is environment. This is community. This is an expanding horizon for me.” The idea of starting where she was and building upon that and being able to continue her studies was a bonus. Within 30 days of her initial phone call to Stenberg College, Emily found herself sitting in a room with program advisor Natasha Howarth, making the leap towards her new career.
Natasha describes Emily as a “determined, focused, young and mature individual who is eager to achieve higher standings in her career.” They spent over an hour discussing Emily’s educational and career possibilities. After narrowing her Health Care field options down to Nursing Unit Clerk, Licensed Practical Nursing and Hospital Support Specialist, Emily put her hand on the Hospital Support Specialist pamphlet and slid it forward saying, “perfect, done, I’ll take it.” After registering at Stenberg College, it was time to leave behind her electrician career. She told her boss, “I’m changing paths,” explaining, “I think healthcare would be a good fit for me. I think it’s time to change.”
STUDENT LIFE AND SUCCESS
Emily remembers her time at Stenberg fondly saying, “We spent 51 beautiful weeks together and I miss every single one of my classmates.” She describes her cohort as being a team, and a family. The more that the group grew together, the stronger they became. “I have a few moms and a dad who were in the class,” Emily explains, “friends and families, aunts and uncles that I’ve built in the classroom and on campus.” Although their time at school has come to an end, they still talk to each other to see how things are going.
From the 23 letters of reference, Emily received for her Student of the Year nomination, eighteen of them were from classmates. One of them, Rachel Hutcheson, boasts that Emily “always came to class not only ready to learn, but to help others learn as well.” Emily went above and beyond during her time at Stenberg to ensure not only her success but also her peers’. Susan Colton, one of Emily’s instructors shares, “Emily was a natural leader in the classroom, fostering enthusiastic discussion about the topics we were studying, and supporting her peers.” Emily was always available to help her cohort, recalling a time that she was on a date with her now-husband Ryan and a classmate called for help. She went outside of the restaurant to take the call, helped her classmate and then went back to her date.
During her time at Stenberg College Emily was also a Student Ambassador, assisting in Campus and Community Relations events. Natasha recalls Emily “taking the role of leadership within her cohort and participating in ‘campus life’ as well as volunteering her resources and time to bring all events and celebrations to life.” In addition, Emily represented her cohort in Student Council meetings. Lisa Brown, Stenberg’s Student Success Coordinator, shared that within that role “she encouraged the class to go beyond helping students on campus but to also help out in the community.”
Emily thrived at Stenberg, and did so during her Practicum placements as well. Her colleague Harjinder Ghuman writes, “Emily did her practicum [in the] Health Records Department and has excelled in all job duties. She has shown us how well she can work and complete certain tasks given to her. To become successful in Health Records, you have to be detail oriented, have excellent communication skills, and have extreme organization skills, in which Emily has shown during her practicum.” Emily performed so well during her practicum that she was hired on and as Harjinder says, “has become part of our Health Records family today.” Emily works not only in the Health Records Department but also at registration, mainly in Emergency. She goes home at the end of every day with a smile on her face, loving her job so much that it doesn’t even feel like she is working.
Compared to her previous career as an Electrician, being a Hospital Support Specialist “feels really good.” Emily boasts that there has never been a day that she has regretted, she always goes to work with a smile on her face and comes home still smiling. She says, “when you love something you do, the day’s gone like that.” Emily enjoys the people, the environment and the non-stop work. She explains that there is “always something new and exciting” working at a Health Care Field.
When you ask Emily what she loves the most about Stenberg, she will tell you that the school has a heart. “When you go there and you’re on the campus and you talk to the people and you see the students and you see the instructors, you feel warm.” While at Stenberg you are encouraged, supported and given strength, she says. “People love what you do and love you for what you do,” she continues, “You become warm, inviting, loving, caring. You [represent] yourself as an entity of Stenberg, out in the open world.” When you leave Stenberg, “you’re a new person, you change,” Emily proudly says.
In her year at Stenberg College, Emily did change. One change that really stands out to her is her opinions about people “from a first glance.” She explains, “I had worked with so many people where you could tell [about] the person before you got to know them. Now, I get to know them before I [can] tell who the person is going to be.” Emily used to be directed by her life experiences, instead of directing herself. As a person, she has changed. “I am no longer aggressive in the sense that I’m angry at everybody for having a mother or having a support group because I was supported. I was given the opportunity to be supported and it worked. I continue to take that forward with me and support others.”