Margaret Aspin’s company, Aspin Group this month launched an innovative startup, Educorp, a professional ecosystem for educators. In this interview, Margaret reflects on her career transitioning from a primary school teacher in the late 70s to a business woman running a consultancy for the last 12 years. Margaret offers great advice and insight for other educators looking for a career change. This is one of a series of posts featuring careers after teaching.
What are your qualifications and experience in classroom teaching?
- Diploma of Teaching Torrens College (3 years)
- Bachelor of Education University of South Australia (2 years in service)
- Graduate Certificate in Management (Education and Training) Victoria University
- Certificate IV in Training And Assessment plus 2 upgrades
- Diploma of Human Resource Management
- Diploma of Marketing
I started as a Primary School teacher in 1978 in South Australia in the days when we were bonded teachers. I taught prep – year 7 classes in a few schools around the country and city until my husband had a corporate move to Melbourne, Victoria in 1990. Although state school positions were available when I met with the Education Department a few months before moving, the state then went into significant debt and so all recruiting stopped. So I started working part time in a private school working across broad age levels, and doing some relief teaching in the state school system. I changed careers completely in 1994.
How do you explain what you currently do to make a living?
I am a business women of 12 years, and own a company (www.aspingroup.com.au) with four key divisions: a learning and development consulting firm; an eLearning development studio (www.aspinelearning.com.au); a Learning Management System hosting and support service; and small business mentoring service. I am also one of three directors in a global IT startup (www.educorponline.com) launching March 2016.
My typical week now includes designing diverse bespoke training and assessment solutions for government and corporate clients, managing research and evaluation projects, delivering small business programs, and managing staff, marketing, finances required within the business.
I did set up and own a private Registered Training Organisation for several years but then sold it four years ago when I moved to Brisbane, Queensland.
Can you give some background about how you decided to leave the classroom?
I found myself working in three positions in the early 1990s, that is a private school, relief teaching for the state system, a not for profit as a project officer, and by serendipity my neighbour suggested I’d be great in adult education and should visit a TAFE manager. I started running women’s IT programs on Saturdays and found I loved it. It wasn’t long before I was there full time working with long term unemployed, women and many others, and enjoying quite rapid promotions. I became the Manager of Flexible Delivery which gave me wonderful opportunities including becoming an Australian Flexible Learning Leader in 2000. I then left the TAFE to work in the Federal Government for a time before setting up my company in 2004.
How long did it take you to make the transition?
I’ve always been devoted to education so I expect I stayed a little too long working in several jobs as I hoped the state would be in a better financial position quite quickly. Instead it developed into a recession. I do remember driving past a TAFE campus under construction every day and I think that germinated a seed, so when I was asked to apply I was ready to make that transition. I did keep my school teacher registration in both states for a long time even after I was sure of my new career!
What are the top three things someone should know or do in order to successfully change careers?
Firstly I think it’s a great idea to get career advice. I didn’t have that when I moved to TAFE, but paid for top quality advice when I was considering what I might do next. It was that advice in about 2001 that led to me working in the Federal Government and then starting my own company. I had no idea I was an entrepreneur until I when through that program! Both moves then were far more strategic and I was ready for them.
What is the best way to get started?
Certainly discover what qualifications or experience is required in your chosen future. I’ve gone on to do a great deal of non accredited and accredited training matched to the requirements and my strategic goals. Networking and asking lots of questions have always stood me in good stead and certainly being a professional, positive and driven person helps you succeed.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to do what you have done?
If you want to consult, you need lots of varied experiences. Volunteering was something I was involved in over many years and I think you can be strategic about that. Pick the things that give you the skills such as project management, tendering, managing people. In my case I ran a large two week long event each year where I needed to manage a large team of volunteers of all ages. You can’t beat that experience. Running a company takes a lot of knowledge and skill so definitely do a small business course. Also I think you need to be really resilient in business so surround yourself with ‘can do’ people who are bright and like to solve problems. This means rethinking who is in your support networks and may mean you have to say goodbye to a few of the more negative ones.
What were some of the problems you faced?
In the beginning I think I had to work on me. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is a good way forward. I didn’t take a small business course because I’d been a manager in a large TAFE. That led to many problems around lack of knowledge and skill. So a bit of arrogance and foolishness on my part.
Which teaching skills have proved to be most valuable?
I use my teaching skills every single day! Planning, designing engaging learning, writing clear instructions, editing, communicating with people who have limited knowledge, patience, managing emotions, giving presentations, having clear goals and outcomes, being a forever learner and loving knowledge. That amazing moment when other people ‘get it’. You can never take the teacher out of you.
If you had one secret to give about changing careers what would it be?
I’ve met so many ex teachers in so many fields. The one secret is to say to yourself ‘why not?’ If you can’t give yourself a truly convincing argument of why you can’t follow a dream, then go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? Failure? Don’t we teach kids it’s ok to fail every now and then, after all failure is just chewing gum on the path of progress.