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From tradie to economist: Joshua’s big career shift


For more than 16 years, Joshua Solomon spent his working days literally looking at blank walls.

As a plasterer, he knew that age would eventually catch up with him in the physically-demanding trade but more importantly, he was hankering after something more stimulating and knew he had to make a change.

Now on the home stretch of a Bachelor of Commerce (majoring in economics), Joshua has no regrets about swapping his tools of trade for academia.

‘I knew I didn’t want to be a plasterer for the rest of my life, so that’s when I began looking at uni courses … for years I’d listened to podcasts and audiobooks about economics, it was just something I was drawn to.’

With the encouragement of his partner and a family friend (who was an economist), Joshua decided to take the plunge and try for university.

‘Even though I knew my ATAR wasn’t really relevant, I was nervous about returning to study as I’d struggled in Year 12 – it felt very, very daunting,’ he recalls.

One of his first steps was to apply for Deakin’s Special Entry Access Scheme (SEAS) with a back-up plan of applying to Deakin College which offers a supportive, direct pathway into second year of a degree.  

‘I had a lot to consider in terms of the cost, time and my age, but Deakin’s pathways and the university’s trimesters gave me the best chance to access a course and zip through my studies more quickly,’ he says.

Thanks to the SEAS, Joshua received an offer to study a Bachelor of Commerce at Deakin’s Melbourne Burwood Campus in 2018.

‘It was phenomenal and very exciting to get that offer. As I was still working, I enrolled part-time but along the way there’s been lots of flexibility to fit my studies around family and other responsibilities,’ he says.

One of the course highlights, he adds, has been a recently-completed virtual Work Integrated Learning unit.

‘Because of COVID-19, it was all online but so well organised and delivered. It was such a great experience and one of the most enjoyable units I’ve undertaken.’

The two-week intensive took Joshua ‘virtually’ to New York City’s Snug Harbour – a not-for-profit cultural and botanic gardens centre in the borough of Staten Island. 

‘In teams of four to five students, we had two weeks to research the organisation’s problem, look for solutions and then present a report and presentation on how it could be resolved. This involved regular client meetings and lots of (online) face to face engagement. Because it was a real problem for a real business, we had the opportunity to completely unpack the business issues and understand the organisation’s structure and function.’

He says that ‘breaking down the problem’ and navigating toward a feasible solution within a short time frame was an outstanding experience for everyone on the team.

‘The teamwork was fantastic. We all came from slightly different backgrounds, so when it came time to dividing up responsibilities, we were able share our skills and strengths.  Everyone in our group was willing to give it their best shot. To also have the opportunity of working closely with professionals in the organisation, networking, and making new connections was brilliant.’

Over the past three years, around work, family and the huge disruption of COVID-19, Joshua has not only managed to stay on track but ahead of schedule and he now expects to complete his degree in T3 2021. 

‘Thanks to Deakin’s flexibility, I’ve been able to move units around – dropping back then picking up again as needed across trimesters – which means I’ll complete my degree part-time in four years, as opposed to six years at another university,’ he says.

Beyond graduation, Joshua is considering either an honours year or making his way into a corporate career and he encourages anyone contemplating a career shift to explore the possibilities.

‘I can only speak about how it’s worked for me, but if returning to study is on your mind then it’s probably not going to go away. While it’s important to consider all the options, it’s also important to understand there are huge benefits and, as mature-age student, you bring many strengths from lived experience. If you have a passion for something that interests you, then set a goal and go for it.’