A woman who worked as a vet for many years was able to change career direction after participating in the Rejuvenate programme run by Taste 4 Success Skillnet and University College Cork (UCC).

Colette Kealy availed of the Rejuvenate programme which helps women return to the workforce. It proved to be highly successful last year and will run online this year.

Rejuvenate is designed to create new career opportunities for women returning to the paid workforce in the agri-food sector and is fully funded by Taste 4 Success Skillnet and Skillnet Ireland.

Delivered by UCC’s Dr. Joanne Fearon and Caroline Seacy of the Food Institute, the bespoke programme provides participants, through both a mentored online programme of skills development and industry-facing experience, with the opportunity to re-engage with potential employers.

Maximising female workforce participation

Rejuvenate connects the needs of the agri-food sector with talented women in an effort to promote business, social and economic growth by maximising female workforce participation.

Bridie Corrigan Matthews, network manager, Taste 4 Success Skillnet, said that Rejuvenate is an exciting programme focused on supporting a high calibre pool of returning female professionals to the workforce.

“Feedback from the inaugural Rejuvenate programme participants has been extremely positive and it is wonderful to witness these skilled women regain their confidence and re-engage with their sector. It is rewarding to see women support each other, especially our guest speakers who were so generous with their time,” she said.

Colette Kealy grew up in Dundrum, Dublin. “I worked as a vet in a mixed practice for a few years and then took a job in a small animal practice in Kilkenny in 1996,” she said.

“I knew that I wanted to be a vet since I was about nine. I grew up with five siblings and a houseful of animals. My dad was also a vet. During my secondary school years I didn’t think of any other career. I just knew that I wanted to work with animals. I studied veterinary in University College Dublin (UCD), qualifying in 1993,” she said.

“I found my first few years in practice particularly challenging and had little confidence as a new graduate. As the years passed, I gained experience and my confidence grew. In the early 1990s, female vets were still in the minority. At times, I felt that I had to work harder and had to prove myself as a female vet in ways that my male colleagues didn’t.

Sometimes, gender bias in the workplace is subtle. I think that this is only recently beginning to be appreciated and understood in recent years – societal issues of inequality and bias and equity of opportunity. Now female veterinary students and graduates outnumber men.

“I think gender balance, diversity and inclusiveness is a positive and enriching thing in any profession, in any sector,” Colette said.

“I always loved working with animals. After a few years in practice, as my confidence and ability grew, I really began to enjoy working with the people – pet owners and other team members and practice staff.

“The most rewarding aspects of working as a vet, for me, were building relationships with owners and work colleagues and doing my best to help relieve suffering in animals. Vaccinating puppies and kittens was also a joy – it can be lovely to witness the importance that animals play in people’s lives.”

However, an injury changed things for Colette and she was ready for a new direction.

“I had an ice skating accident in Sweden in January 2019 and sustained a fracture to my wrist and elbow. The elbow took a long time to heal and required further surgery. I had little function in my arm for nearly a year,” she said.

Confidence affected

“Sustaining a trauma and being off work for nine months had a huge impact on me. My confidence was really affected. However, the time off work also offered me the opportunity to reflect on my direction.

“I was already tutoring mindfulness, as an elective module, in UCD for a few years and during the time off work, I began to consider an alternative direction to vet practice work.”

Her sister, Jane, heard about the Rejuvenate programme through Bank of Ireland and suggested it to her.

“At the time, I had just had more surgery on my elbow. I had unsuccessfully applied for a few jobs. My confidence was low. I felt a bit at sea.”

However, Colette said she had a really positive experience on the Rejuvenate programme. “Jo and Caroline and the whole Rejuvenate team were very professional and friendly, warm and encouraging.

The Rejuvenate course involved career planning; interview techniques; LinkedIn; CV writing; and linking into our networks and were all out of my comfort zone. The support of fellow participants was really important.

“This support from peers coupled with Jo and Caroline’s belief in the untapped and undervalued potential of women returning to work helped to nudge me in a new direction and to try again with job applications. I applied for and was offered a job towards the end of the Rejuvenate course,” she said.

“I taught science at a secondary school for a year. I am now teaching animal science at further education level in Waterford. I love sharing my experience of 20 years in veterinary practice and encouraging young people who, like me, really want to work with animals.

“I like that this job is such a good fit for my skills, my interests and my life experience. I am also back teaching a little bit of yoga, with a pretty good arm again,” Colette said.

The programme was recently awarded the best diversity and inclusion initiative at the Irish Institute of Training and Development (IITD) National Training Awards 2020.

Rejuvenate 2020, a fully funded online course, will run over nine weeks, commencing on October 20 from 10:00am to 12:00pm every Tuesday and Thursday.