They flunked or got ‘nightmare’ ATARs. Now they’re CEOs and master’s grads
Save articles for later
Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.
Justin Giddings failed year 10, and then TAFE – twice. After high school, he was knocked back from a job washing planes at Avalon Airport.
By 35, he was Avalon’s CEO.
As students across Australia nervously await the release of their ATAR results next week, including Giddings’ own son, the aviation executive knows his story is more than a good punchline at speech nights. “It’s proof there’s more than one path where you need to go,” he says.
Justin Giddings, now chief executive of the AMDA Foundation, outside Gordon TAFE in Geelong.Credit: Eddie Jim
Giddings, who grew up in Corio outside Geelong, didn’t think he’d go anywhere much after school. He liked footy, but he found classwork overwhelming, and by year 10 he was wagging to play pool and get up to mischief with his mates.
“Nothing illegal,” he grins. “But my parents had to convince the school to give me a trial go for year 11.”
Even though at that point he did knuckle down and study, Giddings still didn’t get the score he needed for primary school teaching. “It was low for the HSC as it was back then, 255 out of 410,” he says. “Everyone else was celebrating, starting their lives, and I was stuck in this limbo.”
After a brief stint on unemployment benefits, and being knocked back from a computing course at the local Gordon TAFE, Giddings did eventually get that gig washing planes at Avalon.
He worked tough 10-hour shifts, throwing buckets of foul-smelling chemicals on towering Boeings to strip them of paint, and getting to know the “colourful characters” of the airfield. “I’d never really worked with my hands, but I liked it,” he says.
Giddings flunked out of an accounting course at TAFE (“I still wasn’t ready”), but his initiative on the job one day impressed a foreman who offered him an airplane engineer apprenticeship. “I realised I wasn’t that great an engineer, but I started to work my way up to becoming a supervisor.”
Meanwhile, he returned to TAFE, this time studying commerce at night, before going on to Deakin University. And around the time he was reaching the upper ranks of Avalon’s executive, he was also joining the Gordon TAFE board.
“I eventually became its chair,” says Giddings, who now runs the aviation industry foundation AMDA. “That for me [being on the TAFE board] was even a bigger deal than becoming CEO. This place I’d flunked out of twice. This place that kept giving me a go.”
Jess Deller-Klatt took a few years to come to terms with her ATAR of 41 (out of a possible 99.95). Now she wears it as a badge of honour. The certificate is in a frame on her wall, right next to her master’s in social work.
In 2014, Deller-Klatt worked hard through year 12. All signs were pointing to an ATAR in the mid-70s to 80s, enough to get her into an occupational therapy course.
On results day, 17-year-old Deller-Klatt saw her ATAR and thought the 41 reflected a score for one of her subjects. She kept scrolling to see the others before realising what had happened.
Jess Deller-Klatt next to her ATAR results and her master’s in social work.Credit: Chris Hopkins
“I think I yelped,” she said. “I remember mum coming into my room and being like, ‘so it’s good, it’s really good?’ and I was just speechless.
“I think I was in shock. I really thought my life was over, and I was like, I’m going to have to live with my mum forever. I’m never getting a job. This is it for me. I’m 17 and my life is ruined’.”
Deller-Klatt spent the next two days in bed (“I had family visiting me in my bed. It was very dramatic”) but her parents, who both work at schools, helped her see new opportunities.
She was offered a spot at La Trobe, where she completed a degree in health science. She went on to do a master’s at the University of Melbourne and is now a social worker at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
Looking back at her VCE, Deller-Klatt says she wishes she had been kinder to her younger self, who had fallen for the story that getting an ATAR was the most important thing she would ever do. It wasn’t until university that she realised people talk about ATARs for “maybe three months and then no one cares”.
“There’s more to life than just how smart you are and how good you can score on a test.”
Matt Allen had two strengths during high school. “I was really good at computers and music – and really bad at everything else,” the technology entrepreneur says.
Study did not come naturally to Allen, who finished the HSC in 1995 with a score of 55. It was enough to see him scrape into a computing degree at the University of Wollongong, but the course was setting out to teach him the basics when Allen was ready to kickstart his tech career.
Matt Allen made a career building businesses and investing in startups but was almost entirely self-taught. Credit: Chris Hopkins
“I lasted at uni precisely one semester,” he says. Yet in the years that followed, Allen went on to co-found five technology businesses, and work in the startups and the venture capital team at Amazon Web Services.
On social media, he networked with and took inspiration from professionals like venture capital giant Blackbird’s Niki Scevak and software company Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes. He then started making his own investments in up-and-coming Australian businesses.
Now the co-chief executive of financing business Tractor Ventures, Allen says it’s possible to be a self-taught professional without a strong track record at school or uni.
“Just double down on the stuff you’re good at.”
Our Breaking News Alert will notify you of significant breaking news when it happens. Get it here.
More from Campus
What a student wants: Courses in health have proved the most in demand in Victoria, whereas teaching courses have seen only a small uptick despite government investment. Read the most in-demand 2024 courses here.
A matter of degrees: Not sure what to study and need some course inspiration? Think being a lawyer for outer space territories sounds good? Check out these degrees you probably have never heard of.
Just like us but famous: What do a scientist (and former Bachelor), an influencer, a Matilda and a fashion entrepreneur have in common? They all had to face life after school, and they all made the leap into the “real” world their own way.
Education costs: In 2021 the Morrison government hiked fees for humanities and communications subjects by 117 per cent as part of their Job-ready Graduate fee scheme. We asked graduates impacted what they think of their new massive HECS debt.
Most Viewed in National
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article