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Jaden Olsen said he hardly went to school and didn’t really like it. He just turned up for exams and wasn’t sure what he wanted to do as a career. After finishing high school, he just did what others did and went to university. He persevered to complete an Arts degree that he said he will probably never use.

“I could never make up my mind on future careers when I was young; it ranged from police officer to architect. I regret the student loan,” Olsen said.

An unfortunate incident led him to realise that his genuine interest and passion was in working with people and contributing to better health outcomes.

“A friend got into a car accident. After she came out of hospital, I helped care for her at home.”

He said it was a surprise that it felt natural and easy for him. When another friend told him that there’s a job opening as a Healthcare Assistant in Northland DHB, he applied for the job.

“I had never considered working in the health sector; I was terrified of needles. But I applied for the job, and started working in the Intensive Care Unit.”

Olsen got trained on-the-job with the support of his workplace and Industry Training Organisation, Careerforce. He achieved a New Zealand Certificate in Health & Wellbeing (Health Care Assistance). He suddenly found everything about the role interesting and enjoyed the work environment.

“The nurses and doctors I’ve worked with in ICU are a constant source of inspiration. They are amazing at what they do and are always encouraging me in my own academic pursuits.”

Now the 29-year old is almost through his first semester of a health science degree in paramedicine. He said that the work experience and on-the-job training equipped him with the skills he need to take his career to the next level.

Olsen is also certain now that a career in the health sector is what he wants.

“Making patients feel at ease is a skill I’ve learnt as a healthcare assistant in ICU. Working with a team in a stressful situation, you have to be level headed.”

The aspiring paramedic is still working as a casual healthcare assistant. He advises young people, “If you’re unsure, don’t jump into university straight away.”

In the next three years an extra 16,000 carers and support workers will be needed across healthcare, aged care and disability sectors. Careerforce Chief Executive, Ray Lind said that tapping into school-leavers and a younger workforce was vital in meeting the workforce shortage in the health and wellbeing sectors.

He says parents, teachers and careers advisors should provide young people with all the options. “University is not the only option.”