‘Don’t you want to be a lawyer?’ I got an ATAR of 95 but chose to become a mechanic
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“But you could do anything! If you like mechanics, why don’t you become an engineer?”
That was the first response from friends when I told them that, despite my 95 ATAR result, I was going to do an apprenticeship. Their second response was a list of alternative career suggestions, beginning with doctor or lawyer.
Ashley Beeby decided to follow her heart and become a mechanic.
Their opinions were clear: choosing an apprenticeship as a heavy-vehicle diesel mechanic was a waste of my ATAR result and my potential. None of them could conceive that, of all the options at my fingertips, I would choose a pathway seen as easy … or, dare I say it, “lesser”.
Neither of my parents went to university. Instead, they ran a thriving catering business that I grew up within. Seeing the agency they had over their lifestyle gave me an example of success that wasn’t linked to academic achievement. It left me open-minded to the potential for success to grow wherever I planted the seeds, rather than just in certain environments.
So, when I signed up for year 10 work experience in the heavy-vehicle sector, it was by mistake. I thought I would spend the week working on cars and was mildly curious. My true ambitions lay in my English language and literature studies at that point. But fixing cars seemed like a cool idea because of Megan Fox in the first Transformers movie. Then, I found out I was going to be working on trucks and I didn’t want to go. Fortunately, my parents convinced me not to dismiss a good opportunity.
I had no mechanics in the family, no real interest in cars, and as a female, was a minority in the industry. Yet, when I started, it was like I had found a new layer to the world. In overalls three-times my size and the heaviest shoes I’d worn, I spent a week in a workshop without knowing the difference between a Phillips- or a flat-head screwdriver. That week sparked my curiosity, and that was all it took for me to add a Vocational Education and Training subject to my VCE studies.
When it came to decision time for year 12, it barely felt like a choice. I knew that an apprenticeship was the path I wanted to pursue. It was simple: I had tested my interest and knew it was the right choice.
That same logic – follow my passions – was why I continued my VCE studies in year 12 despite never submitting a university application and having no use for my ATAR results. Regardless of whether it was literature or diesel machines, I put time and energy into fields that interested me. So, while I may have achieved the ATAR needed to become a doctor, that didn’t dictate my suitability for the profession.
Young people, I think, too often dismiss our interests as viable career choices. Enjoying the work we do daily can lead us to new chances and successes. In wanting to diagnose trucks and not patients, I found opportunities to advocate for women in trades, to advocate for VET pathways and to help mentor and shape the next generation of apprentices. These were opportunities I didn’t know existed when I chose an apprenticeship.
Ashley Beeby has found fulfilling work as a heavy-vehicle mechanic.
Being a mechanic can be easy, replacing a faulty component or spinning filters are straightforward tasks. But, when machines develop faults, it takes intricate understanding of mechanical principles to diagnose and fix them. I find this deeply satisfying. During that work experience, I saw the complexity hidden in the machines we rely on. Diesel engines power our cars and trucks, our construction machinery, our V/Line trains and even emergency generators in hospitals. So, while being a mechanic can be easy, being a good mechanic requires smarts.
While friends felt my choice was wasteful because of their misconceptions about the calibre of tradespeople, witnessing the challenging nature of the trade in school meant that choosing an apprenticeship never felt like a waste of my talents, though I accept it was an unconventional choice.
Then I found even more reasons to choose a trade. While my peers were going into debt to study, I was getting paid to earn my qualification, and gaining workplace skills and connections. When they struggled to find jobs after completing their degrees, I was already secure in mine and earning the same – if not more – than they would.
The opportunity for success, career progression and a great income all exist within trade pathways the same way they do in any academic-based career. ATAR or no ATAR, I gained more becoming a tradesperson than I would have in a profession that I didn’t love.
Smarts are valuable in all industries and at every level, but no measure of performance should ever overrule passion or interest. The purpose of education is to get us into careers we can enjoy and thrive in, not to let ATAR results dictate or overrule those pathways. Becoming a heavy-vehicle mechanic against society’s expectations was one of the best decisions I’ve made.
Ashley Beeby is a writer and diesel mechanic.
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