How AU transformed my life and career in human resources
Transforming Lives: Learners of AU is an ongoing series where real students and alumni share how AU’s flexible online learning model made a difference in their lives and communities. Submit your story.
Grateful. That’s how I feel when I think about Athabasca University (AU).
The year was 1979. A matriculated high school graduate with no idea what type of work I wanted to do, I blindly followed my siblings’ footsteps and enrolled at the University of Alberta to pursue a teaching degree. Overwhelmed by university life, I dropped out 2 years later to carve out my own path.
I started in retail fashion sales where I learned I knew nothing about fashion and was mercifully encouraged to move on.
My next job was that of a delicatessen counter salesperson where I learned I love humanity.
“AU was exactly what I was looking for. Here I could study when and where I needed to and at my own pace, without sacrificing precious time with my children. ”– Cory Tymchuk (University Certificate in Human Resources and Labour Relations ’07)
Finding a career path that suited me
Next, I focused on finding a career path and became a telephone operator for a large corporation. Here I learned that I excelled at customer service, but lacked the focus required for highly repetitive work.
Then I tried a typist job with the provincial government where I was promoted to a collections officer and placed on the leadership track. Eureka! Here was a career path I could be content with.
Marriage and children followed, and a decision made by my partner to pursue a well-paying trade based out of town. This caused me to choose to postpone my career and stay home to ensure one of us was fully present for our children during their formative years.
Starting a business and raising a family
To augment our income, I started a daycare business that would allow me to earn a living while raising our children. Here I learned how to run a business and how to provide positive and constructive feedback in a thoughtful and caring way.
Huge advancements in computer technology were being made and I felt it necessary to downsize my daycare business and rejoin the workforce to catch up with the newest technology.
Much to my surprise, one of my customers offered me a part-time property coordinator role at the not-for-profit agency he worked for. This wonderful human eventually hired me full time and provided numerous development opportunities to help me gain experience and skills.
Between these, and a passion for building relationships, I felt well prepared to choose a career path I was suited for.
A career in human resources
I sought advice from an experienced and trusted search firm recruiter who thought that my knowledge, skills, and varied work and business experience were well suited to a career in human resources—if coupled with post-secondary education in that field of study.
Determined to avoid becoming financially dependent on my partner, I searched for options that would allow me to secure post-secondary education without giving up my job or my business. An online keyword search led me to Athabasca University—“Canada’s only fully online university.” I could not believe my good fortune.
“I sought advice from an experienced and trusted search firm recruiter who thought that my knowledge, skills, and varied work and business experience were well suited to a career in human resources.”
Online learning at Athabasca University
AU and its University Certificate in Human Resources and Labour Relations was exactly what I was looking for. Here I could study when and where I needed to and at my own pace, without sacrificing precious time with my children.
While completing the last course toward a certificate in HR, the agency offered me a full-time role in human resources. I closed my daycare and embarked on my new career. Two years later, a search firm contacted me about an HR coordinator role with a lean manufacturing company. Buoyed by my newly minted certificate and excited by the opportunity to gain union experience, I made the leap.
Two months later, I was promoted to the role of HR generalist where I spent 3 years in the trenches soaking up everything I could, including the value of work-life balance. In serious need of the latter, I took an HR partner role with a large utility company where I had the privilege of working with some of the most accomplished HR professionals I will ever know.
Gaining confidence as an HR professional
Seven years later and unable to move beyond a senior HR partner role, I took an HR partner position with a heavy equipment supplier that had just implemented a state-of-the-art enterprise software solution. Here I experienced HR software delivering on its promises. Through automation of all lower-level administrative HR work, we HR partners were free to perform highly coveted strategic work.
I decided my next employer would be one that makes a meaningful difference to society as a whole. Armed with a deep appreciation of how Athabasca University transformed my life, I took on an HR role with the University of Alberta where I gained experience leading my own team and supporting the university’s transformation to become one of the world’s great universities for the public good.
“Thank you, Athabasca University, for empowering me to transform my life, on my own terms.”
Carving a new path in human resources
With deep experience, knowledge, and skillsets in areas that might be of direct benefit to others, I left the U of A and started my own HR consultancy to support inspired organizations, leaders, and individuals seeking to improve their work environments.
As I pause to reflect on the journey that led me to the here and now, I feel a great sense of accomplishment and pride, and have come to recognize that this result could have only been made possible by Canada’s only online university: AU.
Thank you, Athabasca University, for empowering me to transform my life, on my own terms.