In 2019, 41-year-old father of three Trent Dunn was working as a forklift driver in cold storage, a career he enjoyed, when an unexpected health diagnosis changed his life and career options.

“I went to the doctor with back pain. After seeing a few specialists, I was diagnosed with a degenerative disc condition, meaning the discs in my back are deteriorating faster than usual,” Mr Dunn said.

“It’s something that usually happens later in life to older people, not those in their early forties, so it came as a real shock.”

The diagnosis meant that Mr Dunn could no longer work in a cold environment and couldn’t sit in a forklift for long periods or lift more than a few kilos.

“It meant I couldn’t do my job anymore, and this came as a significant blow, not just to my work and income but to my confidence as well,” he said.

At the same time, the family moved from Queensland to Port Macquarie on the NSW North Coast to be closer to family. This meant that Mr Dunn also had to navigate a new employment market too.

In 2020, he was referred to Port Macquarie-based not-for-profit employment, training and apprenticeships service provider, VERTO. Mr Dunn says working with VERTO Consultant Nicole Stewart was a game-changer.

“Nicole was incredibly helpful and supportive from the get-go. She took the time to understand how I was feeling and what I needed out of my next role.

“She also helped me explore options, looking at desk-based roles, and even starting a business course,” he said.

Ultimately, though, Mr Dunn says he realised being behind a desk simply wasn’t for him.

“I’ve always worked with my hands, and it’s what I love doing. Nicole immediately understood how I was feeling, and we changed track to look for something suited to my new restrictions,” he said.

With extensive physio, Mr Dunn has been able to increase his lifting capacity to 15 kilograms and through a family connection, was able to find local factory work.

 

Ms Stewart says that it’s essential to help job seekers like Mr Dunn build confidence to return to the workforce.

“From the outset, Trent was incredibly keen to get back into the workforce, but a diagnosis such as the one he received can be a blow to anyone’s confidence,” she said.

“So, we worked closely together to  understand his passions and interests, explore all avenues to find potential matches, and rebuild his confidence to prepare for a return to work.

“Every job seeker is different, so it’s about working with each individual to understand their interests and motivation and what they need to be job-ready.

After exploring options, Trent wanted to continue working with his hands, which meant we focused on identifying the most appropriate options that wouldn’t aggravate his injury.

“Ultimately, he found this in factory work, and VERTO will continue to support Trent on his journey – wherever it takes him,” Ms Stewart said.

Mr Dunn says he is incredibly grateful for VERTO’s support and he encourages others in his position to reach out for help.

“Nicole helped me look at how I could succeed in the new job with my condition, which was a great help.

“Most of all, though, she helped me build the confidence to find work again, and that was invaluable,” Mr Dunn said.