James McIvor, a senior Manager in the Victorian Department of Justice and Regulation, has many years of experience in career counselling and life skills coaching. A couple of years ago, he began offering follow-up seminars for Life Matters alumni. Parveen Muhammed met up with him to talk to him about his pro bono work with Initiatives of Change Australia.
A trained counsellor and experienced administrator of the state government’s youth justice program in regional Victoria, McIvor had often delivered keynote speeches at IofC Australia’s Life Matters workshops on leadership development and life skills. In a reflective moment with facilitator Rob Wood, they both realized that the young people who attend Life Matters workshops often needed further guidance and support to bring to life the heartfelt decisions they have made.
‘Life Matters gives participants the chance to deeply reflect on their lives and make decisions about what to do next,’ McIvor explained. ‘However many still lack the skills to put these decisions into action and implement their ideas.’ This realisation led him to start offering Saturday half-day sessions focusing on leadership, team building and practical skills that fill this gap; participants from previous Life Matters workshops are invited to attend.
Rob Wood, with his partner Cheryl, have organized Life Matters workshops over more than two decades. Wood sees what McIvor offers as a further stage of leadership development.
The workshops usually address topics related to leadership and teambuilding - key components of any further work that participants would undertake. Some workshops may respond to needs of a particular alumni group. McIvor sees these workshops as an opportunity to share his knowledge, skills, passion and motivation. ‘It’s a privilege to see people succeed,’ he said. ‘It’s rewarding and has helped build genuine friendships.’
The workshops are held some time after a Life Matters workshop has taken place. McIvor feels that this gives participants time to filter their ideas and gain greater clarity about decisions they have made. It becomes an opportunity for participants to come back together after a break and reaffirm the ideas that they arrived at during their Life Matters experience. McIvor finds that such meet-ups also provide the opportunity for participants to encourage each other on their chosen paths.
Participants often give feedback that the follow-up workshops have been empowering. ‘I have heard fantastic stories of what Life Matters alumni have achieved,’ said McIvor.
Wood added that the real test of success is what happens over the long term; what Life Matters and follow-up workshops do is plant the seed of change and provide the needed resources. ‘James helps people through the workshops to see themselves as potential change makers. He takes people from where they’re at, to a point of feeling that they can engage with any challenges and respond effectively to difficult situations,’ he elaborated.
McIvor’s plans include offering a further half-day course on advanced leadership, and running longer workshops that will enable participants to put theory into practice in an effective manner. The Life Matters organizers are enthusiastic about this possibility and grateful for the opportunity to offer extended follow-up through the program. ‘James has been a tremendous support to the Life Matters team,’ Wood concluded.