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Source: Massey University

Judith Collins just graduated with a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety.

Judith Collins was the youngest of six children growing up on her family dairy farm in Waikato. When asked what perspective that gave her and how it shaped who she is, she was quick to respond: “I always had to try harder to be heard.”

It was that attitude that drove her to a career in law and then politics, when she was voted into Parliament as the National MP for Clevedon (now Papakura) in 2002.

Collins holds a Bachelor of Laws, Master of Laws with Honours and Master of Taxation Studies and has just added another string to her bow by recently graduating with a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety from Massey University.

It was while sitting in a Select Committee listening to submissions on changes to health and safety legislation following the Pike River Mine disaster that she realised she needed to better understand the details and requirements around health and safety and what changes would mean for business.

“Almost every submitter was looking at it from the perspective of either big business or trade unions, but I knew that changes to legislation would impact everyone who is in charge of a business, big or small, and I wanted to know more about it.”

Collins describes Parliament’s role as simply, “passing new laws or changing the ones that are already there,” and says the changes to health and safety in 2015 were some of the most significant that have happened during her 18 years in politics.

“Over the past five years I’ve been studying and engaging with business owners, managers or staff on a shop floor, I have been able to understand a lot more about the health and safety requirements and their obligations. I feel better prepared to do my job because of it.”

She says getting back into the swing of studying took a little while, but Massey’s online offering provided the flexibility she needed to fit studying around work responsibilities.

“It had been 20 years since I had last studied, so it was a little like mental gymnastics, but it felt good for my brain.”

The variety of topics that were covered kept things interesting, she says. “I had to do a lot of study in areas I’ve never touched before like behavioural management, which I really enjoyed. I don’t know if people realised but I was going around diagnosing everyone, working out their personalities and putting a framework around them, in my mind,” she laughed.

She enjoyed getting to know her fellow students during the in-person course components, many of whom had been in the workforce a long time. “They worked in different areas to what I’m used to, like nursing, engineering and trade unions, which was helpful because everyone brought different perspectives and could add value in different ways.”

What’s next

Collins says completing the graduate diploma motivated her to continue writing and after she finished studying in late 2019 she went on to write a memoir on her career, family and views. Its release is expected in early July.

For Collins, continually learning and extending her knowledge, is important. In her parliamentary maiden speech she referenced when she was younger and told people she wanted to be a lawyer, to which someone had responded, “You won’t be a lawyer – you’re a nice girl. You’ll get married.” She went on to be the highest ranked female politician in Cabinet when the National party was last in Government.

“There is nothing I love more than a challenge. If someone tells me I can’t do something because of some stupid reason like gender or age, then I’m likely to want to do it.”

Her advice to anyone, at any age, who is considering studying or furthering their career, is “go for it.”

“Don’t ever write yourself off. Try your best, do stuff that will make you grow, think outside the square and keep your brain going. Life is precious, make the most of it.”

Studying Occupational Health and Safety at Massey

The University was the first in New Zealand to lead the development of tertiary education in workplace health and safety, beginning in 1979. In recent years there has been increasing demand for professional skills in occupational health and safety in New Zealand and the Australasia-Pacific region following deadly workplace disasters like the Pike River Mine disaster and the subsequent implementation of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 2015. Read more about the qualification here.