Tackling An Injury to Find a New Job

Despite living with a back injury, Dena Sharkey has always felt at peace sitting in a boat surrounded by wilderness, with a fishing rod in hand. She has spent her life camping, hunting, and fishing and has turned her love of the great outdoors into a job.

Thanks to the support she has received from WorkBC Vernon, Sharkey is now working as an office administrative assistant at KingFisher Boats, and she couldn’t be happier.

Her journey is proof that one can come back from injury and other barriers to find meaningful work in a place where they truly belong.

A Change Will Do You Good

Sharkey’s 15-year career in health care ended when a herniated disk prevented her from being able to perform daily tasks in the group home where she worked.

“It became worse and worse until I ended up flat on my back for seven weeks. I had doctors and physiotherapists help me, but to this day I still have to be careful not to lift, push or pull anything heavy,” Sharkey explains.

Not one to lie completely idle, Sharkey eventually acquired her real estate license and worked as a realtor for four years until the birth of her son.

“I was a stay-at-home mom for seven years and then went through a separation.  I knew I had to go back to work, but I had been out of the employment gig for so long. Because of the back injury, I couldn’t go back to health care. Real estate wasn’t an option as the business had changed drastically and I was now a single parent, so the hours weren’t feasible,” she says.

In 2016, Sharkey decided to approach the WorkBC Vernon Centre, and after speaking to an intake worker, was assigned to Case Manager Grace Brinkman.

Besides one-to-one employment counselling, Sharkey was sent to career workshops and Power Concepts in Kelowna so that she could upgrade her computer skills. 

Because of the nature of her injuries, and after being assessed by a rehabilitation clinic, Sharkey also found out she qualified for skills training in a field where she could adapt. That’s when she enrolled in the administrative assistant program at Okanagan College.

“I had a lot of support while going to school. They set me up with a sit-down, stand-up desk at college and home as I can’t sit for long periods,” she says.

Sailing a New Course

As part of her course requirements, Sharkey had to secure a practicum. She had heard about former students going to KingFisher Boats. The Vernon company is the fastest-growing brand of welded heavy-gauge boats in North America. With Sharkey’s interest in the outdoors, she put the company at the top of her list.

“They were the first and only choice for me to do my practicum. I phoned and made an appointment with the HR manager and told her I was coming to work for free, so it was a win-win situation,” Sharkey laughs. “She would later ask me what I was doing over the summer. So when I was doing the training for my practicum, they also trained me for a summer contract.”

When that contract was over, Sharkey says she joked with the HR manager, saying, “If you don’t hire me on, I’m just going to stay here. You’re stuck with me.”

That was two years ago, and Sharkey remains gainfully employed at KingFisher Boats.

“I love my KingFisher family. I have built strong friendship and relationships with everyone here and with the customers. There are around 200 employees here, and we need to know about every department so we can forward people to who they need to talk to. I also support the HR team with data entry, personal reference checks, and more. Every day is different, and the senior management team is confident in my abilities.”

While Sharkey put in all the hard work to get to where she is today, she also credits Brinkman and WorkBC for the support.

“Grace is amazing. She went through every single step with me and is also so understanding. She knew she didn’t need to babysit me. I am grateful to her for giving me the tools and guidance,” she says.

If you are facing barriers in finding meaningful full-time work, contact WorkBC Vernon at 250-545 2215 ext. 233 to see how their specialized services can help you achieve your employment goals with tailored employment support for both you and your employer.