7 July 2023

Where are they now? Meet former first responder James

James is a former NSW Police Officer who spent five years working in first response before spending 18 months as a detective at the Northern Beaches in Proactive Crime and his final months as a Parramatta Detective. 

When asked about his decision to transition from first responder work, James said, “Leaving the NSW Police Force was terrifying. I joined the police at a young age and had always thought I would be a cop for my entire working life. Being a police officer was a big part of my identity. The job was taking a huge toll on my mental health, and I suddenly reached my tipping point out of nowhere. I couldn’t carry on as a police officer and had no idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life. Fortem gave me a huge amount of support with the services they provide and gave me hope for the future.” 

James also reflected on the difficulties he faced during the transition period. “I can only speak from my own experience as someone who reached their breaking point and was ultimately medically discharged from the police. I know everyone’s situation is unique. The initial difficulties I faced were to do with my mental health. At work, I had pushed myself to breaking point with my levels of stress and anxiety and was tightly wound. As soon as I left work on stress leave, I began feeling better and knew I’d made the right choice.” 

“However, at the age of 30, I had no idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life which caused severe anxiety. I also had feelings of shame, embarrassment and failure. I felt like l had let my colleagues and my family down. I think this is common for first responders. It was difficult to not get stuck in negative mindsets and have thoughts such as ‘I’m not qualified for anything other than the police’ and ‘I’ll have to take a massive pay cut because I’m starting from square one’.”  

Following an email detailing the services offered by Fortem’s Career Management team, James utilised the career counselling and resume writing services, job interview courses and cyber security courses, and he attended virtual seminars and an in-person event in Sydney. 

“Working with Elise Stephens was simply fantastic. I felt like she really understood my situation, genuinely cared, and was positive about my future. Her positivity was contagious; I came away from every monthly meeting with her thinking ‘Oh my gosh, I can actually do this; I’m actually going to get a good job at the end of this’. I felt so supported by her and will be forever grateful. I leaned on Fortem heavily, and they were fantastic.

“I initially had no idea what I wanted or could do for a career. After leaving the police, Fortem paid for me to see a Career Counsellor, which gave me plenty of ideas. They paid for me to have my resume professionally done; I think the end product was of a really high quality and was a factor in my securing my current job. I also did a job interviewing course through Fortem, and gained skills that assisted me in interviewing for my current job. I really put all my eggs in Fortem’s basket and secured a great role at the end of it all.” James now works as a Tenders and Contracts Specialist at Stryker. 

When asked about the advice he would give to other first responders, James said, “Don’t get stuck in the mindset that the police is all I’m qualified for, I’m not trained for anything else or I’m starting from square one. Recognise the professionalism and transferable skills that you’ve obtained from working in a high-pressure job like that, and that you and those skills are highly desirable to a range of different employers for a range of good roles. If you’re struggling at work, put your hand up. There’s no shame in it, it’s actually very brave. Lean on your support network, I couldn’t have gotten where I am without the support of my family, friends and Fortem.”