Settlement Guide

Retraining yourself during COVID-19

Aprender novas coisas durante a crise do coronavírus não é tão difícil quanto parece. Source: Getty Images/Alistair Berg

Australia’s coronavirus curve has flattened but with some restrictions still in place, many are still homebound. Without the freedom to engage in activities we once enjoyed, why not make the most of the current situation by learning a new professional skill or revisiting a lost passion?


  • TAFE NSW is offering free short courses to reskill workers affected by COVID-19 subsidised by the NSW government
  • Mature students right up to their late sixties are taking advantage of the free TAFE courses
  • Libraries are providing free online learning resources for members to further interests and skills




Emad Wassef was doing well as a hotel worker until the coronavirus pandemic dropped hotel occupancy rates down to single digits.

One in in three hospitality jobs vanished according to a recent Australian Bureau of Statistics survey.

Despite speaking three languages fluently and working 17 years with the same hotel, Wassef also lost his job.   

It was really hard especially after a long time working with them and I wasn’t quite sure what will happen in the future - that really stressed me out.

Being 56, Wassef soon realised his age was a barrier in an extra competitive job market. He wanted to back up his experience with further studies but could not afford the fees.

Online learning
Getty Imaegs/MoMo Productions

Further studies almost seemed untenable until TAFE NSW began offering free short courses for those affected by the COVID-19 crisis subsidised by the New South Wales government.

With our generation, we are not used to that online studying so I wasn’t quite sure where to find the resources. I wasn’t very comfortable.

Luckily, Wassef’s teenager son was able to lend a helping hand.

While people may lose hope as Australia reels from the impacts of COVID-19, furthering your interests and skills online can improve your mental wellbeing and future job prospects during isolation, according Colette Browning, a psychology professor and gerontology expert at Federation University.  

That was the case for Wassef who found a new lease of life through the online accounting course.

He is driven and hungry to learn more in accounting as his course is about to end.

I am learning a new thing and things that didn’t make sense to me while I was working, it makes perfect sense now when I know the background of it.

TAFE NSW’s acting digital general manager Lyn Rickard says the free accredited short courses range from 9 weeks to 6 months designed for job seekers to build new skills during COVID-19.

More than 100,000 students have enrolled – some of whom are mature students well into their late sixties.  

Rickard says that indicates that people are working longer these days and in different ways whether in a part-time, voluntary or full-time capacity.

Office trio

The Australian Library and Information Association CEO Sue McKerracher says libraries across Australia are also offering online resources for people to further their general interests and learnings from self-help e-books through to modular courses.

It depends on what you as a learner want to know.

Libraries are seeing a real demand for online resources in English language learning, technology help and hobbies like craft and art.

McKerracher says libraries sometimes provide in-language online support geared towards the demographics they serve.

For example, New South Wales’ Burwood library has developed digital library help sessions in Cantonese and Mandarin.

Chatswood library, on the other hand, runs digital English conversation classes on Microsoft Teams.

Meanwhile, Wassef picked up cooking for the first time through online videos.

He finds a great sense of pride in his newfound culinary skills cooking traditional Egyptian and other dishes.   

Man learning guitar

Professor Browning believes the physical distancing requirements of COVID-19 have provided an opportunity for people to reengage with their interests.

She encourages people to reconnect with the things they once enjoyed in the past online.

It is best to start with small steps if the online world seems daunting to navigate, says Professor Browning.

Maybe pick something that you’re familiar with and engage with that and what you’ll find is that if you enjoy that that can motivate you then to explore further.

Wassef says online learning is not rocket science. For those new in online learning, with motivation and vision, you will find new possibilities in yourself.

It wasn’t that easy at the beginning but once you get yourself started in things you love, it will help you to be motivated at all the time and positive, and as long as there is always a hope, I am quite sure that at the right time another door will open.

Man with tablet
Getty Images/Westend61

For information on how you can develop digital skills or access local help, visit with resources available in English, Arabic, Greek, Italian, Chinese, Macedonian, Spanish and Vietnamese.

To find out about free short courses during isolation, visit the TAFE Queensland and TAFE NSW websites.