Making Smart Choices In a Time of Uncertainty
“Don’t give up. There are always other choices for you. Keep positive – we will find a way out.”
That’s the message Johnny Gu would like to share with anyone whose future plans have been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Johnny’s developed his resilience the hard way, watching his first job in New Zealand’s tourism industry disappear when the country’s border slammed shut in 2020 to halt the virus.
But he’s since seized new opportunities, using the skills he gained during his tourism studies to move into consumer retail. The 24-year-old is now the full-time store manager of a Tauranga bathroom and kitchenware supply company, and is also studying part-time for a Postgraduate Diploma in Management.
The career change means Johnny now spends his work days focusing on products, rather than experiences.
“But the end result is the same, it’s all about meeting customer expectations and making them happy,” he says.
“I get to know a lot of people. I enjoy offering my suggestions, and then seeing them being considered and put into practice. I do all the things in the shop – selling, organising the warehouse, and marketing.”
Johnny’s also managing staff for the first time and was grateful when his employer agreed to pay his postgraduate fees.
“I need some more knowledge to do my job better. I can’t just rely on myself - I can’t do everything, so in the course I’m learning how to motivate employees and how to make them work efficiently to get the best overall result for the shop. It’s also helping me learn how to overcome problems.”
Johnny was raised in Guangzhou, China, and left his homeland at age 17, headed for Melbourne, Australia. He spent a few years studying foundational courses there, before setting his sights on a better life in New Zealand: “It looked safe, fun and adventurous”.
He shifted to New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, and then realised the Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology campus in Rotorua would be an ideal place to learn about the country’s thriving tourist industry.
“It’s such a popular tourist destination, and I found that Toi Ohomai had a really good history of teaching that subject.”
Johnny completed three qualifications at Toi Ohomai: two New Zealand diplomas in tourism and travel (level 5 and level 6), followed by a Bachelor of Tourism Management. The first two courses cross-credited into the degree, which meant it only took three years to complete all the qualifications.
Johnny thoroughly enjoyed each course, which meant Toi Ohomai was an obvious choice when he decided to start his postgraduate studies earlier this year.
“It’s a lovely learning environment, with knowledgeable tutors and lots of great people. I got a lot of help from the International staff and from my classmates during my earlier courses.
“You don’t just gain knowledge, you gain a lot of connections – so it gave me the background and the confidence to go along with my journey and my plans.”
His latest course is largely online, with occasional classes at the Toi Ohomai Tauranga campus which complement Johnny’s work hours. It will take 18 months to complete the course and he’s enjoying the opportunity to meet a whole new group of people.
Johnny’s living with flatmates he’s met along the way, and in his spare time he plays basketball, goes to the gym, and tries to win poker.
He has a three-year open work visa and would eventually like to establish his own branch or retail store in New Zealand.
“It’s such a beautiful country, with friendly people, and the working conditions are less stressful here.
“I would love to go back to tourism - but for now, I will stay focused on my new journey. There are
always choices for everyone.”