How a life-changing injury led a veteran tradesperson back to NAIT

Richard Baty reimagines his career based on a desire to help others with theirs

Richard Baty believes that life truly begins outside your comfort zone of routine and familiarity. Little did he know, however, that his own life would start anew in a place of such discomfort.

For 15 years, Baty was a plumber-gasfitter (Plumber ’10). He knew the job well enough to consider himself a “subject-matter expert.” But that knowledge couldn’t carry him through an accident that changed everything.

Baty continued to fall, twisting and hyperextending his leg.

In August 2016, while working in a basement flooded with mud, Baty’s ladder began to tip despite being properly braced against a wall. The ladder was only a metre tall, but as the right side began to sink, he put down his foot to brace himself. It caught under a buried outcropping of concrete, trapping him. Baty continued to fall, twisting and hyperextending his leg.

For two days afterward, he pushed on despite intense pain. Eventually, Baty couldn’t walk. He finally told the “safety lady,” who reprimanded him for persisting and sent him to a medical clinic where he was fast-tracked for an MRI. The findings – a torn meniscus and ligaments – were the beginning of a transformation that would send him back to NAIT in 2019 for a fresh start in a completely new direction.

After taking an occupational health and safety class as part of his studies, he recalled that exchange with the safety officer. “I realized why I should have called her right away.”

By then, however, Baty was moving on.

The daunting prospect of starting over

NAIT graduate Richard BatyFollowing the accident, Baty expected to eventually be able to return to his past work. He endured three surgeries over 16 months, including full reconstructions of the inner workings of his leg, with various hardware installed and even removed, and three years of rehabilitation. None of it was successful. “It just didn’t come back,” he says.

Baty was among the roughly 3% of workers injured in the construction sector annually, suffering the most common injury, tissue tears, from the most common cause, a fall. Now 36, he has limited mobility. He tried on jobs with the same employer in the office and shop, and even worksite positions that were modified to suit him, but found them unsatisfying in light of what he could do previously. Unhappy, he reluctantly admitted to himself that the old job was no longer an option.

“You put in 15 years – it’s kind of a kick in the pants where you realize you have to start over from scratch.”

Baty had to figure out what would fit his physical capacity, but he also knew he had to match that with something he would love doing. After a series of assessments through Workers’ Compensation Board – which included everything from aptitude to whether he could kneel to pick up a piece of paper off the floor (“that’s how bad my injury is”) – he gravitated toward a bachelor of Business Administration in Human Resources (class of ’21) enrolling as a mature student.

“You put in 15 years – it’s kind of a kick in the pants where you realize you have to start over from scratch.”

“I’ve always been a people person, so I kind of redirected the energy I had from trying to rehab multiple times towards that,” says Baty.

Soon, he found himself feeding off the energy of the classroom, working with instructors and other students who broadened his perspective by sharing their points of view and experiences. When classes went online in March 2020, he found that the casual friendships he had formed in person strengthened as people sought to support each other in the face of new challenges.

Managing life as a mature student – with children doing their school online due to the pandemic – also improved. Instructors, for example, recognized the need for extensions and accommodations. “Besides the support,” says Baty, “the flexibility has allowed us to excel online.”

The importance of connections and experiences

That the transition is not complete, and Baty has yet to secure employment in the difficult pandemic job market, doesn’t greatly worry him. He knows COVID-19 has created challenges for new grads, but what he has been through has taught him how to deal with adversity, and how to remain optimistic. Regardless of what happened to his leg, he’s eager to set out on what he sees as the proverbial journey of 1,000 miles.

“I’m excited to begin exploring some of the connections I’ve made through NAIT – the programs and extracurricular activities – and see where they go,” says Baty. He also looks forward to “taking that first step out, [after] gaining this knowledge and fundamental base, and seeing where I belong in the business world.”

He sees working in human resources as a unique way to do that, helping people manage their careers and pursue job satisfaction, safely navigating corporate ladders of their own.

“If I can enact change in an individual where they’re happy each day, I think that’s the best reward and that will motivate me in my career in the future.”

“At the end of your life, you don’t look back and say, ‘Oh, I made so much money,’” says Baty. “You look back at your connections and experiences. If I can enact change in an individual where they’re happy each day, I think that’s the best reward and that will motivate me in my career in the future.”

In the meantime, he’s content to look at how far he’s come since the day of the accident, which he now looks at as a “blessing in disguise.” His fear of starting over is passing. With graduation ahead, Baty says, “It’s starting to feel good.”

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