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NRL Senior Education and Welfare Manager Paul Heptonstall, right, accepts the Career Development Association of Australia Excellence Award as Employer of the Year on behalf of the NRL.
The NRL has won the Career Development Association of Australia Excellence Award as Employer of the Year in recognition of Rugby League’s position at the forefront of career development in professional sport.

The award, which was announced at the CDAA Annual Careers Conference in Adelaide, acknowledges the NRL's commitment to embracing best practice and quality standards in career development, led by the NRL’s ground-breaking CareerWise program.

NRL Senior Education and Welfare Manager Paul Heptonstall accepted the award on behalf of the NRL.

The NRL CareerWise program is designed to have players vocationally active and balanced in life. The program recognises that Rugby League is a profession, but it is also the shortest career most players will experience in their lifetime.

Through CareerWise, Rugby League assists players to make well-informed future career choices as well as help them develop the skills and knowledge required to successfully manage their ongoing careers in a rapidly changing labour market.

The program is delivered to more than 4000 players each year from the Under 15s through to the NRL. Additionally the NRL continues to provide ongoing career services to players into retirement.

In recognition of the significant influence of parents on their children's career aspirations and outcomes, career education workshops are also delivered to parents of young players across Australian and New Zealand.

More than 50 welfare and education managers, club career coaches and current and former NRL players have been trained in the delivery of the NRL CareerWise program and have completed or are completing the Certificate IV in Career Development.

“The NRL recognises the brief and unpredictable nature of a career in Rugby League at the professional level,” Mr Heptonstall said.

“It is why we have have implemented a game-wide career development strategy and invested in the placement of a career coach in each of the 16 clubs across Australia and New Zealand.

“The NRL is committed to best practice and professional standards in career development.

“Significantly, we are providing opportunities for players to achieve a life balance  that not only makes them better footballers, it provides them with the skills and training to excel in the workplace after they finish playing.

“It is all part of our aim to help develop talented boys into men of character who are better for having been part of Rugby League.

“To have that work acknowledged by the Career Development Association of Australia, the peak body for career practitioners, is an honour and a great reward for the success of the strategies we have in place.”

The NRL, with the support of NRL clubs, academic and career partners and State and Federal Government, has also developed the below support programs to ensure that whatever the career choice of players, they are given the best chance to succeed and develop at their own pace: 

Trade Up with the NRL - Apprentice mentoring 
Graduates of League – University peer tuition support
Beyond the Tryline – Flexible apprenticeship schedules
Business mentoring and work experience

The Employer of the Year Award was based on the following criteria – that the NRL develops and implements policies that demonstrate well-rounded knowledge of contemporary career development policy and practice; that it develops and implements initiatives that support and promote the development of career development capability across the organisation; that it promotes career development as a practice for all employees to engage with.

“CDAA is delighted to recognise the NRL as Employer of the Year,” said Mr Greg Parker, National Manager, Career Development Association of Australia.

“The great work being done by the NRL in career development is leading edge for sporting bodies, and indeed employer groups generally.

“The NRL is a role model for other employers when it comes to taking responsibility for longer term career needs or employees, whether that be in the sporting field or more widely – well deserved recognition.”

This is the second such award the NRL has received in the past year.

In 2013, NRL Specialist Career Coach Jane Lowder was named the Career Development Association of Australia Practitioner of the Year.


NRL CareerWise

NRL CareerWise is a career development program for elite and professional athletes in the National Rugby League aged 15 and over.

Staged, age-appropriate modules were developed in line with contemporary best practice supported by comprehensive instruction manuals and user-friendly workbooks for the players.

Jane Lowder of Max Coaching, who is the NRL’s Specialist Career Coach, is the author of the program, with initial consultative input from Marijke Wright  (Career Development Association of Australia) and Rosemary Sainty and branding and messaging input from Jane Caro, one of Australia's leading voices on education.

The NRL CareerWise program links to the Player Welfare and Education Vision and Strategic Plan by providing players with the resources and professional advice to assist them to be:
Vocationally active
Balanced in life
Self aware and self confident

The program was developed in recognition of the fact that a job for life has become the exception rather than the rule. Most players, as with anyone in the labour market, will change jobs a number of times over the course of their life.

Helping players make a career choice is not enough. It has become important to also assist players to develop the skills and knowledge required to successfully manage their ongoing career in a rapidly changing labour market.

The program takes into account a complex mix of factors that influence career decision-making, including; interests, skills, family, lifestyle, income, workplace, qualifications, personality and values.

NRL CareerWise targets different factors at different ages and stages in line with the Australian Blueprint for Career Development.

CareerWise Training

More than 50 Welfare and Education Managers, Club Career Coaches and NRL players have been trained in the delivery of the NRL CareerWise program and have completed or are completing the Certificate IV in Career Development.

This program is believed to be a first in Australian Professional Sport: comprehensive, holistic, tailored to different age groups and players’ maturity, and allowing for natural progression as the players move through stages.
Trading Up with the NRL.

The program is supported by the Australian Government and is managed by NRL Apprentice Mentoring Program Manager John Hutchinson.

The program has a focus of increasing the retention and completion rates of Australian apprentices who are also involved in Rugby League. Identified mentors work with NRL Clubs and regions to assist identified apprentices within the Rugby League community to successfully complete their apprenticeships.

Mentors must have had experience in a rugby league environment (NRL) and should have started or completed an apprenticeship. They will draw on this experience along with a range of strategies to build relationships with mentors, employer groups, parents and the Club.

All mentors complete a Cert lV Career Development qualification (minimum) and complete other relevant qualifications or attend relevant workshops and conferences as identified such as mentoring, conflict resolution and workplace assessor and trainers.

With the assistance of the NRL club staff, an apprenticeship mentoring manager and other identified support providers develop and deliver other resources relating to time management, goal setting, cross-cultural awareness, conflict resolution, mental health issues, career coaching, social responsibility and community relations as required.


This program for university students involves NRL Clubs and universities providing mentoring, tuition and financial support. 
Established as a joint initiative of the Athletes Education Foundation, University of Wollongong, NRL, RLPA and St George Illawarra Dragons, the program aims to increase university entry, retention and completion rates of elite athletes.

As part of the program, a player receives one-on-one tuition for at least one hour per week, which is funded by the NRL Club and NRL-RLPA.


The NRL and RLPA have partnered with the NSW Government to increase the number of semi-professional players taking up apprenticeships and help those who end up playing full-time to maintain their skills into the future.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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