An ongoing series exploring unusual careers in the inner-west of Melbourne, by Belle Hann.

    Simulations Practitioner

    There are some things that can’t be taught in textbooks. Showing empathy. Being personable. Asking questions without seeming interrogative. But how will students learn such skills without real-world experience?

    Enter stage right: Grant Foulkes. The classically-trained actor has an unusual job: pretending to be a human.

    Grant is not quite a human guinea pig nor a fake patient, so he describes his job as a “simulations practitioner”

    “It sounds fancy, but there’s really no way to explain it in a couple of words.”

    An average day will see him adopt different roles to simulate real-life situations. He will perform alongside students training at several different higher-education institutions, such as Holmesglen and Swinburne. He often works with people studying for careers in mental health like psychology and social work.

    “You generally get given a character that has some extreme issues and students have to learn how to sensitively navigate their way.”

    There are several benefits of working with an actual human being (albeit a skilled actor.) For example, it is less risky for students who are still learning the ropes. Simulations mean they can make mistakes without causing damage to a real-life person, themselves, or their organisations. Also, Grant can provide a different level of feedback than a lecturer. “It’s experiential feedback. How they made the patient feel. You can provide things that are really specific and helpful.”

    Grant is excited by the growth of the simulations profession. It is beginning to be utilised outside the classroom and into the corporate world. Simulations practitioners can role-play workplace situations that may help people respond better to harassment and bullying. There’s also growing use of virtual reality that allows the actor/practitioner to play several different roles, such as a small class of school children.

    Initially, Grant worked as a Shakespearean actor after graduating from VCA in 2007. He has also acted in “a bunch of television commercials” and was one of the main puppeteers in the critically-acclaimed War Horse.

    Some of his fellow actors have worked as simulations practitioners as a way to pay the bills between auditions. For Grant, however, he has been surprised by how rewarding this unusual job has been.

    “I thought it would be a bit of a side hustle, but I enjoy it much more than I thought I would.”

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