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Cross-cultural partnership supports young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men through water

SA Water has partnered with the Clontarf Foundation to create cross-cultural learning opportunities and career pathways for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, with the program’s first SA Water trainee up and running in Whyalla.

Based in Perth, the Clontarf Foundation operates 140 academies embedded in schools throughout Australia to support the education, growth and wellbeing of young men, while partnering with organisations to foster future employment prospects.

The traineeships are being established for current and past Clontarf participants in SA Water’s field operations team, with two more opportunities planned at other regional locations across the state.

SA Water General Manager of Operations Chris Young said the partnership is another step forward for the utility and the communities it serves in a shared journey towards reconciliation.

“We’re proud to be developing a meaningful partnership with the Clontarf Foundation, which is empowering young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island men through a career in the water industry,” he said.

“As a large employer with operations across the state, we have a role to play in helping bridge the economic gap, and creating employment pathways for young people is one of the many initiatives we’re supporting.

“The partnership is also enabling cross-cultural learning opportunities for our people, who are expanding their own knowledge of Aboriginal culture, which is vital to embedding reconciliation.”

More than training

Clontarf Foundation South Australia Regional Manager Ian Taylor said the foundation's current participant, Darryl Hallett, was gaining tangible work experience with SA Water, which will support him on his journey towards a thriving career.

“Our organisation exists to support young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men by equipping them with the confidence and skills they need to transition into meaningful employment and flourish in their lives,” Taylor said.

"The breadth of work Darryl is exposed to, such as excavation and pipe laying, is helping him learn diverse technical skills that can be transferred across industries, enhancing his future employment prospects.”

Taylor said Hallett is also receiving invaluable mentoring through the guidance and role modelling of his SA Water team members and leaders, which is helping him foster discipline, life skills and self-esteem.

"These traineeships can be life-changing, and we’re thrilled to see our young men thriving in new roles which are contributing to the provision of an essential service for their communities,” he said.

Hallett said that, along with building his professional capabilities, the new role was an important source of routine and stability.

“I’m enjoying working at SA Water and feel really supported by my team, who are helping me gain a range of new experiences I’ll carry with me throughout my career,” he said.

“Earning my own money and having financial independence has given me a real sense of pride, and I would encourage other students to put yourself out there and be the best version of yourself.”

Fostering genuine relationships

SA Water is now two years into its second Stretch Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), which has been designed with local Aboriginal communities and stakeholders, and Young said the partnership with the Clontarf Foundation aligns wonderfully with the utility’s goals and aims.

“Our current RAP is underpinned by four areas, and our partnership with Clontarf really helps us with our goals under these crucial focuses, which are: respecting social and cultural recognition, building community relationships, providing economic opportunities and improving liveability for people,” he said.

“One element of our current RAP is to actively challenge ourselves to find ways to help close the gap with our Aboriginal communities. And this work is underpinned by nurturing strong relationships.”

In addition to the traineeships, SA Water’s staff based in Adelaide, Port Lincoln, Whyalla and Port Augusta have attended Clontarf training sessions and breakfasts around the state to chat to current participants about their experiences and roles in the water industry.

“It’s not just about completing a traineeship. We also do work experience and site visits, and we do a range of different skill set training to help prepare them for the workforce, including mock interviews,” Taylor said.

“When we go and host breakfasts, it gives the young guys the opportunity to talk not just about their careers, but about mateship and respect. These things are not usually the concern of a traditional traineeship, but the younger men learn a lot, and our people that are part of the program learn a great deal, too. And this two-way learning is crucial.

“Our relationship has matured with Clontarf; it’s not transactional, it’s more endearing than that. It’s a genuine relationship based on respect and care.”

Next steps

Young said the utility is now exploring a variety of options for work experience within other areas of SA Water to offer Clontarf participants and will be delivering two more traineeships over the coming months, but will also be considering options for expanding their focus to young women, too.

“While Clontarf’s focus at the moment is young men, it’s actually really important for us to support young men specifically, for cultural purposes,” Young said.

“We need to look at these traineeships through an Indigenous lens, which is something that I have learned as part of my relationship with Clontarf.

“But we definitely have plans to expand this type of arrangement to see what we can do to support young Indigenous girls and women, as well. That specific space for young women is just as important and it’s something we are going to be working on with our reconciliation team.”

Young said SA Water is also considering other opportunities in relation to Clontarf alumni.

“We have got all these young men who are with Clontarf until they are 18 years old. But what happens then?” he said.

“We are looking to work with Clontarf on how we can set up support for businesses that can work with SA Water, whether it's in land management and care, maintenance and operations, or any other area of our business.

“We want to look beyond the traineeship and find more ways to support young Aboriginal people to transition from training into work within areas that are important to them. That will be our focus moving forward this year.”

Pictured: Darryl Hallett is receiving invaluable mentoring through the guidance and role modelling of his SA Water team, including District Leader Ben Barnes.