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Long-term partnership builds careers in water for Aboriginal students

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth living in regional and remote communities often face obstacles when it comes to career opportunities, but one long-standing alliance is leaning into teamwork to create fulfilling and sustainable pathways for students.

Now 14 years old, the partnership between Water Corporation and Clontarf Foundation has been promoting careers in the water sector for Indigenous youth by exposing students to the different types of careers available in the water industry.

Water Corporation Partnerships and Education Lead Karen Kagi said the utility has a strong focus on creating opportunities for Aboriginal employment across the state – both for young women and men – with the objective embedded into Water Corporation’s Reconciliation Action Plan.

One of the focuses of the Water Corporation’s Stretch Reconciliation Action Plan, is ensuring the business creates meaningful career pathways and sustainable employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Kagi said.

“As the main provider of water and wastewater services in WA, we are everywhere across the state. We are uniquely placed to be able to play a significant role in reconciliation and providing opportunities,” she said.

Clontarf Foundation General Manager Marcus Harrold said the relationship established with Water Corporation has always been strong, with the utility’s dedication to trust and relationship building an invaluable aspect of the partnership.

“Not only does this partnership allow our youth to transition out of school and into employment or partake in traineeships, it’s also been important for developing relationships,” he said.

“Having the financial contribution from Water Corporation has been fantastic. It has allowed us to grow and support more students. But, aside from the financial support, the relationship building this partnership enables is crucial to creating positive outcomes for our students.”

Sustainable career paths

Water Corporation Aboriginal Employment and Development Advisor Ben McGuire said the aim is to create opportunities for young Aboriginal people to create fulfilling, long-term careers.

“Once they come in as a trainee or apprentice, we want to make sure they can transition through into a permanent position with career pathways. And, if they are from a local country town, we want them to have the opportunity to work within their community,” he said.

“We want people to not only pick us as an employer of choice, but also to stay on with us.”

Water Corporation Community Partnerships Coordinator Milvia Daniels said all aspects of the pipeline from highschool student into traineeship or employment are considered, starting with exposure to potential career opportunities while students are still in school.

“It’s all about supporting the students within the Clontarf academies to thrive. We attend many events hosted by Clontarf, including employment forums and award nights, and our people from across the state show up to support students while they are still at school,” she said.

“This is about giving the students the opportunity to connect with our staff. It’s about creating light bulb moments, where the students realise that there are many diverse opportunities available to them within the water sector. Career days open their eyes to possibilities.”

Daniels said that, when employment opportunities come up, Water Corporation informs Clontarf Foundation to suggest potential applicants, but also provides support for writing applications and interview practice.

“It’s all about bolstering their confidence and supporting their journey. Since we have had the partnership with Clontarf, there have been 39 staff that have come through. These roles include engineering, operations and business, and they have all progressed further up the ladder,” she said.

Building relationships

Harrold said giving the students the opportunity to develop relationships with Water Corporation staff right across the state is integral to the success of the work, as it helps students to understand what the business offers, but also that it’s a safe environment.

“For our young men to go to work and feel safe and have a connection and know people's names and feel that support is integral. Water Corporation has developed strong cultural sensitivity, the business knows about where our students come from,” he said.

“And because our relationship with Water Corporation is so tight, if something is not going well with one of our students, everyone comes together to talk it through and discuss how we can best support them. Having this connection and confidence to work together is foundational.

“Providing an opportunity at any level is truly game changing for a lot of our young men. A lot of them have things happening behind the scenes, and feeling safe and having that trust that they can turn up to work authentically, knowing they will be supported, is really important.”

Tasked with helping to support Water Corporation’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees in many parts of WA, McGuire said he stands as an example of where some of these students might like to end up in terms of a career path.

“Once they come on board, I help them with their development and try to make sure they enjoy what they do and want to come to work everyday. I also give them options in terms of their career progression,” he said.

“We offer a diverse array of opportunities, including traineeships in business and operations, and apprenticeships. We have opportunities in customer service, and out in the field doing meter reading. We also have an engineering program, which delivers four years in-house training for students especially interested in math.

“When I am out in the country towns, I visit schools as part of the Clontarf partnership, I go out and speak to the students, give them ideas on what they might like to do when they finish school.

“This representation is important, and helps the students see Water Corporation as a great place to work.”

Long-term connections

Harrold said it’s fantastic to see Clontarf graduates from many years ago still onboard with Water Corporation, a testament to the success of the partnership so far.

“We have had graduates from many years ago that are still with Water Corporation today. Some of them are in leadership positions now. These opportunities are more than just an entry-level job, it’s a whole career,” he said.

“It’s great to see the longevity, and to have our young men coming through get to see that longevity, too. It sets an amazing example of what is available.

“Some of our students are the first in their family to finish year 12, or to gain employment. For Water Corporation to understand this context is key. You can place kids whatever you want, but if they aren’t comfortable and the employer doesn’t understand their backstory, they’ll last five minutes.

“We want our young men to succeed, and to do that we need to work together as a team.”

Kagi agrees: “It takes a village to bring this to life, and it wouldn't happen if we didn’t have the dedicated support from our regional staff across our depots”.

“They really value and respect the partnership and are very active in supporting activities that get the students into our space and share the experience of what work life at Water Corporation is all about,” she said.