Colleen has become the role model she wants to be for her daughter
Colleen is an Indigenous woman of the Kurnai clan, grew up on beautiful Bung Yarnda (Lake Tyers) in a settlement of her people in Koorie, in the Gippsland area. They lived traditionally, sustaining themselves from the land, hunting, fishing, foraging and learning the wisdom of their elders in the community.
As she grew older, she attended school outside of the settlement and away from her tribe. When offered a job serving Indigenous food in a popular Melbourne restaurant, the Flaming Bull, she jumped at the opportunity to leave school early and try something new.
Colleen loved being in a job that celebrated Indigenous heritage and shared Koorie culture with the broader community. Over time, she felt disconnected from her place and her people, and found herself drawn to move back.
After returning to Gippsland, Colleen struggled to find long-term, sustainable work. When she did find pockets of work, she often experienced difficult work conditions, including racism.
With few people willing to give her a chance to thrive, Colleen slipped into the category of long term unemployed.
Giving her career a Kickstart
Encouraged by her APM Employment Consultant Danielle through the jobactive program, Colleen enrolled in the Learn Local Kickstart course in Hospitality and Retail course at Community College Gippsland.
The course was local, being offered in Colleen’s hometown. The six-week Kickstart program was small, with just 12 participants, and filled with people wanting the same thing as Colleen – a launchpad into a rewarding new career.
The Kickstart course a blend of pre-accredited and accredited learning, providing an industry-supported introduction to work in retail and hospitality. It focused on the skills, experience and qualifications needed to successfully secure work and thrive in the workplace long-term.
Everyone was warm and welcoming, and the trainer immediately clicked with Colleen. For the first time, she felt at home in a classroom.
“There were no black fellas – not one,” Colleen said.
“But I felt included, a part of things, for the first time. My trainer really listened, and she understood me. She felt like a sister.”
“On day one, she asked why I was here. The course made me think that I can have the life I want. I just gotta get off my butt and go get it!” Colleen added.
Learning local and flourishing
Trainer Helen Lamb said that the transformation in Colleen was astounding.
“Colleen had never been given a real opportunity to develop her work-readiness skills,” Helen said “she was ready to learn. Over the six weeks, she had a complete mindset and skills shift.”
“Not only did she gain industry knowledge but also practical skills for work, like application skills, confident communication and professional presentation.”
The change was evident and not just in the classroom.
Danielle from APM, said a whole new Colleen emerged on the other side of the course.
“I had been Colleen’s consultant for two years,” Danielle said.
Throughout that time, Colleen was reliant on benefits. After the Kickstart program, she started putting her life back together in a whole new way. I am so proud of her and what she has achieved through this course.”
Following the completion of the Kickstart program, Colleen applied her new-found skills to job-hunting, supported by the resume writing and interview skills lessons in the course, and assistance from APM.
Colleen successfully found employment with Woolworths, where she is now flourishing.
“I serve customers at the checkout and I love it,” Colleen said.
“Everyone knows me. I get to speak with people every day and be part of a team that helps people. I’ve always loved doing that, since I was little. It feels good to be able to do that for work.”
Her personal growth has seen her confidence grow in bounds, helped by her newly developed skills in personal presentation for work, positive communication, interpersonal skills and relationship building.
The course provided Colleen with assurance that she was not only capable of work but would be an asset to any organisation.
“I would say that I blossomed,” Colleen said.
“When I started, I was so shy when I was not with my own people. I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. I was always looking at the floor. But in class, I finally came out of the shell I had been hidden in for so long.”
For Colleen, it is now clear that all she needed was a supportive, empowering environment to flourish. She has been announced as one of just three finalists in the Learn Local Awards for 2020.
“Yes, I was still the country girl from the sticks. But it gave me confidence, it was my ticket to get through the door. Now I feel like I can achieve anything. I can be a real example for my people” Colleen said.
Sharing spiritual gifts with the next generation
Just as important as finding ongoing, fulfilling employment, this positive classroom experience has helped reignite Colleen’s long-term goal of being a Koorie Educator.
“I hope to share the teachings of my ancestors, especially my father,” Colleen said.
"So many of my family – they achieved great things. Some of them are in museums today. My father was a tribal man. A teacher, a tracker, a traveller. He was very important to our community”
“I want to continue that legacy. I want to teach people how to make canoes, didgeridoos, boomerangs, spears and fire. How to track people and live off the land, at one with the land, with native food.”
“After my mother’s generation, I will be one of the elders. That’s my time. I want to share my spiritual gifts with the younger generation, like my miracle, my daughter. I want them to know where we came from. To have pride. Pride is the most important thing.”
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