When Malyangapa woman Emily Patten finished high school she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.
- A new not-for-profit is offering employment pathways for young First Nations people in the construction industry
- The program wants to show young women there are jobs for them too
- It means young people can stay on country, but still have plenty of opportunities
She’d started a Certificate III in Education Support, but knew it wasn’t for her.
“I didn’t really know where to go from there,” Ms Patten said.
“I was working at Woolworths for over a year. I knew I wanted to do something more but wasn’t really sure where to go or how to get there.”
But she started talking to Aunty Valda Murray at the Burraja Cultural Centre, who had an idea.
Aunty Valda referred her to a man named Jebb Hutchison.
Mr Hutchison, a proud Wiradjuri man, is TVN On-Country’s managing director, at the head of a majority Indigenous-owned commercial construction enterprise based in Wodonga.
The business had been offering traineeships to young First Nations people, showing them the ropes of the industry.
For the past year, Ms Patten has been learning about business administration at TVN.
Now she’s about to head to university to study construction management.
Seeing Ms Patten’s success encouraged Mr Hutchison to throw himself full-time into what he really wanted to do — making a difference in the lives of young First Nations people.
He has now launched On-Country Pathways, a new, Indigenous-owned and -operated not-for-profit that would offer young First Nations people employment and career pathways into the commercial construction industry.
The on-country vision
Mr Hutchison started TVN On-Country with two friends, Jonathan Whelan and Gareth Vannoort, four-and-a-half years ago.
“Opportunities are everything in life. I was given one as a young fella, I’m now trying to give as many as I possibly can to young people,” Mr Hutchison said.
TVN had been offering some traineeships to young people like Ms Patten. But now it’s an official part of the business.
There were a number of levels within the On-Country Pathways program: work experience for those still in school; a traineeship where young people will undertake a Certificate III in Business Administration; a work placement program for entry level positions; and a cadetship program where businesses will pay a candidate to work and study.
Program manager and proud Bidjigal man Darren Moffitt explained they would use TVN’s extensive contacts in the industry to help find opportunities, and work with high schools, TAFEs and universities to promote the program to young people.
“People think construction is all about drills, hammers and hi-vis, but there are actually more than 70 different job roles within the sector, including business administration and project management,” Mr Moffitt said.
Another major aspect of the program is mentorship, which would be offered to all the young people taking part.
“With every single program the important element that will make sure the young people transition into employment smoothly, is to make sure they’re mentored in that role,” Mr Moffitt said.
Ms Patten said being mentored by “powerful women” helped her feel less daunted to be entering a male-dominated industry.
“Everyone has been so supportive,” she said.
“Being given that opportunity to continue into that field, move further into university … and find a career for the rest of my life, has been amazing.”
Keeping kids on country
Mr Hutchison thought it might him 15 or 20 years to get to where TVN was now.
But he said there were so many people putting their support behind the program, and the results were already speaking for themselves.
“Em’s story is one we’re super proud of, because it really reiterates that Pathways does work. She’s come from no knowledge to someone that’s teaching me a thing or two,” Mr Hutchinson said.
A big part of what motivated the team was knowing they were investing in their own community.
“We hope to take pathways more abroad into the country, but this is where we want to get it all right first.”
He said a big focus of the program was offering young people opportunities in the regions before they were lost “down the M31 to Melbourne or Sydney”.
“That’s a big thing: not having to move away to chase opportunities. Staying on our country,” Mr Hutchinson said.