Paths to employment for Indigenous students

Last edited: 28 May 2015

BP in Australia aims to increase the proportion of its workforce identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander to 2.5%. So, the business has teamed up with CareerTrackers to create internship opportunities for Indigenous university students. BP Magazine hears more from one student and intern, John Francia

“I’m a third-year student of electrical engineering at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology; I’d previously worked in the design department at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, where I grew up. I had tried to study while working there, but I finally decided to take the leap and move city to do a full-time degree.

My mother’s family are from Saibai Island, one of the Torres Strait Islands, off the northernmost coast of Queensland. My father’s side are Italian and came over here after World War II, settling in Melbourne – so I had some family here in Victoria which made the transition easier.

I first heard about CareerTrackers at a university orientation event; as an organisation, they are making it as easy as possible for potential employers to connect with indigenous students. That sounded like a great opportunity.

It’s also now compulsory for all engineering students in Australia to complete a 12-week work placement before graduation – it’s a very competitive market and hard to find a job, let alone a placement. So, the CareerTrackers service seemed like a beacon to me.

"My time at BP this past summer has enlightened me significantly - not only about oil and gas, but about the whole series of engineering systems the industry uses that never occurred to me before."

- John Francia

Exploring career paths

I could only have dreamed of getting an internship at BP – the company was not on my radar and that’s part of my education as well, to find out what businesses are out there in a particular industry. My time at BP this past summer has enlightened me significantly – not only about oil and gas, but about the whole series of engineering systems the industry uses that never occurred to me before.

I joined the terminal and logistics team, reporting to the lead electrical designer, and I took on all sorts of activities. I learned about equipment that we don’t cover until our fourth year at uni – for example, programmable logic controllers (a digital computer used for automation) that are the ‘brain’ of terminal sites. I learned to code and program in a different way; getting hands-on experience made the placement worth it alone.

Along with another intern, I visited a terminal near Adelaide in South Australia for a few days. Seeing the site with our own eyes allowed us to make the connection between the drawings on paper in the office and the reality. We had a full inspection of the facility, allowing us to understand the equipment, how the system is used and to meet the people who operate it.

Theory into practice

Back in the office, I worked on some technical document preparation. What I’ve found is we’re taught the theory in lectures, but it takes a stint in the working world to really understand the importance, for example, of quality documentation. I learned about the level of professionalism required to ensure a project runs smoothly and safely.

I didn’t need too much support coming into an office environment as I had worked before starting this degree. If anything, I should have taken some more time out over the three months to get to know people a bit more! But I was working in this awesome role and wanted to get as much experience out of it as possible.

I recognised a really good work culture at BP, one that actively promotes diversity – and I saw that reflected in people’s actions. I make a point at work not to talk politics or religion, but I did actually have discussions about reconciliation during my placement. And those were respectful, even when there were conflicting opinions.

Education for all

Reconciliation is always a hotly debated topic in Australia. From my personal experience, it’s all about education – what people are exposed to. If they just see some negative coverage of Indigenous issues in the media, then people will frame their opinions on that. In that sense, I see the activities of organisations such as CareerTrackers as significant, helping Indigenous students to get out there into the workforce. It’s an education on both sides – we’re introduced to a particular working environment, while others may have a conversation with a Torres Strait Islander for the first time.”
“The partnership with BP and CareerTrackers is focused on exposing Indigenous Australian young people to career opportunities that inspire excellence. Our partnership expands the realm of career options far beyond what has traditionally been accessible to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth across Australia.

Through the years, the partnership has not only engaged young people into employment, it has become an example to many corporate organisations on the possibility of engaging with Indigenous community organisations to establish mutually beneficial partnerships.”

Michael Combs, CareerTrackers founder and chief executive

In the spotlight: Indigenous Australians

Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are ethnically and culturally different:

  • Aboriginal Australians are people indigenous to mainland Australia or the island of Tasmania. More than 400 distinct Australian Aboriginal peoples have been identified across the continent, distinguished by unique names designating their ancestral languages, dialects or distinctive speech patterns.
  • Torres Strait Islanders come from the islands of the Torres Strait, between the tip of Cape York in Queensland and Papua New Guinea. They have cultural similarities with the people of Papua New Guinea and the Pacific, but their culture also varies from island to island, with some Australian, Papuan and Austonesian elements, just like their languages.

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