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Indigenous student internships put careers on track

10 February 2015

Christine Parker with indigenous interns on CareerTrackers program

“I’m a hands on sort of person. Sitting at a desk all day is so new it’s exciting. I’ve learned so much about the work day and what it involves,” says Aleacia McIntyre (pictured back row second from the end), a Macquarie University student who’s been doing an internship with Westpac.

When we meet, Aleacia is in the last weeks of a 12-week placement with Westpac through CareerTrackers. Her area of study – Linguistics and Writing - marks her placement with the bank as unusual: “I’ve been doing marketing and communications work in Retail and Business Banking. It’s been amazing.”

CareerTrackers is a national non-profit organisation that creates private sector internship opportunities for Indigenous university students.

Aleacia’s experience of the initiative has been: “really motivating. I’ve only just started to learn about my heritage. I’m from the Bathurst Orange area. I was invited to NAIDOC [a national celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people] one year and I asked my mother, why? She told me I was Indigenous. I didn’t know and I asked her why she’d never told me. My Indigenous heritage is on my mother’s side. My father’s Scottish.

“My plan is to get more involved in the Indigenous community and advocacy work, especially around encouraging other students to go to University,” Aleacia continues.

CareerTrackers aims to accelerate students’ professional development, to develop careers following their passions, and have them participate in tailored development training. It also encourages students to contribute back to their communities.

“My aunt, Claudine Thornton, is a photographer and involved in Indigenous affairs and my great grandmother, Marjorie Woodrow, was at Cootamundra Girls home. She spent a lot of time lobbying the government,” Aleacia says of some of the family role models that inspire her.

Marjorie Woodrow was one of more than 11,000 former NSW state wards taken from their parents as part of government policy. Marjorie worked as a domestic servant from the age of 14 to 18 but was never paid her wages. In 2002 she wrote a book, Long Time Coming Home, about her life as a member of the stolen generations. She and others lobbied the NSW government for compensation and recognition of the work they’d done as wards of the state.

Aleacia’s own dreams also involve recognition: “I’ve heard there are possibly 200 Indigenous languages, only 20 of which are still spoken and quite a few of them are close to extinction. I want to be able to change that.”

Connecting like-minded students together is core to the CareerTrackers community, and much of that is done through its alumni program.

Amy Joslyn (pictured front row, second from the end) is another of the students completing an internship at Westpac. She is from Perth and has been staying at Sydney University’s Women’s College with other participants in the program.

CareerTrackers recruits employers and employees nationally, and its training and development, program monitoring and year-around mentoring provide important ongoing support for the students. 

Amy has been working with Westpac since she was in Year 11. In Year 12 that progressed to one to two days a week and when she got into University at Edith Cowan she began the internships.

“This is my first stint at head office. When I return to Perth I’ll go back to working in the branch two days a week and doing uni fulltime,” she says.

Amy is beginning the third year of a double degree - a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Business: “I’m doing HR in my business degree and visual arts in the Arts degree. Art’s my passion.”

For her recent Westpac internship, Amy worked with NSW metro retail banking, analysing reports, expenses, and putting together a survey that is probing customers around their thoughts on Westpac’s new open bank environments. She has also been putting her hand up to do anything that’s offered, especially if it means she’s been able to “sneak a look” at the way corporate HR works.

“Coming here [to head office] I’ve been able to see just how many options there are in HR and that’s really intrigued me.”

Amy is the first member of her family to go to university, her mum and dad having pushed her to take up the opportunities that are now available to Indigenous students, and which Amy notes were not available to her parents when they were at high school.

“I’ve always liked learning. I took the opportunities I’ve been offered because I’ve seen lots of kids I went to high school with who didn’t. They had the potential but maybe not the final push. If I’d been one of them I’d definitely have regretted that decision.”

Westpac recently announced it would be taking 40 students a year for the next 10 years as part of its commitment to CareerTrackers.