Talking careers with an ethnically diverse parent body

In our latest article on the ‘careers conversation,’ we chat to two members of staff from Miller Technology High School who are doing some great work.

18 June 2020

Mariane Benitez, the Careers Adviser from Miller Technology High School in Sydney’s South West, faces the same challenges that her colleagues do when it comes to engaging with parents, and then some.

51% of the student body at Miller are refugees, many of them from Iraq, and most of the parents don’t speak English, which makes communication a challenge. Fortunately, there are Arabic and Vietnamese School Learning and Support Officers (SLSO) on the staff at Miller who can help with translations. The school also publishes all its documents in English, Arabic and Vietnamese, and their newsletter features a toggle function which allows parents to select their native language.

But while translators go a long way to overcoming the formidable communication challenges that Mariane and her colleague, Transition Adviser Gurjit Kaur, face on a daily basis, overcoming deeply held views about vocational careers is another thing.

“A university education is highly regarded in Iraqi culture, so the perceptions around vocational pathways are definitely a barrier,” says Mariane.

To overcome parents’ scepticism around vocational career pathways, Mariane focuses on outreach and education.

“I run a parents only session that outlines the difference between the HSC and the vocational pathways available to their children,” says Mariane.

Subject selection nights are also a great opportunity to start the careers conversation with parents. At Miller, these nights are always well attended, and presented in English, Arabic and Vietnamese. This year, a Persian translator was added to the mix to help Iranian parents understand what subjects were on offer for their children. But the thing that really captures parents’ attention, according to Mariane and Gurjit, are School Based Apprenticeships & Traineeships (SBATs).

“Every time we do an information night on SBATs, parents always want to know more,” says Mariane. “We really open parents’ eyes to the opportunities that are available to students.”

And the opportunities pursued by Miller students run the gamut, from fashion design courses at Whitehouse Institute of Design through to certificates in remote aviation.

“Drone technology is a real growth area and we have lots of students here at Miller that are interested in aviation,” says Mariane.

The school has also embraced the TAFE wraparound initiative wholeheartedly, and students are thriving as a result.

“The TAFE wraparound program, for students who want to start TAFE before they turn 17, has been very well received by students here at Miller,” says Gurjit.

The program gives students a taste of the different career paths available to them. Speaking of taste, one former Miller student is currently thriving in vocational training after completing a 3-day Work Inspiration course through school that opened her eyes to different career possibilities.

Earlier this year, the student was awarded a traineeship with Harbour City Ferries valued at more than $100,000 and Gurjit reports that the female trainee is exceeding all expectations.

So, what can we learn from Mariane and Gurjit at Miller Technology High School when it comes to communicating with parents about vocational pathways?

‘Show don’t tell’ seems to sum it up. Mariane and Gurjit are kicking goals thanks to their approach to engaging parents, which is as inclusive as it is immersive.

  • Student engagement and participation
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