Community connections key to careers education

Choosing the right pathway can be a difficult decision for many students. This is where careers advisers come in. We spoke with Matt Erich, careers adviser at Lake Macquarie High School, to hear how he works with his school community to deliver careers education, and the positive impacts it has on his students.

Originally a Novocastrian, Matt started his career as a PDHPE teacher out west at Coolamon Central School before moving back to Newcastle. Delivering a class on transitions while working at Cooks Hill Campus – in which students were supported with transitions into apprenticeships and traineeships – sparked his interest in careers education.

“Sometimes people go on about university as if it’s the only option, but you can be successful in so many ways!” says Matt.

“Uni is a great option but so is employment, TAFE, apprenticeships and traineeships. Sometimes in schools there are kids that don't yet have the skills to move into employment at the end of year 10, but want to. So, I decided that I wanted to work with these students to build their capacity to go into employment and be successful.”

After delivering the transitions class for a couple of years, Matt decided to retrain as a careers adviser, with 2023 now his second year in this role at Lake Macquarie High School. From the onset, building connections within the community was a priority for him, whether via social media or going out to meet employers.

“There are lots of things I’d like to implement soon – stage 4 initiatives to get students thinking about their options early, transition days, a mini careers expo,” says Matt.

“But, at the core of everything we do, is the community.”

An established initiative that’s really taken off with the students is ‘Creating Futures’.

“We do one lesson per fortnight in which the year 10s build their careers portfolios,” explains Matt. “Then towards the end of term four, we conduct an interview day for them with panels. The students don’t have classes that day, they come in dressed in their appropriate interview clothes. They sit and chat with prospective employers, show their portfolios, it’s very professional. The students love it.”

Last year, the school’s Creating Futures interview day occurred not long after their EPP Job Readiness workshop, allowing the students to put their newly acquired interview skills to the test.

With Lake Macquarie High School located only a 3-minute walk from Marmong Point Marina, Matt has been able to foster relationships with several local lakeside businesses in order to expand the schools networks, and the possibility of future SBATs.

“It can be challenging though,” says Matt. “There are four or five schools within a 10-minute drive of us, and only so many employers and industries. It can be a delicate balance sometimes – finding the right student for the right opportunity.”

When it comes to including parents in the careers conversation, a variety of approaches are often necessary, according to Matt. “There’s a spectrum. You have some parents that are really involved and committed, and others where it can be tricky to get the parents on board,” explains Matt

“Our deputies here really see the value of including a careers lens in the conversation, so I’ll be included in discussions on wellbeing and behaviour with students and their parents from year 10 onwards. It’s about building that culture around careers education.”

And that culture seems to be flourishing. Matt’s proudest accomplishment in his role so far are the relationships he’s been able to build with students.

“Whether it's a year 8 student looking for their first job who needs help with their resume and cover letter, or whether it's the kid looking to do medicine at university. The students are constantly reaching out for support, and to catch up, and to get advice.”

Matt makes sure not to take this level of engagement for granted.

“I feel really lucky that I’m at a school where the students take the opportunity to book an appointment where we can sit down and do resumes and cover letters. And for me, that's such a huge part of the job – being able to spend time helping the students.”

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