Holli hits her stride with cabinet making apprenticeship

Disengagement at school doesn’t necessarily indicate students don’t have purposeful career goals.

Image: Holly on the tools doing her Apprenticeship with PCS Cabinets

As one of our initiative partners in the Educational Pathways Pilot Program, (EPPP), Connect Northern Rivers Inc. does amazing work with North Coast students through the Regional VET Pathways (RVP) Program. The organisation works with students that have been referred by their schools, to help them either re-engage with school or transition into training or employment.

“If I see potential and can help the student re-engage in school I’ll do that, but it’s not always possible,” says Allison Lonsdale, a Youth Engagement Coordinator with Connect.

When Allison started working with Holli Ryder, then a Year 10 student at Murwillumbah High School, it soon became clear from Holli’s low attendance at school that there were better alternatives to re-engagement in school-based learning.

“I worked with Holli at school between July and December and she talked about how school wasn’t working for her,” says Allison.

“It had been suggested that Holli do an SBAT, but I could see that wouldn’t work because it involved going through to Year 12.”

But despite Holli’s struggles at school, she had a genuine interest in a specific field and a desire to pursue a career in it. All she had to do was connect the dots.

“During one of our conversations, Holli told me that she wanted to be a carpenter and run her own business,” says Allison.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this girl’s got dreams.’ From there, it was a case of figuring out what her pathway would be.”

We’d hate for anyone to think it’s a straightforward process - it isn’t. Connect does a lot of work to support students that are transitioning out of school. In Holli’s case, they had to think about whether carpentry was really the right choice.

“We talked about the difficulty of being a carpenter’s apprentice at her age, and the fact that local builders were at capacity,” says Allison.

However, it turned out that Allison had an ace up her sleeve – an ‘in’ with Murwullimbah cabinet makers, PCS Cabinets. Allison approached the business that’s known for its high-end cabinetry and joinery, and explained that she had a motivated young woman looking for an apprenticeship.

“We set up a work experience placement with the understanding that if things went well they would take Holli on as an apprentice,” says Allison.

“Work experience is a ‘try before you buy’ situation. If Holli hadn’t enjoyed it, we would have looked at other options.”

Fortunately, Allison and Holli didn’t need a Plan B. The five-week placement went really well, with Holli loving the work and proving to be really handy on the tools. The team at PCS Cabinets was impressed too. At the end of the work experience placement, the owner offered Holli an apprenticeship, starting in 2021.

To ensure Holli was ready to hit the ground running, Connect set her up with her ‘work wallet’, financed driving lessons, ordered her PPE and provided some valuable mentoring along the way.

“We don’t set kids up to fail,” says Allison. “We don’t say, ‘Let’s line you up with a cabinet maker that’s 50 miles from home.’ Everything has to work for the student.”

So far, everything’s going great for Holli. The former Murwillumbah High student is thriving in a job she loves and embracing her training, which she’s doing in block placements through Ashmore TAFE in Queensland. It’s a great outcome for a student who had a clear idea of what she wanted to do in life, but needed a little help making it happen.

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