Learning the ropes of local government

From parks to leisure centres, Wollongong City Council provides a taste of the workforce for some of our Educational Pathways Program students. SBAT participants learn the basics of local government and relevant skills in this diverse workplace.

Wollongong is mostly known for its picturesque beaches and expansive parklands. One organisation that helps maintain this reputation is Wollongong City Council.

As an employer of local talent, Wollongong City Council is a huge advocate of hiring School Based Apprentices and Trainees (SBATs) and helping young people get ahead by providing on the job experience, and in some cases, employment after graduation!

Monika Gorgieva, Learning and Development Officer at Wollongong City Council has worked closely with Adam Knight, SBAT Manager at the NSW Department of Education, to help create better educational outcomes for SBAT students in the South Coast.

Since the Educational Pathways Program expanded into the South Coast region, Wollongong City Council has also been working closely with the Careers Immersion Team covering the Shoalhaven group of schools.

Navigating the layers of local government may be new for SBAT students, but not for Monika. Working in Local Government for three years in various roles within Council, she is now the dedicated lead for creating learning pathways.

“It’s amazing to watch these SBAT students flourish. Some come into the program nervous and unsure about being in a workplace, and by the end of the placement are confidently interacting with everyone in their team,” says Monika.

Bolstering students’ ‘people skills’ is just one of the many benefits students receive from their work placement with Wollongong City Council. Each SBAT commences their on the job training with a tailored induction program, similar to what they would experience starting a job after school.

When an SBAT participant starts, they are supported by three key people; their sponsor who will oversee their entire placement, a direct supervisor to help them manage their day-to-day tasks, and a Learning and Development Officer like Monika who coordinates their program plan.

Before diving into the role, students begin with an induction day where their support team explains how large organisations work and provides context on local government and how to interact with their colleagues and peers. They also help set students up for success by creating a professional development plan, identifying what they want to work on and receive from this placement.

“We are here to provide whatever support we can – including mentoring and training to help students build their confidence in customer service, public speaking, leadership, and writing,” says Monika.

Students are empowered to take control of their learning. In addition to their tailored development plan, they also take part in formal performance reviews. This initiative helps hone in on the importance of accountability, consistency and maintaining the requirements of the development plan milestones.

Wollongong City Council releases an expression of interest for SBAT placements each year on their website, with the number of positions offered varying each intake.

Council’s last intake saw 13 students gain experience across three areas - Libraries, Leisure Centres and Open Spaces.

The qualification the student is studying as part of their SBAT will determine what area they are placed in within the Council. Students studying a Certificate II in Conservation and Ecosystem Management for example are placed in the department of parks and open spaces, which helps keep the Wollongong region vibrant and flourishing.

Students studying a Certificate II or III in Business are tasked with helping the teams manage the intricate processes at the library and bustling leisure centres.

“We want participants to get the most out of their training, and being out on the job and interacting with team members and local community members offers experience that just can’t be taught,” says Monika.

“One of the unique benefits of this program is that these students gain an insight to communities they usually wouldn’t engage with. Our library visitors are usually an ageing population and the joy and energy a young person injects into that environment is really special,” she adds.

Wollongong City Council provides a flexible approach to their working arrangements, keeping in mind students' commitments to their school work and exams. In addition to the compulsory one day a week, students are invited to work more hours during school holidays to enhance their experience.

For some, working with the council doesn’t stop as soon as their placement hours are ticked off. Some SBAT students have retained casual employment as they work toward their career aspirations.

While there is no doubt this relationship is mutually beneficial, it is clear the students are the winners here. Whether they stay on or move to their next challenge, being able to develop their workplace knowledge, interpersonal skills and networks, all before graduating high school, is leg up on the competition waiting outside the school gates.

For businesses or organisations interested in employing an SBAT, learn more about the opportunity through the Educational Pathways Program’s Enhancing SBAT engagement initiative.

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