Three cross-cluster Head Teacher Careers stage a top-flight event

The three Head Teachers Careers from the south-western Sydney clusters recently got together for an immersive professional learning day where they explored the exciting job opportunities that are coming to the region as a result of the Western Sydney Airport project.

Image: Employer panel speaks to students

When Rosemarie Vujcic, Joyce Choucair and Olga Gromof started planning the first face-to-face meeting of their Careers Immersion Team (CIT) since the easing of COVID restrictions earlier this year, they resolved to put on a different kind of ‘PL.’ Forget learning modules and multiple choice questions, the teams from across the three south western Sydney clusters opted for a fully immersive experience, focused on the Western Sydney Airport and the exciting opportunities it is bringing to a rapidly-changing part of Sydney.

“We’re smack bang in the middle of that, so we thought it would be a good idea to get everyone together, hear from some of the people involved, and then go to the experience centre to learn more about what’s happening,” says Rose when we catch up with the trio over Zoom.

After a welcome and introduction, the day kicked off with a keynote from Liz Dibbs, District Commissioner – Western City at the Greater Sydney Commission. Representatives from fifteen schools, as well as a host of external partners including TAFE NSW, local councils, group training organisations and chambers of commerce, were treated to a comprehensive overview of the job opportunities being created in the area.

Interestingly, not every opportunity relates directly to Western Sydney Airport. With the government investing in infrastructure, hospital upgrades and other amenities (the CSIRO will have a new state-of-the-art facility in the area), there’s no shortage of opportunity. When it comes to skills, it’s a slightly different story.

“There are definite skills shortages in some of these areas, so while it’s great these jobs are coming, we have to make sure our students are prepared,” says Olga.

Addressing those skills shortages will require the concerted efforts of many, with the department, industry and training providers all having important roles to play. But there was a sense at the CIT meeting that things are moving in the right direction. People understand what needs to happen, and now they know what’s coming, there are real incentives to act.

“One of the aims of the day was to link education with opportunities,” says Joyce.

“We want to see students on work experience, we want to see students doing SBATs with these employers.”

If the panel discussion was anything to go by, schools may not have to wait long for the phone to ring. Panelists from ACCIONA, the CSIRO, NSW Health, Sydney Flight College, Western Sydney Airport and Woolworths were each given time to discuss opportunities within their respective organisations, and the conversation took a surprisingly competitive turn.

“The Q&A session ended up sounding like a pitch. That was new. We don’t normally have employers pitching to us,” says Rose.
Image: Employer representatives presenting on the day

It was a welcome change for the members of the Careers Immersion Team, and it shows that employers are acutely aware of the skill and staff shortages that will impact their businesses if they’re not addressed. They also spoke about their more immediate needs.

“The panelists didn’t just discuss future opportunities, but existing opportunities for students, as well as jobs that don’t require tertiary qualifications,” says Olga.

In addition to the construction jobs that the airport has created, there are opportunities in areas such as catering and maintenance as well as other more niche roles. Rose recalled looking out over the new runway from the airport’s experience centre and noticing what appeared to be dust blowing across the site. As it turned out, it was mist that Rose could see, not dust. To avoid the area becoming dry and unworkable, workers spray water on the site at regular intervals. And that’s just one of many jobs on the site that don’t require candidates to hold post-school qualifications. A ‘dumper’ is another one.

“Not many kids would even know there’s such a thing as a ‘dumper’,” says Joyce, who goes on to explain that dumpers, many of them driven by women, are responsible for moving dirt across an excavation site.”

Very few of the attendees knew such a job existed either, which was the whole point of the day. The CIT meeting was an opportunity for Rose, Joyce and Olga to advance the conversation around vocational learning and jobs, and for schools to develop mutually beneficial links with employers. Based on those objectives, the day was a huge success.

“Schools learned about opportunities for their students and employers learned about what’s happening in schools,” says Joyce.

“What we also saw pretty clearly on the day was that a university education is simply not a requirement for many of the good jobs that Western Sydney Airport will generate for the local community.”

All told, Rose, Joyce and Olga achieved what they set out to do. They also proved that PL doesn’t have to put people to sleep.

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