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Land Rights News Central Australia: Land Rights News (October 2011)

Published: November, 2011

Pathways to retail careers

The trainees have done the hard yards at a 12-week pre-vocational course in Alice Springs and 11 now work at various departments in Woolies, including at the checkouts and in the deli.

Dick Smith, which is also part of the Woolworths group, took on two Aboriginal members of staff while Coles took on one new person.

The program was run by private company Globally Make A Difference (GMAD) and the non profit Mining, Energy and Engineering Academy (MEEA), with some training provided by Charles Darwin University at IAD.

Tanya Dixon now works in the deli at Woolies and says her confidence has increased enormously.

“Charles Darwin University taught us how to use the scanners, cash registers, weighing machines and what to expect in the workplace,” Tanya said.

“Sometimes you get scared from turning up to work or scared to talk to the manager but now I feel more confident. That was the main thing for me, my shyness. Now I feel a bit more confident.”

Gmad director Melinda Cates, who with MEEA provided the mentors and personal development components of the program, said ‘shame’ was one of the biggest obstacles.

“We have a program called ‘I make a difference’ which runs for seven days. It takes the participants back over their lives and looks at situations which have had an emotional impact on them that’s resulted in them losing confidence, self esteem, where their self worth has been depleted, where they’ve taken on other people’s burdens and issues. So there is considerable personal development.”

Cates said the participants started working doing night fill in the store after about four weeks of the course as a way of getting comfortable.

“It also gave them a chance to start earning and a chance to do some different shifts,” Ms Cates said.

Flexibility and accommodating employees’ needs seems to be the key to success.

The formal shifts started on 12 September and Cates says the workers already have plans to buy cars so they don’t rely on the mentors to pick them up every day. 

“People ask us how we are going to make people self reliant when we are picking them up and dropping them off up every day but we’re not seeing that as a problem.

“We have already two of them who don’t rely on mentors, another one who has done 40 plus hours in the last week who wants to buy a scooter and another two who have got a family plan to buy their own car,” she said.

Noelene McMillan, 19, works on the check out.

“I just wanted a job,” she said.

“People are really nice to me and the pay is OK. I spend most of my money on food. The pay makes a big difference to my life,” she said.

Verna Curtis had been out of work for a year and now works in the deli.

“My husband showed me the flyer, I was out of work for a year and I wanted money. It was attractive because there was guaranteed job at the end of it,” Verna said.

“You get first aid and computer skills training, maths and literacy skills development.

“Woolies are really good, they are friendly people.

“We had to find out different orienteering exercises, if tourists asked us where certain things were in the town so we had to go around finding out more about the services available,” Ms Curtis said.

MEEA mentors Katherine Liddle and Nikki Streeter work with the group every day, picking them up, having meals with them, taking them home and all things in between.

“We’ve supported people with government departments like Centrelink and Corrections, anything that comes up which hinders or blocks an opportunity for our participants,

Nikki and I are there for them to try to sort that stuff out,” said Katherine.

“We’ve helped people move house, helped people who’ve suddenly become homeless – the list is quite extensive in the challenges that people have to face but we’ve managed to work through them all. Some people might view the challenges as little things that somebody should be able to work out but for us that little thing might impact on the big picture which is getting ready for work and getting them into their jobs. It’s all these little things that are niggling around at the edges so if these things work, then they can work better. We have tried over the three months to build resilience and confidence. We took the group for coffee in the mall, some of our participants had never actually been to a coffee shop to have a coffee and so to actually sit there and have a look at what customer service means and how we were treated was interesting for them. We look at it being a very holistic program,” Katherine said.

Local Woolworths Employment Start Coordinator David Atkinson has spent many hours talking and supporting the new workers and says the personal transformations have been noticeable and inspiring.

“There are extraordinary people doing extraordinary things here,” he said.

“I met the trainees when they first started and I’ve seen them blossom and that has been personally very rewarding for me,” he said.

Obviously people in Alice Springs are enjoying the development.

“We had to laugh the other day when we were taking photos whereby our two girl’s registers had customers lining up but the other registers were empty because people wanted to be served by Delvina and Verna,” Katherine said.

Woolworths says that so far 190 people have taken part in the program in the Northern Territory and South Australia with the initiative extending nationwide.

Tanya Dixon had this piece of advice for anyone sitting around waiting for a job:  “Get out and do it, not just sit around and wait for someone to hand you a job, you have to do it yourself, not depend on others.”