How UOW helped high school student Kacey Robinson find his place
Targeted apprenticeship provides young Aboriginal man with career pathway
At the end of year 10, Kacey Robinson was searching for something different.
He was not quite sure what he wanted to do, but he was keen to find the path or the trade that could become his career.
The Kamilaroi and Yuin man, then a student at Oak Flats High School, met with his Aboriginal career advisor, who told Kacey about an opportunity that had come up at the University of Wollongong (UOW).
For the first time, the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences was looking for a Student Based Apprentice to join the technical workshop, the behind-the-scenes team that has been the backbone of the Faculty for many years. The position was targeted at Aboriginal high school students in the Illawarra and on the South Coast.
Kacey jumped at the opportunity, and after a week of work experience, he knew it was the job for him.
Two years later, Kacey is effusive about what the role of a fitting and turning apprentice has meant for him and how it has given him a sense of direction.
“It has been really good. Every time I go to work, there’s something different to do,” he says. “It has been a lot studying and hard work, but it has been worth it.”
Kacey is quiet, a man of few words, but it is clear he has found his place in the technical workshop.
With the support of Christina Roberts, Aboriginal Employment Strategy Officer at UOW, and his supervisors in the workshop, Kacey has worked hard over the past two years. His first year saw him studying at TAFE, to complete the first year of his qualification, before taking on the HSC three days a week in Year 12 while working a day a week at the University.
After finishing his HSC at the end of last year, Kacey was thrilled to finally begin full-time work as an apprentice at UOW.
The workshop, based in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences, is the only one at UOW. Its role is to provide technical support for staff and students, bringing ideas to life, research and sample work, testing for industry in Australia and overseas, as well as facilitating lab classes.
Ron Marshall, Kacey’s former supervisor and a veteran of the technical workshop, said they knew Kacey was perfect for the job from the start.
“He had the right attitude and the right work ethic,” says Ron, who retired in 2020 after 35 years at UOW. “Kacey has been fantastic and we are thrilled with how hard he has worked.”
Ron, who handed over the reins of being Kacey’s supervisor to Stuart Rodd, the Workshop Manager, said the workshop was a great place for young apprentices to learn the craft of fitting and turning.
“Over the years there has been a big decline in training apprenticeships in industry, but at UOW, we really believe in training,” Ron says. “We have had more than 20 trainees over the years. There is so much new technology for the young guys to learn, and they tend to grasp that really quickly, but at the same time, there are lot of older guys who have been there for years, who have so much knowledge and so many skills to pass down.
“It is a real cross-section of staff. You also get a diversity in the job that you rarely get in other industries. You have to be a jack of all trades to be a technical officer in a university.”
It is true for Kacey, who as a full-time employee now has the opportunity to sink his teeth into different projects and explore his interests.
“Every day is different,” he says. “I get to try out lots of things and that’s what I really like about the role.”
Ms Roberts, UOW’s Aboriginal Employment Strategy Officer, says helping Kacey on his path to becoming a technical officer has been incredibly rewarding.
“Kacey is a quiet achiever and a great asset to the team. Like many young Aboriginal people coming from high school, it can be quite daunting to take opportunities in organisations such as UOW, but Kacey gave it a go and found what he enjoys,” Ms Roberts said.
“It’s not only a great opportunity for Kacey to work towards his trade qualification, but also a great opportunity for UOW to attract young ambitious Aboriginal people to come and work here.”
Ron says many of the young apprentices have, over the years, embarked on diplomas and then degrees at UOW, or have stayed within the workshop to train the next generation coming through.
While Kacey is not sure what life will bring after he completes his apprenticeship in 2023, he is proud to have had the opportunity to learn from the best in the technical workshop.
“I am just taking it as it comes at the moment, but I love working here and I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity. Learning from mentors like Ron and Stuart has been great, so I’m looking forward to working full time this year and learning as much as I can.”