As an NRL School to Work project officer in Newcastle, Charmaine Piper is all about "empowering students" to push past their comfort zone.
Piper has done just that in helping two promising Indigenous high school graduates of 2020, Shay Ping-Buckshiram and Brendan Marshall, secure identified traineeship positions with Lake Macquarie City Council.
It's a testament to the value of the NRL School to Work program – sponsored by the Federal Government – which was established in 2012 and has now aided more than 2500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to finish Year 12 and find meaningful tertiary education or employment.
Across the Hunter Region, School to Work currently works with 221 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
Piper explained that Lake Macquarie City Council had set up an Education to Employment (E2E) program in a bid to combat the youth unemployment rate in local the area.
The E2E program is a key component of Council's Workforce Management Strategy, allowing them to offer a variety of job opportunities within the local community.
Employees have the chance to develop skills and gain valuable on-the-job experience while learning and being mentored by experienced professionals.
"Shay and Brendan will commence in Trainee Works Assistant roles which give people the opportunity to work with the organisation for 12 months in a traineeship," Piper said.
"And then they have the inside info and the experience to be able to apply for a full-time role."
Ping-Buckshiram, the first Ngarralbaa Ambassador at Irrawang High School, and Marshall, a Whitebridge High graduate, have been accepted to Council's ranks in respective infrastructure and park upkeep roles.
"[Shay] is somebody that is very hands-on and wanted to work outside. I worked with her a lot on her confidence because she was concerned about going into a traineeship or trade position, where she's working outdoors, that she wouldn't have the physical strength to be able to do it," Piper said.
She added that Marshall was a "naturally quieter student but is committed to everything he's involved in."
"He was adamant that all he wanted to do was work on the tugboats. He does a lot with boats and fishing, and that's where he wanted to start his career," she said.
"Then I presented this opportunity with Lake Macquarie City Council and showed him the different opportunities he would be exposed to.
"He was happy to go for the role and I worked with him on his confidence as well ... Once you get to know him he's a great student, he went for it and got the job and is really enjoying the role.
"Shay is working on the infrastructure side at the moment before rotating next to the construction team next. They could be working on anything from buildings to parks to roads and footpaths.
"And then Brendan at the moment, he's working in parks. Gardening, vegetation, lawn-mowing."
Success stories like Ping-Buckshiram and Marshall's are commonplace across the NRL School to Work program.
"It's really a starting point for both of them because they're both students with a lot of potential,” Piper said.
"My goal was to get them into an organisation that gave them the confidence to apply for something else. Either stay there and build long-term on what they have, or give them the opportunity to be able to network with other people, to move on to something different.
"I think it helps that they've got somebody that is sort of stepping the whole way through [with them].
"They're not the ones that are necessarily directly contacting the [employers]. That's my job, so I'm easing that little bit for them so that they don't feel as nervous and it gives them confidence."