Emma Brain shares insights about the CareerTrackers program, with interviews with University Program Director Sharon Hiserman and Alumni Program Manager and former participant Darcee Duroux.
CareerTrackers is a national program that links Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university students with meaningful paid internships across a full range of professions. The program has been running with great success since 2009.
As part of our commitment to advance the involvement of First Nations people in the architectural profession, Emma Brain sat down with Sharon Hiserman and Darcee Duroux to learn more about the program.
Director, University Program
Can you tell us about the purpose of the program?
CareerTrackers is a national not-for-profit organisation that works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school and university students, linking them with employers for paid multi-year internships.
Our vision is to do the following:
- Bridge the gap for Indigenous Australians
- Support the emerging generation to have economic empowerment
- Support equal representation at all levels of industry and community.
The structured program involves the following three elements:
- Paid, professional, multi-year internships, with employers aligned to the career aspirations of interns
- A dedicated mentor
- Access to leadership development training.
How did the program begin?
CareerTrackers was founded by Michael Combs, an alumnus of INROADS, a program established in the US more than 50 years ago to support ethnically diverse high school and college students. As part of his internship, Michael travelled to Australia and one of his first questions was “where are all of the Indigenous people within my organisation?” He attempted to establish an internal program as part of his internship, but it fell apart when he left. This prompted him to return to Australia and in 2009 he established CareerTrackers.
The CareerTrackers model was built on the strong foundations provided by INROADS and has moved from strength to strength in almost 13 years of operation. The vision of the program is not just to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today but future generations as well.
What is expected of a business when they take on a CareerTrackers student?
The aim of our program is to support students to ensure they graduate from university, so ongoing support – rather than a “one-off” internship – is very important. This level of support allows students to develop new skills, build on existing ones, and get to know an organisation intimately. They can get involved in projects on an ongoing basis and make a valuable contribution.
We expect businesses to give students meaningful work that is aligned to their studies and career aspirations. The more structure or clarity an intern can be given, the better. It is also important that they are given honest and constructive feedback so they can develop their skills.
We expect the organisations to provide a culturally safe environment as well as a supportive manager and team. The manager needs to be available to provide some level of training and understand that it is an internship where the student is there to learn, not just do the work that no one else wants to do!
What support do you offer businesses who take on a CareerTrackers student?
It’s important that an organisation understands that CareerTrackers is there to support the company as well as the student. Each of our company partners is allocated a central point of contact, whose job it is to identify the best student for that company. The contact then coordinates interviews and links the company to the student’s CareerTrackers advisor.
The advisor is someone who has supported the student through interview preparation and understands what they want to gain from an internship. They work with both the company and student to formulate a learning contract, which includes goals and actions to work towards throughout the internship.
The advisor checks in regularly with the company to gain feedback in relation to the student’s progress and seeks an evaluation at the end of each internship period. The students each deliver a presentation to discuss what they were involved in during their internship, their highlights and challenges, and to thank their manager and company for their ongoing support.
Architecture will only benefit from an increase in Aboriginal architects. What can our profession do to encourage more young Aboriginal people to consider it as a career?
The earlier we encourage young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids to think about university and architecture as an option, the better. I would suggest reaching out to local schools and giving presentations or talks about your profession to students to demonstrate what sort of projects an architect is involved in.
Many First Nations people want to give back to community, so demonstrating how they can do that through designing homes, community centres or planning is really important. Where possible, having an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander architect speak to them and share their own journey, shows that they can also take that path.
Alumni Program Manager
How did you come to be involved in the program?
I joined CareerTrackers in my second year of uni after a conversation with one of my peers in my Indigenous Support Unit. She had undertaken multiple internships with CareerTrackers and supported me to register my interest.
How important is this program for developing the careers of young Aboriginal people?
Extremely important! CareerTrackers provides an opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to explore what their field of study is like in the real world. I know that without CareerTrackers, I would not have been as competitive a candidate in my graduate applications, and I would have struggled a lot more with my graduate program had I not had a preview of what corporate life was like.