Ben Hooper-Matthias is passionate about his role at Transport for NSW in designing and managing the Vocational Education and Training (VET) Cadet Program for Aboriginal recruits across the Transport cluster.

“We’ve had some really inspirational stories,” says Ben, who has watched keenly as cadets develop and grow.

The two-year program – created in partnership with Yarn’n Aboriginal Employment Services– is targeted at people without previous qualifications or experience who want to develop a career in the Transport cluster. 

“We’re getting great results in terms of retention rates and people winning permanent roles at the end of the program,” says Ben. 

The program is in its second year, with applicant numbers tripling from year one to year two. 

“It means that we’re having a positive impact on both the Transport and Aboriginal community by providing meaningful career opportunities for Aboriginal people while recruiting some of the best and brightest young Aboriginal talent to come and work for us,” says Ben.

The program is a key part of the Transport cluster’s focus to recruit and retain more Aboriginal employees. The program was also a finalist in the 2016 Premier’s Awards, and won the Champion of Diversity and Inclusion Award at the 2016 TfNSW Recognition Awards. 

George Shearer is another employee making a positive difference. 

George, a Murrawari man who hails from Brewarrina, is the Principal Manager of Aboriginal programs at Roads and Maritime. He’s in charge of delivering road safety programs and managing the Aboriginal cultural heritage impacts of road projects.

“The work we are doing in Aboriginal employment and training really excites me,” says George. “Jobs improve the lives, health and family relationships in Aboriginal communities,” he says. 

Part of his team’s job involves helping Aboriginal people to obtain a driver’s licence and become safe and legal drivers. “Getting a licence is a key element for employment and accessing education and services,” says George.

His team also supports trade apprenticeships that help Aboriginal people “get a foot in the job market.”

In addition, the Transport cluster is strengthening partnerships with Aboriginal communities around the State and starting targeted recruitment campaigns to attract more Aboriginal people to our workforce.

What we’re doing for our people

In May, we started the Aboriginal Career Development and Mentoring Program. It develops the leadership capabilities of Aboriginal employees to help them progress into management and executive roles while building the cultural capability of their mentors, who are senior leaders and managers from across the Transport cluster.

We also run a scholarship program for aspirational high school students and are creating a more culturally aware work environment that is supportive of Aboriginal staff and celebrates their culture. This includes raising awareness of Aboriginal culture through cultural education workshops, which all staff are welcome to attend, and holding special employee events to commemorate significant times, like NAIDOC Week and National Reconciliation Week.

For Ben, Transport’s programs and initiatives are a massive win-win for our Aboriginal employees as well as our customers. “By increasing Aboriginal representation and developing a workforce that is more representative of the community, we will better serve the wider NSW community,” says Ben.

George agrees. But longer term, he’s clear about what he’d like to see. “I would love to see the day when my team is no longer needed because Aboriginal employment is just business as usual. That is the end goal.”

Kayla’s story

Before I started the VET Cadet Program I wasn’t doing anything. I left school in Year 9 and thought I’d get a job straight away. 

But, due to my lack of experience, no one was willing to give me a go. So I gave up and became quite depressed. I discovered it’s a different world out there, and things don’t get handed to you.

When Yarn’n, an Aboriginal employment service, told me about the VET program, I decided to apply. They helped me do my résumé. I also wrote a story about my life. 

The final stage was an interview. It was my first ever interview so I was really nervous – I didn’t think I’d get through to the next stage.

When I started in February this year at Transport for NSW, I didn’t think I had anything to offer. But it’s a very supportive environment and the program has helped me grow in so many new ways. It’s built up my confidence and made me more mature.

For example, I didn’t think I had the confidence to get up and do a presentation or talk to people because I’m very shy. Now, I’m running workshops for HSC Scholars and VET Cadets, sharing my story and my experience, and even training trainers.

I look forward to coming in to work, as each day is a new challenge. I always get in early and I don’t want to take a day off.

I think it’s great that Transport is recruiting more Aboriginal people as there are a lot of really talented people out there, but many of them don’t realise what they can achieve. 

I regret not going to Year 12. I thought I was too cool for school. But I realise I needed education to get where I want to go. So, one of my ambitions while I’m here is to encourage other Aboriginal people like me to complete the HSC and go through the VET Cadet Program.

After the program, I definitely want to stay with Transport as it’s giving me such amazing opportunities. But, longer term, one of my biggest goals is to open up a shelter for homeless people.