If you can see it, you can be it

Formed in 1978, the Gippsland and East Gippsland Aboriginal Cooperatives (GEGAC) objective was to improve and support the health of the Aboriginal community in East Gippsland and surrounds. Over almost 50 years since it’s opening, the organisation has expanded, now employing over 160 people across the areas of health, education, culture and social services. The strong connection to the founding members of the cooperative, a group of Aboriginal women, is extremely evident today, with almost half of the staff at GEGAC being Aboriginal.

“Employing staff who are from the Community provides a more connected understanding to why we do what we do and how we deliver our services”, says Jamie Williamson, CEO, “and ensuring that the Indigenous youth remain involved is a key part”. A unique and very important aspect of the work being done at the cooperative is the engagement of the youth of the area, ensuring that they have a connection to their culture, a pathway to employment and a strong sense of self and Community.

Through this initiative, and one of the main projects for Lynda Capes, the Learning and Development Manager, after her employment, was the establishment of the GEGAC Academy. Launched in 2018, the aim of the project was, and still is, to provide a traineeship/cadetship type experience to five local, young Aboriginal people. Incorporating personal, cultural, career development and supported transition to study, the content of the Academy was developed to meet the needs of the organisation as well as the young people employed under the program. 

“We saw an opening to provide the opportunity for employment”.

Understanding the complexities of Community, past education experiences and jobs for the trainees provided an insight into what support the GEGAC Academy could provide – creating a conduit between education and employment for the participants. One of the most important aspects of assisting the trainees to find a career path is through job shadowing, rotating though various departments in the organisation. Over eight weeks of rotation the trainees then selected three departments they would like to spend more time in, committing three weeks of full days in these areas to build up their knowledge and skill. Assisted by ‘hosts’ from each department, Lynda and a cultural mentor, the trainees maintained a strong connection to their culture, a stream that underpins the whole Academy, ensuring that they understand the challenges and barriers that occur in their community.

Throughout the program, trainees participate in non-accredited courses to develop their soft skills in areas such as computers, first aid, presentation and communication skills, client service, case notes and client files, lateral violence and mental health first aid – creating a well-rounded base for any area of employment. After a career has been identified, an accredited course is sourced, and each trainee is supported through this transition and into study.

Lynda spruiks the team effort put in to ensure this program was a success, it was essential that everyone felt involved, including the Community, managers and all those engaged at GEGAC “our biggest drive is to become a big connector through employment”, she says. GEGAC is wanting to increase employment connections as this is the key to closing the gap in socio-economic outcomes.

Winning awards and becoming role models

From the 2018 intake of trainees, 4 women reached the end of the program and have transitioned into their preferred fields; nursing, family services, quality and compliance and maintenance and are studying across Cert III, Cert IV and Diploma level accredited courses. Following on from the success of this program, the GEGAC Academy also won a 2018 East Gippsland Business Award for ‘Supporting Youth Employment, was a finalist in the 2018 Wurreker Awards for an ‘Organisation Award’; and was successful in winning the ‘Dr Mary Atkinson – Koorie Organisation’s statewide Wurreker’ Award in 2019. 

2018 graduates (from left) Janaya Hood, Corinna Harrison, Shanika Hood and Rhiannon Hayes.

16 applications came through for 5 positions offered in 2019, with start dates beginning in May, highlighting the enormous success of the program and the anticipation of the Community to enhance their employment opportunities.

The ongoing success of this program and the development of new programs in various areas of GEGAC is being assisted by the organisation’s involvement in the GROW Gippsland program. The relationship built with GROW has allowed the team to express what they require to continue on this pathway and to understand the tools they need to develop a sustainable GEGAC Academy program.

“This project has been a realisation of an aspiration” Lynda concludes, a wonderful example of how the impact of providing support and establishing a clear pathway into employment empowers job seekers in Gippsland.


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