First Nations youth in Albury Wodonga benefit from construction jobs in the country

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When Malyangapa woman Emily Patten finished high school, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.

She had started a Certificate III in Education Support but knew it wasn’t for her.

“I didn’t really know where to go from there,” Ms Patten said.

“I worked at Woolworths for over a year. I knew I wanted to do something more but wasn’t really sure where to go or how to get there.”

But she started talking to Aunt Valda Murray at the Burraja Cultural Centre, who had an idea.

Aunt Valda referred her to a man named Jebb Hutchison.

Mr Hutchison, a proud Wiradjuri man, is Managing Director of TVN On-Country and is at the helm of an Indigenous majority-owned commercial construction company based in Wodonga.

Ms. Patten goes to university after a traineeship at TVN.(ABC News: Katherine Smyrk)

The company had offered internships to young First Nations people and taught them the basics of the industry.

Ms. Patten has been studying business administration at TVN for a year.

Now she is about to go to university to study construction management.

Seeing Ms Patten’s success encouraged Mr Hutchison to devote himself full time to what he really wanted to do – transforming the lives of young First Nations people.

He has now created On-Country Pathways, a new Indigenous-owned and led non-profit organization dedicated to providing First Nations youth with employment and career paths in the commercial construction industry.

The on-country vision

Mr Hutchison founded TVN On-Country four and a half years ago with two friends, Jonathan Whelan and Gareth Vannoort.

“Opportunities are everything in life. I got one as a young man, now I try to give young people as many as possible,” Hutchison said.

TVN had offered some internships to young people like Ms Patten. But now it’s an official part of the deal.

A young woman stands between two men, all in matching gray jackets, outside in a garden.
Mr. Hutchison, Mrs. Patten and Mr. Moffitt are part of On-Country Pathways.(ABC News: Katherine Smyrk)

There were a number of levels within the On-Country Pathways program: work experience for those still in school; an internship in which young people complete a certificate III in business administration; an internship program for entry-level positions; and a cadet program, where companies pay a candidate to work and study.

Program manager and proud Bidjigal man Darren Moffitt explained that they would leverage TVN’s extensive industry contacts to find opportunities and work with high schools, TAFEs and universities to spread the program to young people.

“People think construction is all about drills, hammers and safety gear, but in fact there are more than 70 different jobs within the sector, including business administration and project management,” Mr Moffitt said.

Another important aspect of the program is mentorship, which is offered to all participating youth.

“With any individual programme, the important element that will ensure young people make a smooth transition into employment is ensuring they are mentored in that role,” Mr Moffitt said.

Ms Patten said being mentored by “powerful women” has helped her feel less intimidated about entering a male-dominated industry.

“Everyone has been so supportive,” she said.

“Having the opportunity to continue in this field, to continue to college…and to find a career for the rest of my life has been amazing.”

A man in a gray jacket stands on a podium in front of dirt roads
Mr Hutchison says helping young people get into the workforce has been something he has wanted to pursue for some time.(ABC News: Katherine Smyrk)

keeping children in the country

Mr Hutchison thought it would take him 15 or 20 years to get to where TVN is now.

But he said there are so many people supporting the program and the results already speak for themselves.

“Em’s story is one we’re very proud of because it really reiterates that Pathways works. She’s gone from nothing to someone who teaches me a thing or two,” Mr Hutchinson said.

A big part of what motivated the team was knowing they were investing in their own community.

“We hope to go more foreign routes into the country, but here we want to do everything right first.”

He said a big focus of the program is to give young people opportunities in the regions before they get lost “on the M31 to Melbourne or Sydney”.

“That’s a big deal: not having to move away to chase opportunities. Stay on our land,” Hutchinson said.

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