Making a difference as a First Nations community services trainer

When Caroline Tarran moved from Melbourne back to her hometown Bendigo four years ago, she didn’t realise she’d soon be on the fast-track to a meaningful career supporting mob thanks to TAFE.

Currently a community services teacher delivering training at an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation, Caroline is supporting those who are delivering vital family services to the First Nations community.

With a background in music studies, customer service and hospitality management, Caroline’s work today is vastly different from her earlier pursuits, with her new path taking shape after enrolling in the Diploma of Community Services (CHC52015) at Bendigo TAFE.

“I thought of a career change and talked to the people at the Skills and Jobs Centre. I went to the info session for Community Services and started the Diploma of Community Services,” she said.

Caroline took on a work placement at Bendigo TAFE’s Indigenous Education Centre and soon applied – successfully – for a role there as Koorie liaison officer mentoring First Nations students on their educational journey. 

Then an opportunity arose to learn how to teach and Caroline knew it was the chance of a lifetime to make a difference to the community in a new way.

“I love giving our First Nations people the opportunity to study, breaking down the barriers and questions. I love seeing the students succeed and being part of their journey,” Caroline said.

“While I was in my role as Koorie liaison officer, my manager Lee-Anne Habel told me she believed in her staff doing professional development and encouraged me to do the teacher training course, which will allow me to teach once I get industry experience. 

“Lee-Anne gave me the time to attend classes and study sessions, with the rest of the Indigenous Education team supporting me.”

The teacher training course – a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAE40116) at Bendigo TAFE – was customised for First Nations learners.

“It was an Indigenous cohort so that made it more special. I felt comfortable in the class and I felt that we all supported each other. We were part of the first successful group of Indigenous teachers to graduate,” Caroline said.

After graduating, a new job opportunity emerged at Bendigo TAFE – to deliver Diploma of Community Services training (with a forensic specialisation) to more than 20 staff at an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation, all of whom work in provision of family and community, early years and wellbeing services.

It was a role that drew on Caroline’s unique skillset as a qualified trainer in community services with a First Nations cultural lens. 

“I feel privileged to be in this role. My students have lived experience and work experience, and the training I’m delivering is allowing them to get a qualification to expand opportunities within their own roles or move up to management,” Caroline said. 

“It’s also about enabling them to gain confidence that will in turn help them grow in their own work in servicing our First Nations community.”  

Now a full-time teacher, part of Caroline’s role will be delivering cultural units across Bendigo TAFE’s community services courses, providing students with strategies on cultural safety and addressing barriers.

“I feel lucky and thankful. I didn’t know all these opportunities would open up at Bendigo TAFE, from coming on as a student and completing work placement, and then gaining employment as a Koorie liaison officer and now my current role as a teacher,” she said.

On top of delivering a positive impact to society, Caroline says her new career has been personally enriching.

“I want to have value from my career,” she said. 

“Community services is an important part of our society, and my role is about passing on education and knowledge, while providing that cultural lens. 

“It allows my students to feel safe and ask me questions that they may not be able to ask another teacher or Aboriginal person. 

“It allows me to support and assist people, equipping them to be next generation of community services workers.

“I’m also continually learning from my students. It’s education and discussion, and a lot can be learned from both ends.” 

Bendigo TAFE offers a range of programs in community services and teacher training, with select courses part of the Victorian Government’s Free TAFE for Priority offerings. 

Launched in 2021, Bendigo TAFE’s Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan is an organisation-wide commitment to restoring First Nations people to a place of equity and ensuring cultural safety and awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student needs, with education at the core of the commitment. 

A dedicated Indigenous Education Centre supports First Nations students undertaking training and collaborates with vocational disciplines to develop customised training programs.

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