It has long been understood that the key to school engagement is a strong relationship between school and industry. By allowing employers to have curriculum input we ensure our schools are preparing their students for the real world. At the same time school learning is reinforced as students recognise the outside applications for their studies and the value employers place on skills developed in the classroom. In Finland these partnerships start as early as Grade 2 when industry is invited into the classroom to help run career themed weeks, organise workplace tours and team teach art, craft, literacy and numeracy lessons all wrapped around their industry or profession. US and UK technical schools, like the IBM high school, prepare their future workforce while helping students to complete their senior school years. In Australia we are witnessing the resurgence of purpose designed Technical Schools, and Technical Education Centres like the Geelong Technical School currently being constructed at the Gordon’s Gheringhap Street Campus, and Covenant College’s Trades Skill Centre. While planning and establishing this agribusiness themed trade centre, Covenant College worked closely with the GRLLEN to help identify industries with potential for growth and plan a curriculum that would prepare not only their students, but interested students from other schools for careers with traction and promise. In the past five years Geelong’s Food and Fibre industry has diversified and grown by around 10%, a growth reflected in new regional opportunities in food production, farm and animal health, produce transport, parks and land management. Covenant College decided to focus on Agriculture, Horticulture and Animal studies.
For year 12 student Sam Roberts studying VET IT, a career in animal health was the last thing on his mind. It was 2016, and while he was following his passion for computers, his studies had hit a major stumbling block. “I always loved IT, I always will. But I was told my course required me to complete an extra 600 hours of experience. I nearly packed it all in. With the pressure of completing Year 12 I just couldn’t see myself finding time for all the extra work !” Sam was in danger of quitting school altogether. VCAL Teacher Kelly McKenzie and the Covenant College Agribusiness Trades Skills Centre played a major role in his decision to stay.
“People around Sam were telling him just to soldier on and complete his 600 IT hours, but I could see he was really struggling. I remembered his great work ethic. When we were building our chicken shed at the Trades Skills farm, Sam was the first to chip in and the last to leave. So I asked him to consider transferring to one of our Certificate II courses in Agri, Hort or Animal Studies.”
Sam decided to stay and give it a go. When he did his first placement at Bellarine Vet, he found a passion for animal health he didn’t know he had. “It was a chance to see what the job meant.” It was also a chance for the employer to see Sam at work. They liked what they saw and offered Sam a job at the end of year 12.
Sam says people have the misconception he plays all day with animals.
“It’s not like that. It's a very responsible job. Everything has to be sterile so it’s 80% cleaning and 20% surgery. You are watching all the time, dealing with pre-med observations, watching all the signs as the animal comes around from surgery.”
His passion and enjoyment are obvious, not least when he comes back to his old school to share his experience and expertise. “The best part of the job is seeing everyone happy when their animal is returned safely to them.” But Sam loves the demands his job places on him. “It’s a different kind of stress, taking care, monitoring the animal and feeling the responsibility to make sure there is a good outcome. I love it.”
Kelly watches Sam leading her 2018 Cert II Animal Studies class and says her joy lies in seeing the positive change in him. “Being able to input into his life at such an important moment, seeing where his passions were and guiding him. It ‘s why I do what I do.”