Unsung Heroes


03 July 2020

Education International has committed to raising awareness of the highly valued, yet often invisible, role of support staff through their World Education Support Personnel Day on 16 May. If you haven’t expressed your appreciation of ESP’s in your team or institute lately please make the time to thank those who support you and your students.As we all know a little appreciation and recognition from those around us can make a big difference in coming to work every day.

Neil Hauxwell, Language, Literacy and Numeracy Specialist TAFE Gippsland

I’ve been at TAFE in various roles for about 25 years. My teaching job in General Education was declared ‘redundant’ eight years ago, so I had a spell teaching at a local school and in prison education. I then came back to TAFE and have worked in student support roles. Currently I’m a Language Literacy and Numeracy Specialist and I’ve supported students in most of the trades and in the Diploma of Nursing. The work has given me a good overview of how TAFE is travelling.

In a regional TAFE such as this, apprentice groups have continued to diversify – more streams in the same class, a bigger range of workplaces and employer training needs. With ‘Free TAFE’ the ages, backgrounds and entry skills of students has diversified too. What has not diversified much is the range of learning resources that we can offer students. For TAFE to play its role in responding to local employment changes and re-training requirements we should be developing VET pathways for people with any level of formal education. This needs a large range of better learning resources and the integration of LLN skills development into VET.This process creates challenges but we need to tackle the problems of learner diversity rather than just throwing up testing walls or rolling out the old defence of blaming the schools for not producing VET ready students.

I’m hoping that we can develop ways in which we can use our Learning Support Assistants more in trade groups so that teachers are better supported and all students can learn according to their needs.I’m privileged to see students learning, teachers teaching and admin staff doing the best they can in a sometimes difficult environment. TAFE’s a community that deserves a fair go at federal and state levels, for all our future’s sakes.

Kylie Frantz Administration Officer Canberra Institute of Technology

My work at Canberra Institute of Technology over the last 14 years as an administration officer has been in the Science Department. Our department incorporates Environmental Sciences, Laboratory Studies, Forensics and Animal Studies.

As an administration person I get to help teachers get their paper-work organised for class, assist with the enrolment of students and provide other administrative support to the team. I feel so lucky that I also get to work with the teachers and members of their industry such as Veterinary Nurses and the zoo.

I really like encouraging students that are struggling. If I can help them get through a tough time by providing some positive encouragement, to me, it’s worth that little bit of extra effort.

A lot has changed over my time at CIT including Finance and Human Resources. They used to be embedded in the organisation so that if we needed help it was right at hand. Now Finance and HR are both centralised and it is harder to get support. I have seen lots of changes during my time at CIT. There have been many restructures and courses come and go.

I am constantly inspired by seeing so many students achieving their goals. I admire the enthusiasm of our teachers and the level of their knowledge.

Nick Frech Assistant Contracts Officer at TasTAFE

Looking back to 2001 when I started at TAFE, I wonder where did the time go?

I’ve had a few different roles including Participation Assistant and Administrative Assistant. Currently I’m an Assistant Contracts Officer. TasTAFE delivers some Federal government programs which have different invoicing and reporting processes from other programs. I help co-ordinate the day to day processes for those and provide support and advice to administrators, teachers, and education managers delivering those programs. I’m also a point of contact between TasTAFE and external agencies.

I’ve been fortunate to receive some really good support and mentoring from team members over the years. I’m on the other end of that now where I’m recognised for my knowledge and I get to mentor other staff. I find that really rewarding.

One of my teachers once said “it’s not how well you can teach, it’s how well you can tap dance”, and that applies to my roles as well. Once you get into it there’s a lot about administrative roles which are dynamic. The assistant contract officer role I’m in even more so. I enjoy interacting with people, helping them and problem solving. This role gives me plenty of opportunity to do all of those.

I’ve just moved campuses as part of TasTAFE’s plan to consolidate delivery at one campus in my city. This has been a particularly challenging process for me, but so far so good! (big shout out to the facilities staff!)

Work issues are different for me than a teacher would experience but the end result of workload pressure and stress are the same. My partner passed away a few years ago so that’s had quite an impact on my work life too. Thankfully in my team we’re all pretty supportive of each other which makes a big difference. I’ve also accessed Employee Assistance Counselling; if you’ve got something similar available to you and it might help with whatever you’re going through, please check it out.

Sandy Curtis Librarian TAFE Gippsland

After 22 years and counting as a Librarian with TAFE Gippsland I can honestly say that I love working in TAFE. It really aligns with my values of providing access for all. We have students from all walks of life. TAFE provides a level playing field and an educational environment where people can stretch themselves – that’s gold!

Over these decades I have gained several degrees and numerous other qualifications to enhance my knowledge and the changing world of libraries. I became the President of the Victorian Association of TAFE Libraries (VATL) which encompasses the wider TAFE network. Taking an active part in VATL helps me and other TAFE librarians feel less isolated and we can advocate for a better deal for library staff.

Due to the increased demand for flexible access to library resources and the subsequent growth in online databases, we no longer have staff on every campus at TAFE Gippsland with staffing down from 7 to 3 full time employees. I do a lot of campus hopping to cover the three campuses that I look after. The work of a Librarian has changed considerably from the traditional role we once had covering and checking in and out of books. There has been some automation and the range of activities now include administration, managerial requirements, bill paying, going into classrooms, library inductions and trouble-shooting for students. We run training in academic skills tailored to the subject areas being taught. We work with staff 1:1 or with groups to meet their needs.In TAFE libraries we provide a service to students and staff that is quite distinct from public libraries.

We have less oversight and scrutiny but more autonomy which is one of the upsides of the changes to our institute.

TAFE libraries and librarians contribute an enormous amount to the learning environment for students and staff. I feel gratification and pleasure that our contribution is valued.

This article was originally published in The Australian TAFE Teacher, Autumn 2020