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Gabrielle helps educate future generations

Proud Kamilaroi woman Gabrielle O’Keeffe is doing everything in her power to help children in Cairns achieve their full potential, with JobTrainer funding enabling the former youth worker to develop the skills she needs to transition her passion to the education sector.

Gabrielle O'Keeffe grew up on Bundalung Country (Northern Rivers) in New South Wales and after finishing high school in 2013 she completed a Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care (CHC30113), followed by a Certificate IV in Community Services (CHC42015). It’s a path that initially led her to the Northern Territory, where she supported young Indigenous teenagers as a residential youth worker in the remote Aboriginal community of Wadeye.

“I felt drawn to explore Indigenous culture beyond my local area. Living and working within a remote Aboriginal community was an invaluable experience,” Gabrielle said.

“The personal growth I attained there has definitely influenced my determination and shift towards education as a career.”

Keen for a change in scenery but unable to travel due to COVID-19 restrictions, Gabrielle decided to move to Cairns in early 2020, where she continued to work as a residential youth worker with teenage girls from remote Cape York and Groote Eylandt who were required to live away from home in order to access secondary education. Having worked closely with the girls and seen them embrace the opportunity to learn, Gabrielle said she jumped at the chance when the opportunity arose for her to become an education officer for Indigenous teens at her organisation.

“Being a part of children and young people’s educational journey is a privilege and something I’ve always felt passionate about being involved in,” Gabrielle said.

“I view education as a key component in contributing to the quality of life and life outcomes for our children and young people.”

Committed to being the best she could be for her students, Gabrielle enrolled to study a Certificate III in Education Support (CHC30213) online through TAFE Queensland under the joint State and Federal JobTrainer funding. Gabrielle said the funding, which aims to assist eligible job seekers and school leavers in entering high priority skills areas by enabling them to complete selected qualifications for free or low cost, was a key factor in her return to study.

“After moving interstate to Cairns — having to start fresh with nothing but what could fit in my car, all during a rental crisis — there’s no way I could have afforded to study without JobTrainer. I am so grateful for this financial support,” Gabrielle said.

“This course has prepared and assisted me to be capable within my role. It has assisted me in understanding the theory and the ‘why’ behind all that teacher aides and education support staff do."

“I’ve enjoyed the flexibility of studying with TAFE Queensland the most. By studying online, you can be in charge of your own education journey, and being self paced I can juggle work, study and home life, and find the right balance for myself.”

Although Gabrielle is not set to graduate until later in 2022, the 26 year old has used her new skills to transition even further into the education sector, and is now working fulltime supporting the next generation to create a strong foundation for learning as a teacher aide for prep students at a local Anglican primary school.

“I enjoy playing an influential role to students who are in their first year at school. It’s a time in their lives where you can really impact a child’s experience and their attitude towards school and education,” Gabrielle said.

“My goal is to complete my study and grow within my role supporting and influencing children and young people. Supporting the education journey of students is such an honour — I would highly recommend this rewarding, fulfilling and enjoyable career avenue.”

According to the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, employment for education aides is projected to rise 14.6 per cent in the five years from 2020 to 2025, providing plenty of opportunities for people who, like Gabrielle, are passionate about giving children and young people the support they need to learn and succeed.