ELAINA Byrne understands how quickly life can turn for the worst, and how important a home and employment is to rebuild your life.
The single mother is the first person to complete a new type of cadetship at Hunter housing provider Home In Place and has secured a role as a customer service officer helping people who, like her, live in a social housing property or are trying to secure one.
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"To be recognised as someone who can be brought into a professional setting and fit in it was a big confidence boost," she says.
The cadetship, an initiative of the Community Housing Industry Association and the NSW Government, came as Business Hunter said there was growing interest from employers to offer cadetships, which would broaden workforce participation.
Ms Byrne began her cadetship after a turbulent period in her life. From the age of 17, she had shown repeated initiative to land customer service roles and spare parts retail jobs in the trucking and machine industries. She was working for an aviation business when she met a man with whom she had a relationship. Falling pregnant, she later quit work and, isolated from her support network, became a victim of domestic violence.
"I had a couple of goes at running away on the spur of the moment and during the violence, I snagged the nappy bag and my son under my arm and legged it up the street but there was nowhere to run off to," she says.
After many attempts she managed to leave, waiting until the house was clear to get a removalist to help, and then called Link To Home, who offered her temporary motel accommodation as she applied for the social housing waitlist. Ms Byrne and her son went into refuge accommodation at Jenny's Place but the experience was fraught.
"All of the other women and children there had many different problems, many of us had similar situations in one way but had different backgrounds and ... many had major parenting issues which I was trying to protect my child from seeing."
Ms Byrne continued to apply for a house in the private rental market but says she faced discrimination as a single mum receiving assistance from Centrelink.
After a diagnosis of PTSD and severe anxiety, she received counselling and medical help and began a Certificate Four in Community Services at TAFE.
"I had been watching the staff at all the support services I was engaged with and thinking, 'I want to do what you are doing, you are helping people to get through the worst time in their life'. I knew I wanted to do something similar," she says of her decision to study.
In 2018, she was offered a two-bedroom home close to Newcastle. Not long after she finished her TAFE diploma, she received a group text message from Home In Place advising there was a cadetship on offer.
"As soon as I saw it I thought, 'Get out of here, that's me, I want it.' I chased it and got it. I know there were quite a few applications."
During her year-long cadetship, which combines employment and study, Ms Byrne worked in Home In Place's tenancy relations and assets team: "I think the biggest thing I learnt was to be from the organisation's perspective, as much as I have my own personal experience, I can help people better if I put that down and make them the focus of what I am doing."
Business Hunter CEO Bob Hawes said cadetships, which are typically paid positions combined with study, should be viewed as another important pillar of the professional development and employment training nexus, just like apprenticeships, traineeships, internships and professional practicums.
"We are hearing from many businesses that there is a growing appetite to return many tertiary professions to this form of worker attraction and professional development within the business and through a certified education provider - something apprenticeship and traineeship schemes have done extraordinarily well," he said.
Mr Hawes said cadetships were similar in structure to apprenticeships, yet had been historically applied to careers counted as "professions", while apprenticeship and traineeships supported trade-based workforce training and development.
"That model is hugely successful, as was the cadetship model in the past. We want to encourage all forms of workforce growth and development through as many accessible means for people looking for work as possible. They offer another mechanism for on-job training that can broaden participation in the workforce," he said.
Mr Hawes said that both state and Federal governments were offering financial support for candidates and businesses to increase their commitment to taking on trainees and apprenticeships and cadetships would qualify under the eligibility criteria.
"Some of the support does not extend for the full term of the term of the cadetship but nonetheless, it would assist businesses in making decisions to move forward compared to a situation where there is no support at all," he said.
"Given the current demand for talent, we'd be keen for the state and federal government to continue to back businesses wanting introduce a cadetship model into their organisation and to support education and training organisations to start pushing this into non-apprenticeship markets as an additional avenue."
In her full-time role with the organisation, Ms Byrne's day is spent assisting those who call who are tenants or seeking social housing.
"There are a lot of people who have been in the private rental market and for whatever reason they have been evicted or are facing eviction and lots of people who are tenants with maintenance or rent enquiries," she says.
Home In Place has since offered another two cadetships and Ms Byrne says that it has helped her career to have landed it and found a stable job.
"There are no more 12 hour shifts or travelling all over Australia like I did in my other jobs, it's structured and that's exactly what I need to be a good mum," she says.
"There is a purpose to the work, and while it's nearly every day you get someone who isn't happy with the service, that is outweighed by the number of people you can see who are benefiting."
She hopes her story inspires other women facing similar challenges to know there are options.
"When people stop and think they know the horrible things they are being told are not true, it's a part of the game and how [perpertrators] keep us there. You will never be ready, just snag your handbag and get out," she says.
"There are services out there to help you back to work. If one place can't help you on a certain day, call someone else. Don't give up."
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