Study dreams deliver career empowering Indigenous students

Published:15 June 2020

Dr Lorraine Tulele is passionate about supporting more Indigenous people to achieve their study and career dreams.

Indigenous Fijian woman Dr Lorraine Tulele always knew education and perseverance were paths to opportunity – but she’d only dreamed of how far both could take her.

Now a project officer in the Office of Indigenous Engagement at CQUniversity, Dr Tulele has a unique understanding of the challenges that many Indigenous people face in achieving education and career goals.

“Growing up in a low socio-economic community and family, with my father being the only breadwinner, I saw how living in poverty was a big disadvantage. I realised early in life that education could change my situation,” she explained.

“I attended an all-girls Christian school back in Fiji and I was inspired by my school principal and my history teacher who were from Australia and the Netherlands.

“Their support was phenomenal, it made a huge difference to my life and that’s when I realised I wanted to support disadvantaged people achieve their dreams too.”

Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of the South Pacific, Dr Tulele continued her career in education, as a lecturer at the Fiji Institute of Technology and then a human resource professional in statutory and higher education institutions.

In 2008, she moved to Australia with her family to take on postgraduate studies and obtain her Master of Human Resource Management, which catapulted her into further research projects, focused on employment and training opportunities for Indigenous people.

“My passion has always been about empowering the disadvantaged, which includes Indigenous people. The disadvantaged issue is somewhat similar among many First Nations people as they have been colonised by settlers, who forcefully took away the identity, language, rights and resources, and the difference lies in the context of each Indigenous group of people,” Dr Tulele explained.

That understanding, and an Australian government grant to research Indigenous employment, started Dr Tulele’s six-year PhD project.

Dr Tulele’s research focused on Australian banking and mining organisations and found that many Indigenous employment and training initiatives were not sustainable.

While a few were on the right trajectory, she saw that organisations needed to constantly monitor and review their recruitment and training data to keep pace with attrition, restructuring, and technology change.

Some of the findings were:

  • “These companies had strategies for employing and training Indigenous people, which were good initiatives, but were not effective due to the existence of policies and practices that reproduce racial inequalities in the workplace such as ‘silo approach’ to Indigenous employment.”
  • “The Indigenous workforce in these companies was largely in the secondary segment of the labour market, which is characterised with low education levels, semi-skilled jobs, low job security, low wages, poor working conditions, and strong demands to be flexible. Career and professional development coupled with promotion for secondary workers were limited, so Indigenous workers were locked into menial tasks.”

Dr Tulele said she’d identified education and pre-employment training such as traineeships, apprenticeships, internships and graduate training programs coupled with organisational commitment and sustainable support as effective pathways to increasing Indigenous participation and dismantling institutional discrimination often found in the Australian labour-market.

Given her own experience as a mature-age student from a low socio-economic and first-in-family background with two daughters studying at high school and university, Dr Tulele said creating policies to support Indigenous people at CQUniversity was a dream career.

“My own journey as a mum, a wife, a student and having to work to put food on the table and send my two daughters to school is a huge sacrifice. However, the payoff is great and worth it all as it opened many great opportunities,” she said.

In her current role, the passionate project officer has already contributed to drafting of significant strategies for CQUniversity, including the Indigenous Education Strategy, and the Indigenous Workforce Strategy.

“My experience has helped me understand the challenges that many Indigenous students encounter and the need for cultural, pastoral, academic, and research support.  Mentoring, and career development opportunities assist students achieve their milestones, complete their studies, have a great career and make a difference in their families and communities,” she said.

“I’m excited to help the next generation of Indigenous students.”