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15 years and more than 1000 graduates: VTEC still changing lives in the Pilbara

Tom Zaunmayr -

After working tirelessly for years to support her people in Aboriginal health, law and corporations, Melanie Condon knew the time had come to focus on herself and her family.

It was that drive which led Ms Condon to sign up to Fortescue's Vocational Training and Employment Centre, a traineeship which more than one decade on led to her becoming a supervisor at Fortescue's Cloudbreak mine in the Pilbara.

Ms Condon, who signed up to VTEC aged 42 with support from her family, said age and family obligations were no barrier to employment.

"I am a mother of six and a grandmother of 12, my youngest was 12 at the time," Ms Condon said.

"It gives you financial independence, and it definitely gives you a change in your lifestyle.

"You see a lot of young mums come through, and probably a lot of people who've never been in the workforce."

The VTEC program on Friday will mark 15 years in operation with a ceremony in Marapikurrinya (Port Hedland).

It is a milestone which has seen more than 1000 Aboriginal people graduate into jobs since VTEC's launch in 2006.

Fortescue founder and executive chairman Andrew Forrest said the VTEC program had contributed greatly to the company's vision to employ as many First Nations people as possible.

Allison Gear completing her VTEC training in 2009.

"We wanted to end the cycle of jobless training once and for all," he said.

"VTEC has proven to be ground-breaking in that respect, helping so many Indigenous Australians gain employment, helping to set them up with lifelong skills to support a sustainable career in the resources sector and beyond.

"The power of VTEC has touched the lives of so many, and I am so proud of our alumni of VTEC graduates at Fortescue and across Australia who are helping to lead change in their families and communities."

Mr Forrest said the next generation of VTEC graduates would be capable of supporting Fortescue's ambitious vision to eliminate fossil fuels from its operations.

Ngarluma-Yindjibarndi woman Allison (Kate) Gear graduated from VTEC in 2009 and today is giving back as a leader for the next crop of graduates.

"Once you come into VTEC, graduate and go out, you the next generation of leaders in our community that people can look look at, look up to and aspire to be like," she said.

"Family sees them - the ones that are not working, or the younger kids - and it's like, you're my uncle, you're my sister, and 'you're doing that so I should be able to do it'."

Ms Gear said success of Indigenous people through VTEC lifted the whole community.

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