RIEP & Girls on Fire Western Region Case Study

girls put out a car fire at the Regional Industry Education Partnerships program in Orange

In 2022, Girls on Fire were fortunate to run a twenty stop roadshow with support from The Regional Industry Education Partnerships (RIEP) Program. RIEP designs and delivers bespoke opportunities for employers to connect with secondary schools. Working with RIEP, Girls on Fire designed a twenty stop roadshow for regional Australia. The aim was to introduce girls to a career with fire and emergency services in a fun, educational and interactive format.

Part of working on the roadshow was the privilege of working with RIEP officers, schools and careers advisors throughout NSW. This included multiple sites in the Central West of NSW. This area encompasses Orange, Bathurst, Wellington and Dubbo across secondary schools. We caught up with the team from RIEP Central West and Glen Pearson, Careers Advisor from Orange High School, to discuss the impact of Girls on Fire’s programs for their students.

Girls on Fire in the Central West

Careers in fire and emergency services are an often-overlooked option for school leavers, especially for girls and young women. Yet fire and emergency services offer interesting careers for a variety of different reasons.

Working in fire and emergency services provides the opportunity to engage with science and climate studies in a meaningful, hands on way. Through understanding the science of fires and natural disasters, environmentally focussed, project-oriented and science loving students alike can find their calling. For sporty students, the physical challenges together with teamwork principles hold great appeal. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students can see firsthand the impact of Indigenous astronomy, fire science and ecology know-how in strengthening modern Australian firefighting and emergency management. Life with fire and emergency services also offers a career that doesn’t rely on moving away to study at university or leaving regional areas to find meaningful work.

Plus, it gives girls a pathway to connecting with the through community service, volunteering and the desire to keep people, properties and regions safe. All while providing a plethora of problems to solve, mysteries to investigate, and new challenges to overcome on a personal and professional level.

The team living and working in Western New South Wales understands the power of creating opportunities and space for young girls to find their future through practical application. A big believer in bringing programs that open to door to different career paths for girls, Troy Kelly, Senior Project Officer for Regional Industry Education Partnerships in Western NSW and Jacqui Smith, Senior Project Officer for Regional Industry Education Partnerships in Western NSW, saw the programs as a great way to help both student and recruitment for the services alike.

“It’s really enhanced the confidence of the girls taking part, but also opened their eyes to explore careers they hadn’t considered before. That’s really beneficial,” said Troy Kelly.

“Girls on Fire have definitely given the girls a lot of self-confidence, especially in activities they never thought they’d be able to complete. The program reminds them they do have to work in teams and they have to communicate with each other. So, they’re learning soft skills that can be transferable later. It’s also showing them they don’t have to fear trying new things,” shared Jacqui.

As a school that has educated countless generations of the Central West’s young people in its over 100-year history, Orange High School focuses on offering students a wealth of extracurricular opportunities. Through holistic education, they support students to develop their own identity by pursuing their passions in music, agriculture, hospitality, student voice, leadership, sport, work experience, dance, languages, arts and STEM areas. Today, Orange High School is educating 1200 students, 8% of which are Aboriginal, from within the regional city of Orange and its rural surroundings on Wiradjuri country.

For Orange High School’s Careers Advisor and President of the Central West Careers Advisers Association, Glen Pearson, the involvement of the local agencies and their commitment to Girls on Fire represented another way to highlight the school’s commitment to hands on, experience-based learning.

“The day was exceptional and very worthwhile. The girls involved had a fantastic day and especially enjoyed the immersive, hands-on, practical activities they completed,” shared Glen.

“Many of the girls indicated they would be comfortable volunteering for the Rural Fire Service or joining Fire & Rescue NSW. The confidence gained from using the rescue equipment, fire hoses and extinguishers, and wearing the protective equipment gave them a sense that a career in the emergency services could be achievable in the future.”

Dedicated and experienced fire and emergency service personnel donate their time for the Girls on Fire programs. The personnel within the Central West were a shining example of participation and leadership.

“The number of NSW Fire & Rescue crews and NSW Rural Fire Service crews who donated their time, equipment, and expertise to the success of the event amazed us,” said Glen.

This was a sentiment shared by RIEP staff.

“I think it’s opening up the eyes of the fire and emergency services. As volunteers supporting the day’s program, they were seeing the girls in action. They saw how eager the girls were to get involved. So, I think it’s introduced other possibilities like opening up their fire stations and having open days, more community outreach focussed on young people, and tailored activities to keep the engagement and interest high,” explained Jacqui.

The only real drawback from such a strong introduction to life in emergency services is keeping the interest high and keeping students connected with the emergency services long term. Indeed, both RIEP and OHS representatives could see the potential for greater long term and sustained engagement between the teens and the agencies involved. Furthering the connection between Girls on Fire alumni and the various fire and emergency services agencies through work experience and adding steps in to keep interested and engaged girls connected to their local agencies through open days and other touchpoints were suggestions offered by these stalwart educators. That way, the connection that begins with experiencing a Girls on Fire program finds further outlet as a girl’s schooling progresses and the time to graduate draws ever near.

For the girls, this was a chance to experience what it was like to have a fire and emergency services career. Taking the concept from the usual brochures, stands and presentation format to putting on the uniform, equipment and experiencing the day in the life of a firefighter is incredibly powerful. Especially when that opportunity opens up an alternative universe of opportunities for girls by asking them to do something that may not consider normally with confidence and by uncovering their existing skills.

The Girls on Fire experience also helped outside the educational and vocational setting. Confidence and the ability to see girls flourish as they explored extra activities and skills had a profound effect. Indeed, local programs like Girls on Fire and similar programs on life as a tradie offered not only a vocational option but a chance for girls to understand themselves through their ability to learn new things, work together as a team, personal resilience, and to uncover their own skills across a wide variety of activities.  

Plus, the Girls on Fire program also hits regional young people where they live.

“Particularly out west, anecdotally 50% of the young people live on farms, on properties or on country. So, these are kids that would be involved in their own protection of their own homes. It’s a big conversation piece at the moment right around the county because in the last year, we’ve had everything from drought and floods to fires. Having that knowledge is probably quite good for confidence and their sense of helping at home, in the community, and self-confidence through a sense of self-preservation,” explained Troy.

For Careers Advisor Glen, revisiting Girls on Fire again is a no brainer.

“Bronnie was exactly the right person for the job! Her passion and willingness to involve everyone was evident. She quickly built a rapport with everyone present on the day. As an observer, I was so impressed by the structure of the day and the efforts of the fire personnel in setting up/packing away all the gear and equipment. The timing of activities was spot on, and every single student enjoyed the day and the group challenges/practical activities they took part in. I am looking forward to doing it all again sometime soon!”

To find out how Girls on Fire can take your school leaver activities to new heights, contact info@girlsonfire.com.au

To check out Regional Industry Education Partnerships (RIEP) and the programs they offer in Western NSW, head to https://www.nsw.gov.au/education-and-training/vocational/vet-programs/regional-schools-industry

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