On silver linings

As a Year 10 student in a Perth high school, Phoenix was surprised to be recommended for ABCN’s Accelerate program.

‘I thought there were way better candidates than me – girls who had top grades, were popular, and were liked by the teachers,’ she explains.

‘I was just someone in the background, doing her own thing, but I saw it was a great opportunity to learn.’

Three years on, Phoenix credits Accelerate with changing the course of her life.

‘It opened my eyes to the possibilities out there,’ she says.

Accelerate is a scholarship program which provides one-on-one mentoring and financial support over three years to disadvantaged students. Mentors are assigned to students by ABCN in consultation with member companies, donors and schools.

Phoenix was paired with Michelle Sandford of Microsoft.

Michelle had been involved in ABCN’s other group programs for close to 10 years and, while she found this rewarding, hesitated to take on a one-on-one mentoring role because of the time commitment involved. She soon realised it was worth the additional time.

‘(WA ABCN state manager) Tiffany Edwards, my contact at ABCN said, “I have someone who I think you’re really going to like” … and she was right about Phoenix,’ she says.

Michelle was immediately struck by her mentee’s intelligence and potential.

‘She knew who she was, she answered questions very clearly, and she has been impressively mature and open and honest the whole way through,’ says Michelle.

‘If she’s in trouble, she says so. If something’s gone wrong, she says so, and if she needs help, she’ll call for it, but she doesn’t call for help very often, because she’s used to sorting out her own troubles.’

Phoenix had been living in foster care since the age of 11 years. Before meeting Sandford, she wasn’t sure how they would get along.

‘We started to hang out more and more, I started to open up and we had a lot of fun,’ Phoenix says.

Phoenix already had an idea that she’d like to pursue a career in art or music, but she warmed to alternative possibilities in technology after Michelle took her to a video gaming exhibition which highlighted the intersection of IT with other fields.

‘I think that really wakened her to the idea that working in tech didn’t mean that you were sitting at a computer coding all day, it could include all those other things that she loved,’ Michelle says.

‘We did other things, like visiting careers fairs, where she got to talk to people and immerse herself in what it is like to be part of this industry and now she’s really excited about a career in tech.’

Phoenix, who identifies as Indigenous, found herself homeless when, upon turning 18, she had to leave her group home after ‘aging out’ of the foster care system.

‘The Accelerate program has taught me that even if bad things happen to you, there’s always going to be a good opportunity just around the corner,’ she says.

‘There’s always going to be that one silver lining waiting for you.’

Michelle steered her mentee, now in stable housing, towards Microsoft’s traineeship program.

It provides two years of paid, on-the-job experience, along with a Certificate IV in Information Technology delivered by TAFE and industry-recognised Microsoft certifications.

‘Since 2020, the technology workforce has increased by 8% annually, outpacing the expansion of the overall workforce. Job postings in the technology have increased 66% since 2019 and yet we are still short by hundreds of thousands of workers, so we really need to encourage students to think about a career in tech,’ says Michelle.

‘ABCN is playing a really critical role in helping with that.’

Phoenix is contracted to provide IT services to Wesfarmers as part of her Microsoft Traineeship Program.

‘I love the tech side of it and just being able to help people is one thing that makes me happy,’ she says.

‘If it wasn’t for the scholarship, I wouldn’t have met Michelle, I wouldn’t have had the chance to learn more about Microsoft and wouldn’t have had the chance to do this traineeship.’

Michelle says that Phoenix will be able to write her own ticket after completing the traineeship.

‘I think she could do anything that she wanted, and I’m looking forward to seeing all the choices open up before her,’ she says.

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