Engage industry with education, particularly with our young

A few years back I was doing a number of recruitment roles in the RF and Wireless space. There were limited candidates in this space and I often had to look for people from overseas. I had started to notice though that the best candidates I could get came out of Australia and most had something in common. They’d all been taught by the same professor. (In this case a University of Sydney Professor; Branka Vucetic.)

I’d come across this situation before – that with excellent candidates there was at least one key person whether teacher or manager that made a profound difference in putting them in the top 5 percent of others in their field. In some fields, I started being able to pick who their influencer was by how those candidates spoke and acted.

I visited that Professor to find out what she did to make a difference. And wasn’t surprised to find, that unlike most lecturers she got industry heavily involved in the education of the students. She visited varied companies from the same field to find out what sort of projects they were doing, she made mini-projects that covered similar ground through the course. She invited the companies engineers and leads to the University to talk and share. I suspected she not only persuaded but ‘bullied’, those engineers into directly involving themselves with her students. Before the students left their course they knew how their work applied in the market, what the industry wanted from them, what the industry saw as important and relevant and what a career path in those companies looked like. It made a profound difference to their career.

Industry involvement is key. Academics with no industry experience can not on their own contextualise what they teach to what is needed in the professions students move into.
I think in most areas of education, a practitioner trainer is superior to an academic with no real world experience.

In the last 20 years, I’ve been involved in a number of projects that have engaged high schools, universities or training organisations with projects involving industry practitioners. In my last project, we had disadvantaged youth with no higher qualification than High School certificates outperform University Post Graduates in IT in acquiring system engineer roles in Suncorp. Hence, I’ve seen a few advantages that collaboration with industry and education brings.

  • It can provide teachers insight on how to align their course and readiness standards to business needs.
    When the larger curriculum can’t change to meet market changes, students can at least be informed on what is or not relevant in the world. I remember a lecturer who awarded an “A” to the student who performed the worst in work-based projects. Whereas a student who got offered work in a top-tier organisation through that project only ranked “C+” The lecturer agreed she wasn’t very good but said; “The skills required to pass the exam are not the skills required to be successful in the workplace”
  • Projects between businesses and education can help youth build meaningful relationships with strong role models and mentors.
    Learning and character growth go hand in hand, growth challenges more than your brain, it requires resilience, persistence, courage and an openness to learn and change. The support and sharing of experiences that come through mentors and accomplished role models can provide youth not just encouragement but inspiration.
  • It makes education meaningful.
    Learning new skills through a work project that has an additional purpose of providing a need for a business, provides students with a sense of contribution and pride when they see that they can make a difference.  It also develops a greater respect for what they’re learning, and greater persistence when they feel more challenged by lessons of greater difficulty.
  • Engagements that strengthen career awareness.
    In one pilot, I had a group of trainees Skype interview different engineers in test and development each Friday. Those interviews along with their work-based learning experiences strengthened their career awareness and showed them that there was a diversity of roles and that could find one to match their talents, interests and strengths. Unfortunately, that’s an awareness that I don’t find strong in most adult job candidates.

Overall, I find the partnership between education and business makes for a stronger sense of community ties. It gives students a confidence that their education is relevant to their future. I noticed too, that industry professionals get pleasure and satisfaction in engaging with youth, warning them of pitfalls that they had personally experienced and let them know what in their own education proved useful or useless. Various businesses can get a bad rap for exploiting youth, we are dealing with people after all. But choose the organisations to work with. I’ve seen industry professionals go out of their way to provide additional support, that included them getting their companies assist training organisations with finances, resources or start new programs to support youth education.

There is greater value in education collaborating with industries, than not.

Standing Rock

In the early days of the Internet I was involved in an American based website called Ancient Sites. It was about history. People discussed the ancient history of different countries primarily European, imagined and wrote about what it would be like to live in those times.  I decided to support the Native Americans gathering to it, they were excited to be able to put their history up, available for anyone, few or many to read.  For many it was a chance to finally tell their side of of the story – the stories you didn’t get to read in your local library or were exposed to in School.

Gawd help me, the savagery, racism and ongoing mocking my friends received was phenomenal. One  thing that surprised me,  that this viterol wasn’t delivered by passing  rednecks as I would assume, it was mainly coming from American Academia.  I saw attitudes of contempt, superiority and real hatred.   (Also weirdly,  whites playing at being Native Americans or their romanticized version thereof.) For some time I couldn’t get it – why hate people your ancestors have harmed the most? Particularly when you profit so much from that past, today? There is such a vile history in that country of deliberate infection of smallpox, stealing, raping, recent sterilisation of women, removing tribes from their homes, genocide, recent bulldozing of homes, cultural appropriation, ongoing mockery and stereotypes, keeping them in reservations and making them carry a card to go in and out.  America, haven’t you got that shit out of your system yet?

But older now, I get it. It’s just how it goes; if a man wrongs someone and doesn’t own it – he will turn around and hate and despise the person he’s wronged.

I suspect they’ll end up killing those people at Standing Rock, the Media has heavy investments in oil, not one major channels has personally covered the story down there, that’s CNN, ABC, Fox News etc. Not one.  They are however misreporting or essentially just saying what they’re told to say by their bosses.   Even though the coverage of the live feeds proves that all wrong. Without that coverage the police down there will take the military toys the oil companies gave them and continue because no one’s stopping them, including Obama.

I’ve been wondering of late why I’m particularly angry about this. Hey, there’s so much injustice to get upset about; Syria, Iraq… you name it right?

It’s just the Native American are so completely on the bottom of the food chain in the States and you hardly hear about the injustices done to them, even though it’s more severe than what’s done to the Blacks. I think as someone with Maori ancestry I think there has and always will be a special link with the American Indians. Most people don’t know that the Polynesian travelled back and forth from the Americas, traded with the raft people who traversed up the coast line and back, had a Wananga close to the California coastline hosted by the Chumash, got trees for the huge voyaging Catamaran (waka) from the top of the North Americas. I always have this sense of joy when visiting Native Americans to New Zealand, bring over ancient artifacts that were gifts of our ancestors  to their families and to exchange again with them gifts we received from their ancestors. It confirms those ancient ties.  I’ve always noticed how it seems just natural that we always take notice if something about Native America is happening in the news – and I say; because we have this strong sense of a familial tie

Whatever it is, what’s happening in the States I find really tears at my heart. It is disgusting – I remember on the forum all these white American academics who kept saying “all the bad things done to the Native Americans is a thing of the past, forget, get over it, move on”.
But it keeps repeating, nothing’s changed. Because as we watch the violence it is escalating at Standing Rock and I really feel, because those American Indians are refusing to be violent and not giving the Oil police any justification to the violence inflicted on them.  They are hating them more. That they will get more brazen and fire real bullets and ammo into them to try and get the response they want. And I don’t think the American Indians will give it to them.

Why don’t more Americans speak out? Particularly when all that oil that puts those main water routes at risk are not going to fill the needs or wants of America the bulk of it is going to China.  So your water is at risk, all for a foreign power. This is what guts me the most, these people treated as the least of all Americans are protecting with their lives, the water that’s so essential for all.  I suppose history repeating is what it means to ‘be great again’, America?

The only Media organisation covering this on the ground are The Young Turks – here’s Jordan (an awesome dude) interviewing one of the healers – by the way if you can help by donating money for the healers so they can continue what they’re doing here are links below:

Donation sites:
Sophia Wilansky’s GoFundMe:https://www.gofundme.com/30aezxs
Donate to medics: https://medichealercouncil.com/

Tiny Houses for Women Refuges

First Tiny House from Sydney's first Tiny House Building Course
First Tiny House from Sydney’s first Tiny House Building Course

I find myself the owner of a sunny little Tiny House, which I’ve called the Rad Pad. It came about because earlier this year late March, I organised Sydney’s first Tiny House Building Course. – I’m proud to say.

There was such a diverse mix of people attending; young couples, middle aged professionals, students and married couples. People came from all around Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and one brave Kiwi flew in from Singapore. I can’t speak for everyone, but it’s true we have a few things in common; we value having more life, than we do using a lot of that life to get stuff. We pretty much knew nothing about using a hammer or a saw, let alone able to build a house from scratch. Lastly, we pretty much had a blast, it was exhilarating to know we can in fact build our own homes.

Part of our course was filmed by the TV station SBS Living Tiny check it out, unlike a lot of media commentary of late, they did a fair job of tapping into what’s happening here in OZ with the Tiny House Movement.

It would not of been as successful as it was, if I hadn’t brought over the talented, creative and well known Tiny House Builders ‘Deek’ Diedricksen and his brother Dustin (of Relaxshacks.com) all the way from Massachusetts, USA to lead the course. Here is little tutorial he recorded from our course . Do subscribe to his channel – it’s the bomb. I also got the invaluable assistance from Rob Scott a Melbourne House Truck builder and Trainer and a local community college (TAFE) building instructor Anthony kept everything to Aussie standards.

The whole project for me was a real challenge and to be honest; stressful to get everything and everyone organised, particularly as I had no knowledge at all of how to put a building course together. There were a few times, my ignorance could of landed us in serious trouble with the Sydney Council and the training centre. But hey, the Universe is kind to fools, (seriously there were a couple of lucky coincidences and meeting extraordinary helpful people that meant we came through unscarred). Thank you Universe.

The journey is not over though. I want to make some kind of dent in the housing situation for women refuges, kids at risk and the homeless. I’m travelling to Canada and USA this year to look at Tiny House Communities on the other side of the planet. I also donated the Rad Pad to a lovely lady called Fatima as the first of five Tiny Homes we are going to build providing temporary accommodation for women refuges when they come to her beautiful grassy property in Goulburn. Moving forward, we’ll continue to run the training courses, because we one provide training to people wanting to build their own homes, two cover the cost of a new Tiny House’s materials and three in effect have ‘free’ labour building a new Tiny for the Refuge Retreat. Therefore far less money is required to pay for additional expenses; off grid solar power, electrician etc.

If any have done this sort of thing before, I would certainly like to get in touch, network with you for support and ideas. My email is Catherine@peepsweave.com. As per usual, I am working all this out as I go along.

Wish me luck.

It’s about seeing…

When I was 17, I was looking at some preschool children’s pictures. I noticed something. These preschool children didn’t make their drawings fit inside the four sides of the paper. It was like the world they were seeing was bigger than the paper (which it is) so that’s how they painted it. When kids hit school, even though it’s not surprising that the pictures they draw would change as they increase in age. Typically it seems if they draw a house, they draw it as a square with a triangle on top for a roof. Two squares representing windows are put inside that square. If they add a sun it’s a circle with radiating lines, trees are brown with a cloud shaped green top, sun; yellow, etc. And everything fitting inside the paper. I actually remember being taught how to draw like this and wondering as a 5 year old, “Why was the Sun yellow when during the day it looked white?” I wonder if teaching us as children how to draw this way, has it taught us to not see what’s actually in front of us?

Much older and not so long ago I decided I wanted to learn how to paint. Little shy about it. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to, because I remember being told artistic talent is something you have or haven’t got. But, I heard of a good teacher, Stephen Wilson and I went to him. He told me anyone can paint. Painting he said is about seeing. When you can see then you can paint. His first lessons included teaching you how to see. Which I think was kind of like seeing things as you saw them preschool.

I remember having an epiphany (which is going to sound far-fetched) – but walking out of the studio and looking at a tree – and suddenly actually seeing it, like it was the very first time I’d seen a tree. The dapple of the grey to black shadows hitting the bark, the crevice shadows outlining the peeling bark. The graduation of off-whites, off-yellows, off-greens, browns, greys lightening as they circled up the height of the trunk. The deeper harder more dense shades of colour around the base.. and more. I drove home, looked around and suddenly the whole world felt like it verged on being magical – and realer than it had been before. And I felt a palpable sense of awe.

Here’s the first painting I made…

The most important education..?

When I was seventeen or eighteen I spent a whole Saturday surrounded by books, magazines and essays (this was before the internet) sifting through them to find quotes and insights to use for my first speaking engagement. The topic was ‘the importance of education’. No biggie, it was just a church talk, but it was to be in front of a few hundred people and that kind of thing is scary.

So I wanted to nail it and besides, getting an education really was the most important thing for me at that time. I’d left home earlier than most and paid my own way through the last two years of high school. I was now working 30 plus hours a week, apart from a grant I had won, again paying my own way through a full University year.

Education also was a topic I was conflicted over. A lot about school and University education system angered me, particularly how much of it I felt was irrelevant, various unfair flaws in the marking system, the disconnect between what I was learning and what I could see myself using. And the feeling you get from school that getting a C, B or A made you a “C”, “B, or “A” person.

I’m not surprised that the day probably influenced the dream I had that night. I dreamed I was walking through a church and a minister stopped me in the hall and said; “I want you to go on a mission”. Hello? He wanted me to go wandering around knocking at stranger’s doors interrupting their dinner time, wearing clothing that looked like it came out of the 50’s, live 24/7 with a perfect stranger and worse -stall a University education that I had invested so much in? Even though I was just dreaming, my chest felt heavy and my heart sank to the floor of my stomach. Whilst thinking more such thoughts, a calm voice spoke right in my dream ear and said; “The most important education in life, is the education of character and all other forms of education are towards this end, or secondary to it”.

It woke me up. And I lay quietly mulling that over for some time.

Now, here’s the interesting thing. Whilst I lay there, the dream started to replay while I was still awake. Literally it was like a slow lens flare that opened to display a 3d see-through movie image, right in front of my eyes and below the ceiling above me. I froze and I stayed very very still, stilled my breathing, stilled my body and thoughts, I didn’t allow myself to think or analyse what was happening. It was just the most curious thing and I didn’t want to spook it. When the hallway reformed, I heard again the same words, but this time the voice spoke not just in my ear, but clear and audible from all sides.

Throughout the years thereafter, whether teaching kids, mentoring young adults, coaching candidates for job roles or getting to know the number of people I’ve interviewed for high tech roles, I’ve seen how much character impacts on your ability to learn and grow. I’ve met quite a few PHDs who have worked more than 20 years in factories and a number of Bachelors, Masters and Doctors of Academia that live sour lives in low paid work far below their intellectual capability and their career expectations. In contrast others I’ve met who’ve succeeded without degree or other academic qualifcations.

In recent times, when I’ve explored in interviews the whys or wherefores of either group. I’ve seen or heard that their ability to have success, has depended more on traits like resilience, passion, courage, ethics rather than their formal education alone. Resilience to knock-backs & upsets. Passion, enthusiasm or curiousity that fuels ongoing learning and improvement. Courage to attempt at things that they could fail at, or courage to take a risk when problem solving requires it rather than be hand held through to a solution. Open mindedness to open themselves to ideas outside what their past informs them on, such as things they don’t actually know. Ethics; that gives a person a pride in producing quality work.. and so forth.

An academic education is a boon if you can get it, but I’ve seen for myself that much of our capability to learn and grow is rooted in character.

BBST Course thoughts

There was a bit of chitter chatter on the twitter front to an article posted in Women Tester; My BBST Experience – A letter from an introvert

I loved the BBST Foundation’s course and likewise I found the course totally engaging and totally stressful. But I’m inclined to think, that would be so. Because I think real learning took place. I have a saying; “Learning is change, change in the world and change in people. No real education leaves a person unchanged.” I remember once going through a particular hard life experience and getting upset with myself because I was totally blind going in on how to handle the challenge and I could only really do my best. But for sure I was not going to ‘ace’ it. A friend of mine told me when it comes to getting an education in the real world, holding on and managing to scrape through on the skin of your teeth, works the same as an ‘A’ grade.

The BBST course wasn’t as hard as that, but what I loved about it, was that in my book, it did involve a lot more than ‘book learning’. A lot of courses are predictable and encourage a template style of thinking. I’ve experienced courses that are activities of the mind, involving memorisation and re-gurgitation. There are predictable questions – predictable responses, every thing about how you were supposed to respond was clearly telegraphed. To be honest those type of courses, particularly typical in University I could do half asleep. They often got you to look at academic scenarios rather than ‘live’ events or ‘real’ scenarios. You felt like what you were learning was actually separate from the real world. The learning had it’s own internal logic and consistency within an academic context – but applied to the dynamic, changing, non-organised day to day world we live in? That engages not only mind, but your social and emotional skills? Not so much.

What I liked about the course was that you were required to think, mull over, critically analyse, question, assess, evaluate – You look at your own circumstances, you learnt from where you were at and looked to leverage other people’s experiences where you lacked. There was room to explore – and peoples experiences not just course content was valid. You weren’t just adding ‘stuff’ to your memory banks but your ‘skills’ were tweaked, how you looked at things, how you questioned, how you processed stuff. I found that very exciting.

Yes I found the course stressful. I remember on the last exam I got a question that asked me to map paths through a program, for someone like me going in with no software testing experience and no particular love of mathematics – I was not a fan. I remember sitting there looking at the screen with the tears rolling down my face and feeling absolute despair that I would ever have the smarts to understand that stuff.

There was a lot of stress, because the course one way or another I think takes you out of your comfort zone.  But, that’s how it is I think because the heart of learning is growth and growth requires you to move out of your comfort zone. Period. Which means feeling confused sometimes, awkward, fearing that you’re going to look “dumb”, clumsy and uncomfortable when you’re trying something new. If I have one suggestion for the course Instructors – is that there needs to be a little more encouragement.

I’ve worked a lot with kids before, half of your efforts were involved in encouraging, showing faith, believing they could accomplish stuff that they had no evidence at all that they could do. They needed encouragement and non-judgement – and likewise even though the audience are adults, when I did a stint as a Foundations Instructor I noticed they responded the same way. For many it’s not learning stuff that fits into familiar paradigms or the way learning has happened before.  And those who are used to ‘acing’ it – don’t. So a little support, empathy and encouragement goes a long way.

Motivation behind ‘Peepsweave’…



When I went to University I was disappointed in the memorization and regurgitation style of learning, and again disappointed at how very little that I was taught was relevant in the real world. Therefore when I starting working in soft-skills, IT training and the new e-Learning space, I followed a more Māori model to learning.

Learning is change, change in the world and change in people. No real education leaves a person unchanged. Learning is about the pragmatics of everyday life, but it’s also about unfolding what you were put on the planet to do. Developing your talents, exploring your natural interests and developing a career that doesn’t go against your natural grain.

In older times, our community would watch a child carefully throughout his early life to determine which skills should be taught him .When he got to be about 11 or so, he was brought before an Elder and with great ceremony told a story. He was then to separate himself, meditate on the story’s true meaning and relay it day later. What ever interpretation he gave, he was right. Because there was no ‘true’ meaning, what the child focused on, how they interpreted the meaning, what they saw in the story pointed to who he was and where his place was.

This is critical for a happy person, a healthy community. There are long periods in our history and the history of others that we associated with, that I can say speaking from those experiences; you don’t change people, you don’t try to make them ‘perfect’ , ‘better’ or create some kind of Utopia society. You simply reveal who people really are and historically we found that sufficient to weave the community together out of what people are, not what you may want, wish or think them to be. The ‘bad’ in the community as necessary as the ‘good’ to knit a community closely together. As necessary as a weaver once put it, as the knotted and smooth strands used to weave baskets.*

People tend to not ‘hear’ that, they can’t imagine living in a society without jails, violence or mentally ill. It’s enough to invite scorn. But, I took the opportunity to put this concept in practice in a Western setting, when I served a proselyting mission in Melbourne, Australia. I declined to spend time knocking on doors. Instead I made a statement to the local church community that I would get a 100% voluntary participation of all youth I approached between 11 and 18 years old in a project to develop their talents, be able to express their real voice and create a relationship with them sufficient to work through some of their problems. I targeted street kids in the area and kids who were active members or who were listed as members in the community, but who never came.

I chose a musical play, wrote the main theme from scratch and wrote each character with a specific kid in mind, to express a talent they had or wanted (sing,dance, act, paint, order people around, play with the technical stuff –whatever.) It was magical that whatever town we traveled to, it all came together. I don’t have the time to tell the type of success we had, but for example; a bunch of Tongan boys too shy to socialize had a love of rap, connected them with an inactive Lebanese guy who had a natural gift for rap, teaching and involved them in that community. Two boys that were often separated by force because of their violence, I instead got them to work together with a comedic one-upmanship routine they wrote mostly themselves. Two groups of 13-14 year old girls who hated each other, who had contrasting life styles and loved dance, one group identified funk the other group identified with ballet, we wrote a scene that played a music rounder that we could have both groups dance to at the same time, the different dance styles contrasted and complemented each other in a total piece that looked dynamically great, which created a hook for girls to start converse without rancor and fear to justify their contrasting styles.

I got 100 percent participation, it’s not hard to get people to do what they love to do.

In my life now with a background of 20 or so years in training people of all ages and a number of years in recruitment, Peepsweave is a movement towards building healthy communities by realigning the disconnect between what Universities teach, what industries need graduates to be and know and kids learning to map a career to their actual talents and nature.

*The ‘knotted strands’; the problems people have or are being, were used to bring out the best in the community and to knit that community out of need. Problems were used as tools to unite, rather then seen as divisive.