A new job in a new town in the middle of a pandemic — all challenges that did not deter Donna Curnow when she arrived in Port Hedland last October as Manager of Industry Engagement at North Regional TAFE.
While she is based in Port Hedland, Donna’s brief is to become engaged in the Pilbara community to understand key issues.
She travels regularly throughout the region and spends time at campuses in in Karratha, Newman, Tom Price, and Broome.
As she reflects on her time so far, Donna said she is struck by the sense of community and the friendliness of the regional people.
“What makes Port Hedland people get along well together is that they tend to be straight forward and just get on with things,” she said. “They grab a challenge and are not scared of getting outside their comfort zone and doing something different. They are willing to do the work.
“There is a strong interest in networking and building the skills of the local workforce,” she said. “Both personal and business development is seen as very important to ensure the growth and resilience of the towns and the communities in the Pilbara.”
Having never been to Port Hedland, Donna said: “My first impression was wow, that’s a huge pile of salt and gee it’s damn hot! But everyone assured me I would adjust and thankfully good air conditioning enables one to function.
“I am fully adjusted and love the lifestyle in Port Hedland. I love going away on weekends and finding new spots to explore.
“Recently I went to the Cossack Art Awards and stayed the night in Point Samson. Not only did I manage to participate in an art course, but I was able to vote on my favourite piece in the exhibition, buy a piece of art from the Artist in Residence, and then go fishing. With weekends like that one never feels like they are missing out on the city.
“It’s a different experience and way of life, but I love to change and learn new things. I owned a high-end fashion boutique (while completing a B.Ed ) in my twenties, followed by a café and catering business before having twin girls. I never thought I’d be walking around in steel-capped boots and visiting mine sites in our state’s mining epicentre.
“There are people here from all over the world living here. My partner is from Seattle, Washington. We enjoy listening to interesting stories of how people made their way to Port Hedland.
“We have a deep appreciation of the arts and have enjoyed learning and buying some pieces from local artists such as Pauline Williams and Christine Thomas.
“The new Spinifex Hill space is fantastic, and FORM does a terrific job supporting and promoting local indigenous artists. I see this as an important industry. Not only is art a wonderful and profound way of healing – it is predicted to be worth up to $16 billion a year to the national economy. The appetite for indigenous art is growing both nationally and internationally and to see this being fostered and supported is fantastic.”
Donna is a member of the Port Hedland Industry Council’s Community Forum, the Pilbara District Leadership Group and a number of working parties that allow her to immerse herself in the region and be aware of all the issues and needs in each community.
While her knowledge of Port Hedland may have been limited, she has extensive experience in VET (vocational education and training).
Donna has had several key roles in metropolitan TAFE campus’ as both a lecturer and mentor specialising in workplace training delivery.
“The job was a good opportunity for me to return to the TAFE sector with a new focus – to better understand all stakeholder and business needs in the region and align our training appropriately,” Donna said.
“This is a timely role at this stage of my career because I can use all my experience and prior knowledge to make a positive contribution for the future.”
The demand for training, skills and employment cannot be underestimated, and a collaborative approach is essential to meet the skill needs of the mining sector while enhancing educational options available to residents in communities.
“The Pilbara development Commission has recently shared details of $170 billion of projects in the pipeline for the Pilbara. The Chamber of Minerals and Energy are anticipating a need for 40,000 workers in the next three years,” Donna said.
“Industry driven demand remains a focus for TAFE. We are responsible for skilling the industries that drive our economy. We are already delivering instrumentation and automation training at our Karratha Campus. Linkages have also commenced around future skills required for the emerging industries of solar, wind and hydrogen industries.”
She said there was also a focus on school-aged children and providing VET in schools (VETDSS) and pathways for education and training to feed into the local workforce.
A major focus is to provide training and support to the many local Indigenous communities of the Pilbara.
“We have very successful Ranger programs that allow local people to stay on country and better understand and protect their environment. Horticulture and land management practices can be delivered on country and be incorporated into many environmental projects,” Donna said.
“I look forward to growing my understanding and developing more positive relationships here.
I am happy here and hope I can play a small part in improving our community now and in the future.”
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