The long and winding road that has led Michelle Kivits to Port Hedland’s door has also taken her to Cambodia, New Zealand, the Swan Valley residential rehabilitation centre Shalom House, Disability Employment Services, and Kingdomcity Church Wangara Perth.

The common theme through each of the positions Michelle has held has been one of service with a humanitarian focus, with over 25 years extensive experience within employment and counselling service, although for a time in New Zealand she also ran and owned a women’s fitness centre.

Michelle, the Regional Manager for the Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation, arrived in Port Hedland two years ago after a 12-month contract with Awareness Cambodia, a not-for-profit aid organisation working in partnership with communities in underprivileged parts of Cambodia.

The work is focused on one of the poorest Cambodian provinces, Kompong Speu — operating a Child Development Centre which houses and supports more than 52 children, giving them a hope and a brighter future. They have visits from West Coast Eagles players every two years where they help to build local houses for those who are most disadvantaged in this region.

Michelle had previously run the employment services department at Shalom House male rehabilitation Centre and was the head of the Personal Ministry and Counselling Department at Kingdomcity Church with more than 3000 people attending each week.

After 13 months in Cambodia, where travelling just 60km in the poorest province often took more than four hours, Michelle considered “anything was doable”.

Initially employed with AAC as its Project Manager, within 13 months the Regional Manager position became available, and Michelle was strongly encouraged to apply. She got the job and has been in the role for the past 10 months.

Michelle said she has found Port Hedland a tight-knit and supportive community.

“People are very friendly, and I was really welcomed into the town. Within three months I joined PHIC’s Community Industry Forum and the PHCCI and this has been a great platform for meeting local people,” she said.

“It’s a slower pace than Perth and I think that’s what young families enjoy about living here — and the lifestyle. It’s not hectic, their kids are involved in different activities, and they have time to spend with them because you are home in 10 or 15 minutes, you’re not stuck in traffic for an hour before you get home.”

AAC provides direct services to enable Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to participate in employment and economic opportunities. It has run a Community Development Program since 2015 and operates seven businesses including pastoral station management, general maintenance, mechanical servicing, and management of the Auski Munjina Village between Port Hedland and Newman.

Within a few weeks of arriving, Michelle introduced TAFE components for the six AAC’s Work for the Dole activities to broaden and improve skills development for all job seekers registered with AAC.

When COVID hit last year, the AAC job seeker caseload went from helping 840 people to 1280 and is currently at around a 1000.

AAC offers a personalised wrap-around employment service to all its job seekers.

“We’re in a unique position where we can pay to upskill our job seekers and for the month of July 2021, we successfully placed 66 people into paid employment within Port Hedland,” Michelle said.

“We work closely with job seekers and local employers, assisting job seekers in gainfully securing tickets or licences that will enhance their job opportunities not only within the mining sector but right across the border spectrum of employment within the Hedland region.

“There is a large number of positions available within the hospitality, childcare and manufacturing industry.

“The shortage of staffing is being contributed to by the lack of backpackers, who would normally be in the region.

“Our employment services team assist job seekers with interview techniques, make sure that resumes are presented well, and screen the candidates before we send them to the employer, this contributes to our ongoing success rate of employee, employer job-matching.

“We have some fantastic employer incentives; $11,000 is awarded to the employer when the job seeker has continued employment with them for up to 26 weeks and through the 1000 Job’s Work Package, local employers can access $57,000 over a two-year period for all new positions created.”

Michelle says she is in awe of the activity in the port.

“Most Saturday mornings with my dog, I sit at the Dome Cafe and watch the ships come in,” she said.

“I was and still am in awe of these massive vessels and what actually happens, the magnitude of the money through the iron ore that comes out of Port Hedland and the number of carriages that the trains transport daily is phenomenal. It’s astounding to consider the amount of iron ore that is in this land.”

From the magnitude of the mining sector to the natural attractions, Michelle said she was struck by the beauty of Karijini National Park, which she has visited several times.

Closer to home, there is Pretty Pool, viewing the spectacular staircase to the moon, monitoring of the Flatback turtles at Cemetery Beach.

“Then there’s spending time at the Port Hedland Courthouse Gallery, shopping at the Bungalow and finishing up with a great cuppa at the train café before travelling the long seven-minute drive home with no traffic lights in sight.

“What’s not to love about living here in Hedland?”

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