Georga's internship delivers dose of confidence

Mon 20 March 2017

Georga working on a laptop outside, smiling

Georga Kemp, 24, was studying a Bachelor of Visual Communication Design at the University of Newcastle when she received an email from her disability liaison unit about Stepping Into.

“At the time, I wasn’t really keen on what I was doing at university. I needed something to get me back on track and help me work out what I wanted to do,” said Georga.

Now in its twelfth year, the Australian Network on Disability’s Stepping Into program is a paid internship scheme that matches talented university students with disability with roles in leading Australian businesses.

When Georga first applied for Stepping Into in 2016, she was looking for something to do over the summer university break. One year and two Stepping Into internships later, Georga is now working on a large-scale project for the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) on an extended contract.

Along with hands-on work experience in a professional environment, Georga also wanted to develop her communication skills.

“The biggest thing I wanted was a dose of confidence. I also wanted more experience in terms of how people work together. I’m very much a people person and the experience has matured my understanding of communicating with people and working in teams,” she said.

Georga found that the experience, helped her gain valuable insight into her field of study, and gave her the confidence to grow personally and professionally.

“I came back to do it a second time because I found the experience so valuable. Not only to support what I had learnt, but also because of how much I grew as a person. I got a lot more confidence, and it reaffirmed what I was doing,” she said.

In addition, Georga found that one of the most valuable things she got out of her internships was the support network she found in her colleagues and supervisors.

“Coming out of uni, it can be a little bit scary working out where you want to go from there. Having that support network was really valuable,” said Georga.

Georga and her supervisor, Jeff, laughing in the office kitchen

Born with moderate to severe hearing loss, Georga doesn’t believe that her disability has ever been a barrier to employment. However, receiving the adjustments she requires to work effectively has been an issue in the past.

“I’ve come up against barriers in previous roles. I think sometimes people forget about my disability. And that’s OK, but it can be a bit of a shortcoming to come up against things like being reprimanded for mishearing something,” she explained.

“A lot of the time I’m not even aware that it’s a barrier! For example, talking on the telephone. Some people are extremely easy to talk to on the phone, other people, not so much,” she added.

And the solution? Georga says that understanding and communication goes a long way.

“It’s just taking that extra step. I don’t see my disability as a negative thing. It’s just part of my character. I’m proud of it and I wouldn’t change it.”

FACS made sure that the necessary adjustments were in place so that Georga could work to the best of her ability. Before she even started her internship, FACS asked Georga what adjustments she needed and made sure they were in place by the time she arrived. Georga’s adjustment involved being supplied with a phone with adjustable volume that was compatible with her hearing aid. It also involved a shared understanding about communication etiquette.

“Big areas are difficult for me to understand and hear in, so sometimes I need to move in order to hear someone. They’ve been really good at accommodating that.”

The Department also made sure that Georga had the support she needed throughout the program.

“They’ve been amazing in terms of how they accommodate me. But they haven’t overcompensated, which I think is a good thing. They know about my disability, they check in to make sure I’m doing OK, but they’re comfortable knowing that if I need anything, I’ll tell them,” she said.

Now that she’s completed university, Georga’s short term goal is to complete her extended contract with FACS, and continue working in a related field. But her experience has inspired her to take her expertise to the next level.

“I’d like to go back to uni to study marketing or business. In terms of the future, I’m pretty flexible. I’m just going to wait and see what comes up.”

Georga’s advice for students considering applying for the program is to “just go for it”.

“You’ve got nothing to lose! I was actually quite scared to do it at the start. But you know what, you never know until you try. It’s a great opportunity and I think everyone should give it a go.”

Applications for the Winter 2017 Stepping Into program are now open.

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