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Asuria First Nations participant Thomas receives career recognition at prestigious NESA Awards

13 minute read

On Wednesday October 11th, Asuria celebrated the 2023 NESA Awards for Excellence, an event that highlights the positive impact of individuals and organisations in employment services.  

The coveted NESA Awards celebrate those who have made outstanding contributions to the industry and in their own careers, with the event annually highlighting exceptional achievements in the Employment Services sector, honouring individuals and organisations in three main categories including the Achiever of the Year, Champion Employer of the Year, and Employment Consultant of the Year.  

This year, through the incredible support of Babana Aboriginal Men’s Group, The NRMA Marine Team, and Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation, Asuria participant Thomas Wright was named a finalist for the  2023 Achiever of the Year category. This award recognises a former participant who has overcome extraordinary disadvantages to achieve employment.  

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Pictured L-R: Nicole Norris, Thomas Wright, Nicole Grainger-Marsh

As a proud Dunghutti man, Thomas has shown determination, resilience and transformation in overcoming multiple adversities, finding his first employment through Asuria’s services. This well-deserved recognition as a finalist exemplifies the incredible efforts that Thomas has shown in supporting not only his employment journey, but the journeys of other First Nations people.  

Thomas came to Asuria with a criminal record and no previous work experience, which brought a stigma to the job applications he would apply for and how he was perceived by prospective employers. In his personal life, Thomas was juggling a number of daunting challenges that took away his ability to fully commit to finding work. He had suffered from a drug and alcohol addiction, an emotionally taxing custody battle, and the impact of the deaths of several loved ones. Despite this, it was clear he was working towards the prospect of a brighter future, with the recent completion of a rehabilitation program, and his willingness to attend appointments with employment providers, even if he hadn’t seen results so far.  

August 2022 marked the beginning of change for Thomas when he was paired with Workforce Australia Mentor Sharnpreet in Asuria’s Richmond office. Initially, Sharnpreet struggled to form a connection, as Thomas’s previous experiences had left him lacking confidence in the support an employment provider could offer him. Sharnpreet wanted to win Thomas’s trust so she could help him rebuild his life.  

Sharnpreet wasted no time in learning his short-term and long-term goals so that they could chart a path towards employment. During one of their appointments, she shared an upcoming Maritime Operations Program with Thomas, which caught his interest. This program is a collaborative effort between Asuria, Babana Aboriginal Men’s Group, Tribal Warrior, and NRMA Marine. Catered towards First Nations job seekers, participants of the Maritime Operations Program undergo four weeks of hands-on training with Tribal Warrior on the Mari Nawi and  Wirawi, working toward formal maritime qualifications that can be used to support their future employment.  

Excited about what this opportunity could bring, Thomas began to feel hope again. He eagerly went through the screening process with Asuria’s Industry Partnership team, which included Industry Partnership Manager Nicole. It wasn’t long before they received the good news that Thomas had been accepted and would join the Maritime Operations Program in November 2022. To make sure he was set up for success, Sharnpreet made arrangements for Thomas’s photo ID, personal protective equipment (PPE), and an Opal Card reload for transportation to and from the training.  

Once training was underway, Thomas and his fourteen peers took on tasks to build essential skills in maritime operations, such as routine maintenance, basic survival skills, firefighting, and teamwork. Many participants hadn’t been in a program of this nature, so Thomas took the lead in encouraging his peers, maintaining a strong work ethic that positively influenced the rest of his class.  

Upon completing the program, a special graduation ceremony took place in December 2022 aboard the Mari Nawi in Sydney Harbour, where Thomas and his fourteen peers received a certificate of recognition for their participation, Certificate I in Maritime Operations (General Purpose Hand), Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA), and First Aid training delivered by TAFE.  

Reflecting on his time in the program, Thomas shared, “The training really reconnected me with my culture, you know. I was in rehab. I was in a dark spot for a long time, and coming to this program has really lightened my life back up.”   

Witnessing Thomas’s passion and exceptional performance in both practical and theoretical aspects of his studies, Asuria’s Industry Partnership Manager, Nicole Norris, collaborated closely with NRMA Marine, a prominent Australian domestic transport and tourism business, to facilitate his employment within six weeks. In January 2023, Thomas started working as a general-purpose hand aboard My Fast Ferry. He was assisted with medical and online police checks, transportation arrangements, work clothing, and wage subsidies to support long-term employment.  

Speaking on Thomas’s progress towards employment, Nicole shared, “My friendship with Thomas is just a bonus to witnessing him overcome his barriers and to be seen, not for his past, but for the contribution he can make in the future. I am proud of him and proud to call him my friend. I feel privileged to have been a part of this chapter of his life. For Thomas, put simply, the sky’s (and waterway’s) are the limit.”  

Thomas and Nicole at Sydney Harbour

Pictured L-R: Thomas Wright, Nicole Norris

Thanks to Asuria’s partnership with the NRMA Group, Thomas and four other participants from the Maritime Operations Program were offered job opportunities across NRMA Marine’s fleets and wharves in Greater Sydney.  

Reflecting on his journey, Thomas expressed his immense pride and gratitude. He said, “Mate, me standing here today, I’m one proud man. It has got me into a place where I’m smiling every day. I wake up every day. I go to work every day. I’m just over the moon. I just love going to work.”  

In May 2023, Thomas attended the 2023 TAFE NSW Gili Awards, where he won the Supply Chain and eCommerce Student of the Year award. From here, he has seen an upwards trajectory in his journey, media coverage, community support, and growing support for his inspirational story, and the future of First Nations employment opportunities.  

Thomas Wright at 2023 Gili Awards

Pictured L-R: Mark Spinks, Thomas Wright, Con Kittos

Continuing his role with My Fast Ferry, Thomas sits on the newly established Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) committee at NRMA Group, acting as a voice to influence decisions and strategies to create a more inclusive and culturally safe organisation.  

According to CEO of Asuria Australia, Nicole Grainger-Marsh, Thomas’s success is proof of his unwavering character and resilience.  

“Thomas's journey, marked by resilience and determination, is truly inspiring. The entire Asuria team – particularly Nicole Norris, who has supported Thomas on his journey throughout the last 12 months – are immensely proud of him. He's living proof that with the right encouragement, support and interventions, anyone can achieve success, even when self-doubt lingers and when life has been a difficult road. An inspiration to us all.”  

Facing a wall of obstacles, Thomas overcame his barriers to employment and emerged as a beacon of inspiration for his community and peers. We wish Thomas all the best in his future endeavours as a valued employee at NRMA Marine and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for you, Thomas!

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