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Interview: Allison Bird

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Churchill:

So Allison, can you start by just telling me a bit about your work history and experience on being a woman in defence?

Allison:

Yeah, sure. Well, I’ve been in for just over 30 years, and when I first went through [inaudible 00:02:24] we were still all-female platoons then. And look, to be quite honest I don’t care either way. As far as I’m concerned, we put a uniform on, we’re all the same. Male, female, doesn’t matter. Providing you can perform the job, then that’s good. I’ve done logistics, pretty much been in logistics all my career. And this new APS job is actually the formation safety advisor for all things work, health and safety, so completely out of my realm, and a new area, other than, obviously, what we apply in our day to day Army jobs.

Allison:

So September last year, I decided that “Right, I’m coming up to my 30 years, so time to possibly move on, while I’m still sort of young enough to try something new.” So I put my paperwork in and separated 5th of February this year. And soon after I had the interview, and was successful, and won this new formation safety advisor’s job. So as part of the transition [inaudible 00:03:37] from last year, as defence members, we know that we can get RPL with our military training. So the first thing, obviously, I did was go through Army in the first instance, wherewith my courses and everything, I got the two diplomas, front-line management and materiel management.

Allison:

So I was advised through Facebook, actually, in fact, a number of times from mates who knew I was transitioning out, saying, “Have you tried contacting Churchill’s?” So I got onto Churchill’s, and part of the transition entitlements, we get the [CTAS 00:04:25] up to a certain amount, the CTAS, where we can either get paid up to a certain amount put towards physically attending a university or training, or in this case, I was requesting RPL through Churchill’s.

Allison:

So I’d initially sent all my details to John, who very quickly, which impressed me, responded and had listed a number of diplomas, including an advanced diploma, where I was pretty excited about that, ’cause I left school in grade 10, and thought I was pretty dumb. So all of a sudden I’ve got these diplomas [inaudible 00:05:18] But while I was applying for APS jobs … You know what I mean by APS, don’t you?

Churchill:

Well, actually no, I don’t. Can you tell me what it stands for?

Allison:

Oh, okay. Yeah, APS is Australian Public Service.

Churchill:

Oh, right, okay.

Allison:

So working for the government, but the APS could be in any government department, basically. So obviously I was aiming for defence side of the APS world. Makes sense. So I could continue using my experience and knowledge within the defence realm. So I was applying for logistic type positions, which makes sense, ’cause I’m a logistics background, and this position also come up, and I thought, “Well, why not apply for it too?” Yeah, so as part of the list of diplomas that John sent me, one of them was advanced diploma in WHS. And one of them was the diploma in logistics, one was diploma in auditing, or compliance in auditing.

Allison:

Now, of the logistics jobs I was going for, they were in fact logistic auditors, so combine the two. Now, through the transition cell, or those with the powers to be that approve our requests for CTAS, so in my case I was asking for them to approve me to get at least two of those diplomas, so the auditing and the logistics. And they indicated that we couldn’t. You can only apply for one, and it must be at that base level, to assist you in pursuing a job. I explained to them that the auditing and the logistics, the jobs I’m going for, they are combined. It is a combined effort. But they refused and said you can only apply for one.

Allison:

When I didn’t win … I made it to interviews for those logistics jobs, but unfortunately, you know, I was placed on the merit list, but somebody up there has got that bit of extra that own the job. So I ended up, I had made it to interview for the WHS, for the Work, Health and Safety, so I thought, “Right, well, I’ll apply for the advanced diploma.” So I put my request through. Again, they rejected it … “they” being defence … because they won’t approve an advanced diploma. They will only approve up to diplomas, because it still needs to be at the base level.

Allison:

So I ended up going back. I asked for just the auditing one; they approved that. Defence paid for me to then go back through to John to actually have the auditing diploma issued. When I got up here and learnt that I’d own that job … this one, I mean … I contacted John, and had paid for the advanced diploma in WHS.

Churchill:

Right, so you paid for that one.

Allison:

Yes, yes.

Churchill:

Okay. So you had already won that job, before getting the diploma?

Allison:

Yes. Yeah.

Churchill:

The advanced, diploma, I mean.

Allison:

Yeah. But I was able to actually put on my application, “In the process of getting an advanced diploma in WHS management.”

Churchill:

Oh, right, okay.

Allison:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Churchill:

Got you. Yeah, okay, so then you needed to go through with it.

Allison:

Yeah. Yeah.

Churchill:

And good for future, as well, isn’t it.

Allison:

Well, that’s right. Well, anything WHS, anything auditing, which is why I wanted that auditing one, are good for anything, so. Yeah, so that’s where it’s at.

Churchill:

Okay, and so what were the two qualifications that you RPL’d through the Army initially?

Allison:

Front-line management and materiel management.

Churchill:

And they were both diplomas?

Allison:

Yes, yes. And what they do is they align that to all our promotional courses and everything else that we’ve done, and time in rank and everything, and end rank.

Churchill:

Yeah, okay. And so did the Army assess you for any of these qualifications that John ended up finding you qualified for?

Allison:

No, no.

Churchill:

Right, okay.

Allison:

I believe they used to, a long time ago, but that went by the wayside. They have these other standard ones. So it depends on what you’ve done. So a [inaudible 00:10:26] Army would recognize, or defence would recognize, other diplomas depending on what their training is, so whether they’re an electrical fitter, or a motor mechanic, you know, radio operator, whatever. So because I’m in the logistics, those two diplomas cover everything that we’ve done throughout our career.

Churchill:

Right. Well, that’s great. And did you always know about RPL? Is that something that defence makes people aware of early on?

Allison:

Yes and no. Times have changed in defence. You learn more about it through your peers and their experience in trying to get it. So during the transition [inaudible 00:11:23] they don’t really touch much on it at all.

Churchill:

Don’t they?

Allison:

Which they should.

Churchill:

Wow.

Allison:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). They do touch base on it, but they don’t go in depth with it. They basically leave it up to the member to fend for themselves.

Churchill:

Right, okay. So if you get RPL through the Army, is that something that CTAS has to fund, or is that just part of what the Army gives you?

Allison:

Yes and no. The CTAS is only when a member is transitioning or separating from defence. So that entitlement only kicks in once the member has got, basically, their discharge or separation paper sin their hand. And then, they can request CTAS assistance. But for RPL outside of … So if you’re not getting out of defence, a member could, if they wanted to, go to Churchill’s and say, “Here’s all my qualifications,” and I guess the way Churchill’s is set up, that we can do that any time. And I guess the most obvious advertising of that is peers reposting through Facebook Churchill’s’ advert.

Churchill:

So that’s how you first came to know about Churchill’s, isn’t it?

Allison:

Yes. Yeah, yeah.

Churchill:

Yeah, okay. All right.

Allison:

That was a sneeze in the background.

Churchill:

Oh, was it? Sneezes are funny things, aren’t they? Well, so now that you’ve been through the process, and transitioned out of defence, looking back-

Allison:

Well, I’m still in. I transferred to reserves, though.

Churchill:

Oh, right, okay. Yup.

Allison:

Yeah.

Churchill:

So not full service, but still reserves.

Allison:

Yes, yes.

Churchill:

So do wish that you’d done this sooner, or do you think that the timing was perfect?

Allison:

You know, I think the timing’s perfect. If I had have done it sooner, maybe I might’ve made my decision earlier, too. You know, everything’s meant for a reason, so. Yeah, when things happen, they happen.

Churchill:

Yeah, sure. So do you think that … So if somebody is staying in defence, and not looking at transitioning immediately, but maybe just wanting to plan for the future, do people get RPLs in those circumstances? Just to [crosstalk 00:14:17]

Allison:

They could, yeah. They could. If they’re aware that there’s Churchill’s and other companies similar to Churchill’s, if they’re aware of it, then they perhaps might pursue their RPL earlier. Or they might want to wait until later. So if it’s a young soldier, sailor or airman that’s only done, say, five years, well, they may not get complete RPL like myself and my peers have got, because, you know, we’ve been in for donkey’s years. Whereas they’ve only just been in since yesterday.

Allison:

But then again, they may pursue RPL for what they’ve already done at that point in their career, to then put towards, so still attend university or [inaudible 00:15:08] or whatever, and have portions of those courses already recognized. So reducing the time that they’re physically attending the course [crosstalk 00:15:22]

Churchill:

Yeah, right. So using a bit of RPL to cut down on a few years of study.

Allison:

Yeah, yeah.

Churchill:

Yeah, that’s another good way to use it, ’cause it’s time-consuming, studying something, isn’t it?

Allison:

Well, like I said, I’ve never [crosstalk 00:15:35] yeah. Yeah. I left school in grade 10.

Churchill:

Yeah. Yeah, well, I mean, school is just, you know, it’s one size fits all, and it doesn’t fit everyone, does it?

Allison:

No, it was actually … And then we’re talking back in the mid-’80, when I left school and worked for a year, and then joined the Army, so things have certainly changed since then.

Churchill:

Yeah. Okay, interesting. So being a woman in the Army, did you find it hard?

Allison:

No. To be honest, not really, but yeah, I mean, I’m a pretty open person and get along with everybody, and you know, if it pissed me off I’d tell them. And they knew that. But I think I’ve been lucky, that I haven’t experienced issues like some out there. But I also know how to say no, too, whereas a lot of them don’t. So there’s half the issues.

Churchill:

[crosstalk 00:16:42]

Allison:

Again, sorry, I’m honest and up front. But yeah, I certainly haven’t experienced major issues where, “because I’m a woman,” you know, it’s not gone my way. I’ve bene lucky in that sense, you know. I’ve, I guess, had the good bosses. I’ve applied myself, I do my job, and got recognized for it, so.

Churchill:

Okay, great. So you really feel that you were just treated as a person, and merit based on your performance, not to [crosstalk 00:17:10]

Allison:

Absolutely. Majority of the time. And say, where it actually did start to come into play is the last couple of years, where male officers … and me being a senior warrant officer class one … where, for example, the major should be listening, and the young captains should be listening to their warrant officers, that last job I had definitely was not the case. And that was, I guess, my first … Well, not the first time. There’s been a couple of little issues, but nothing that I haven’t been able to handle.

Allison:

But the last year was, yeah, I had strife with a major just there, who him and I should’ve been working closely together, because I was the senior logistician, and he just refused to, basically, listen to me. Now, I don’t know if that is a case of, because I’m a strong-willed woman anyway, and he didn’t like that, or just purely his personality, and he’s just a wanker. I have had an issue with a peer of mine, couple of years back, about eight years ago. He just came in guns a-blazing, but he, again, that came down to personality. And you know, you try to adapt and overcome. So I don’t think that was more an issue with, you know, male not accepting female. It was more of personality, both strong, pig-headed people trying to work together.

Churchill:

Okay. But that’s interesting. So my thoughts were, you know, perhaps did you experience discrimination from above? But instead it sounds like any issue that you have had has been from below not respecting rank.

Allison:

Yeah, I guess, yeah. You know, some, it is evident, that “Oh, she’s a chick,” type thing, but you know, again, I’m a strong-willed person, so adapt and overcome, and make them listen. Whereas, you know, I can see how there’s a lot of other women out there that aren’t necessarily as strong and as confident as I am, where they just get walked over. And if I see that happening, not that I … I really haven’t, but if I was to see that happen, I would certainly be one to jump in and straighten things out immediately. So. But it is starting to become more prevalent, which is unfortunate, because you would think we’d be going the opposite. So …

Churchill:

Yeah, absolutely. So it’s actually getting worse rather than better?

Allison:

Yes, but what I see is, one of the reasons it’s getting worse is because the powers to be are making it that way. Like, I’ll put my hand on my heart and tell you that I get really pissed off when we hear that the politicians are telling our recruitment that you must have your quota of women. Some small policies where women don’t necessarily have to do the same as what the blokes are doing. Well, you know what, by putting those things in place, that’s pushing us back to the ’60s. And some of us women who have been in for a long, long time, and we’ve worked hard to get where we’re at now, only to be highlighted. We are continually being highlighted, just exactly the same as … As you know, I’m not saying this disrespectfully or in a political … Well, it is, ’cause it ties into the political. But the same with the Indigenous population. The government continues to highlight them. Well, you know what, if you put the uniform on, it doesn’t matter whether you’re pink, purple, white, blue, whether you’ve got … you know, tits or a doodle. You have got the uniform on, and if you can do the job, we’re all one defence. And it’s really, really annoying.

Churchill:

All right. So it’s about being a soldier, it’s not about being a man or a woman.

Allison:

Yeah, that’s exactly right. Being a soldier, sailor or airman. It’s about … you know, and even outside of defence. It doesn’t matter who you are. If you can perform and do your job, then it shouldn’t matter who you are and what you are.

Churchill:

That’s really interesting, to hear that you feel that it’s getting worse, if anything.

Allison:

It is, because we’re just continually being put in the limelight, and it’s been getting worse, and more and more in the last few years, that it is literally, by putting women in the limelight like is happening, we are now getting pushed back. And that’s why blokes are now starting to get pissed off with the women, because you know, they’re [inaudible 00:22:01] and that certainly is good. But it’s frustrating. You can appreciate, it’d be frustrating for the guys. You know? And that makes some of us women feel completely bloody embarrassed, because we did it. We get that, “Hey, we’re working with you, mate, not for your or whatever, we’re working side by side.” But by being put in the limelight, it’s just killing us.

Churchill:

So pretty much, the government’s efforts to support equality are making things worse.

Allison:

Yeah.

Churchill:

[crosstalk 00:22:40]

Allison:

That’s my own personal belief, you know? And more and more women’s groups popping up, and you know what, I get that, but you know what, stop it. Stop it! Let us just do our job and continue doing our job. And you can only advance, again, it shouldn’t matter what you’ve got. If you’re performing, you’re going to advance, and there should be no … what’s the word I’m after?

Churchill:

What are you trying to say?

Allison:

If you’re trying to advance, there shouldn’t be any …

Churchill:

Favouritism [crosstalk 00:23:21]

Allison:

Favouritism is the word I’m after, yeah.

Churchill:

Okay, yeah, got you. That’s very interesting. Hmm, okay. So Allison, would you continue to look at RPL in the future-

Allison:

Yes.

Churchill:

… if you felt like the role that you were doing was giving you new skills that might equal new qualifications?

Allison:

Yeah, I certainly would, yeah.

Churchill:

All right. And so I guess, having been through the process, you’re more aware of it now, and what is involved-

Allison:

Yeah. Yeah.

Churchill:

… and what you need to do. Okay.

Allison:

And at least, now I’ve also got contacts with John at Churchill’s, so if I do have a question, say, like in a year’s time, any skills that I’ve picked up in this new job, can I get RPL for something else? Does it highlight … So I would actually reach out to him, at least for advice and confirmation on next steps, basically.

Churchill:

Yeah, great. Great. So you feel that you can just contact him and he’ll give you the information that you need, and …

Allison:

Yeah. Yeah.

Churchill:

… whatever you need to. Well, that’s good.

Allison:

And I was really impressed with how quick and professional Churchill’s was.

Churchill:

Oh, good. That’s great to hear. That was going to be one of my questions, you already answered it. So if you were chatting to some friends who were looking at transitioning, just briefly, what would you say? What would you say to them about Churchill’s and your experience at Churchill’s?

Allison:

Well, I would tell them exactly that, that Churchill’s are there to help. They don’t beat around the bush, they don’t leave you hanging. You provide them the basic information that they require; they’ll respond to you immediately, and they’re there to help [inaudible 00:25:27] right from the word go. And I’d certainly recommend that they do contact Churchill’s, as soon as they know they’re transitioning, and if they haven’t already had RPL, contact Churchill’s and find out what you potentially could have recognized. And then go the next steps after that.

Churchill:

That’s awesome, Allison. Well, I think that’s about the end of my questions.

Allison:

Okay. That was pretty painless.

Churchill:

Yeah, good. Well, that’s good to hear. I’m really pleased to hear that you had a good experience, and you know, I think that there are a lot of people who aren’t really aware of RPL, and you know, if you haven’t gone down the road of formal qualifications, and your experiences come from on the job, then it’s important to look into what RPL qualifications you might be eligible for [crosstalk 00:26:35]

Allison:

Yeah, especially for the [inaudible 00:26:36] a lot of the young ones are coming up now, and a lot of the young ones have finished grade 12, and you know, have joined the services, but want to continue studies. So they still do their studies. Whereas the [inaudible 00:26:50] we just came in and went guns a-blazing. So, I mean, there are some of the [inaudible 00:26:58] that have gone on to do further studies or part-time studies while they’re serving, but again, there’s a lot like myself where, you know, we left school, joined the Army and just played Army.

Churchill:

And you know, all that years of great experience, unfortunately if it’s not down on paper it’s really hard to translate that to a potential employer, isn’t it.

Allison:

Yeah. And see, in my case, even though I now have got the advanced diploma in WH and S, I certainly am fully aware that whatever … because I haven’t physically done the university course, that there’s obviously going to be elements within that particular advanced diploma that I may need to go and do refresher portions of that course, you know? So where I’ll identify I need further training, although I’ve got the RPL, I will certainly go and pursue that extra training to cover those pieces that I may not necessarily understand or need the training on.

Churchill:

Yeah, that’s good. Great. Well, Allison, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate that.

END

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