Natalie Piper has completed her three-year Laboratory Techniques Traineeship in just two years at Stanwell’s Tarong Power Station, setting her up for a promising career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Natalie, 20, says the wide variety of practical tasks she undertook at the power station – including environmental sampling, testing and chemical laboratory analysis – helped her to breeze through her coursework at an accelerated pace.
“If I was doing a Laboratory Techniques Traineeship through a commercial laboratory, I don’t think I would have gotten as much out of it as I have at Tarong,” she says.
“I would have just been stuck doing repetitive tasks, and I wouldn’t have been able to have hands-on involvement with as many different situations as I have here, where I can have a completely different experience every day.”
Having obtained her Certificate IV in Laboratory Techniques, Natalie will go on to study a dual Science and Engineering degree at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ), and is looking forward to a long career in chemical engineering.
“I always loved chemistry because it teaches you about the world around you, and I enjoyed studying it in school, but I didn’t know I wanted it to be my career until I started this traineeship,” she says.
“I actually originally went to university to study nursing, but I realised it wasn’t for me. I went back home, saw an ad for this traineeship with Stanwell, and realised that I should go for it and give myself a shot at a career where I really love my work.”
Natalie is embarking on her career at a time when women continue to be underrepresented in STEM. The STEM Equity Monitor 2021 found the number of Australian women in STEM-qualified occupations dropped to 13 per cent in 2020 (down from 14 per cent in 2019), and women make up less than a quarter of students studying STEM in Australia.
“I think it’s important that there’s more female representation in STEM,” Natalie says. “It is a male-dominated industry, and like any male-dominated industry, it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s no reason why more women shouldn’t be getting into the field if they want to.”
Natalie’s supervisor at Tarong Power Station, Process Support Superintendent Kirk McNaughton, has been consistently impressed by Natalie’s can-do attitude.
“Natalie loves to learn,” he says. “She’s very driven, she’s always asking questions, and she’s always looking to help and to do more. If I say I’m going to go climb into a feedwater tank to grab a sample, she’s the first one to put her hand up and say she’s going to climb in there with me.
“I want trainees who have a lot of get-up-and-go and are willing to think outside the box. I don’t want to train somebody just to be a lab technician; I want them to take the initiative and think about how they can apply their skills and their knowledge outside the lab. Natalie has that mindset.”
Kirk started his own career with a Laboratory Techniques Traineeship at a power station, and knows the wide range of opportunities it can lead to.
“I’ve worked in laboratories, but I’ve also been an operations manager, I’ve done power station commissioning, I’ve worked in consulting, I’ve worked with liquefied natural gas and I’ve even worked with explosives, and it all began with that traineeship,” he says.
“Chemistry is the backbone of almost every single industry in the world. Groceries, pharmaceuticals, textiles – it’s all chemistry, so there are just so many opportunities for someone with a qualification in Laboratory Techniques. You really can go anywhere and do anything with it.”
If you’re a resident of the South Burnett region and you want to kick-start your career, you can apply for the Laboratory Techniques Traineeship commencing in 2022. Applications are open now and will close on 11 July 2021 – visit stanwell.com for more information and to apply.