SuniTAFE CEO Goes Undercover in the Classroom to Learn About Students

08 Mar 2024

SuniTAFE Victorian Pathways Certificate (VPC) and Victorian Certificate of Education Vocational Major (VCE VM) students were joined by Chief Executive Officer Brett Millington for a class last month. However, this was unknown to them at the time.

In the style of television series Undercover Boss, Mr Millington swapped his suit for a t-shirt, shorts, and a baseball cap for the morning and was introduced to the students as a Participation Assistant.

After working with the students and helping them during their morning sessions, Mr Millington returned to the classroom dressed in his usual suit to confess to the students that he had been hiding in plain sight.

Education Delivery Manager – Koorie Programs and Youth Education Lara Collins devised this plan as a fun way to get the CEO involved in the students’ syllabus.

“Part of the students’ course is about leadership, discussions around what attributes make a good leader, and how a leader needs to connect with what their community needs,” Lara said.

“We wanted to get Brett in to talk about leadership, but if we had invited him in as himself the students might not have asked him these questions directly. But this way, the students spoke to him as a support person which helped them to build a rapport and allowed them to feel comfortable just asking questions.”

Victorian Pathways Certificate Teacher Chris McGinty took this opportunity to help the students understand their own place in the community.

“About four years ago, we helped our students to ask the former CEO for our basketball court,” she said.
“So, I asked our students who they think asked for that basketball court, and they guessed the managers or the Board but none of them guessed that it was former students who were in their place just a few years ago.

“It was a really important lesson for them to see that they do have a voice and it is listened to, but its about how they put that voice across. We try to teach them that if you have a really good point you have to back that up and make a reasoned argument.

“It’s so crucial that they know that they can speak up, and things might not happen straight away, but it does happen.”

The teachers were impressed by Mr Millington’s work in the classroom and believe that he would make a good Participation Assistant.

“Initially he was a bit concerned because we didn’t really prepare him, we just left him with a small group,” Chris said.

“He found his stride after a while though and got right into it, and his team actually ended up winning the presentation challenge we were doing so he must have done well.”

Mr Millington enjoyed the chance to sit in on a class and learn how the students and teachers operate.  

“I was able to understand the dynamics of the class quite quickly. There were the confident students who were natural speakers, and then there were students who were more reluctant to speak up,” he said.

“There were some students who could interact in smaller groups and who were very thoughtful with what they chose to say. The question for us is how do we get them comfortable engaging on a larger scale. Conversely, we have to consider how to get the talkers to listen a little more.

“That is all part of our job here.”

When he returned to the classroom to tell the students who he was, Mr Millington took the time to answer the students’ questions. These ranged from ‘what was your first car?’ to ‘what have you done in your career to get here as CEO?’

Mr Millington took the opportunity to share some advice with the young students who range from 16 to 18 years of age.

“My main message to them was to find what you’re passionate about and pursue that as a career. Otherwise, it is a very long work week,” he said.

“My passion is making a difference and I hope, through my job as CEO here at SuniTAFE, that I’m making a difference through learning and education. It comes back to our strategic objective of changing lives.

“I have seen firsthand that our Youth Education programs do make a difference. The courses are designed to do things differently – it’s not a school and the students know that.”

To learn more about the Victorian Pathways Certificate and the Victorian Certificate of Education Vocational Major, click here.