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Rebecca Hope: Advocating for inclusivity and achievement

07 December 2023

From struggling to attend primary school to now thriving in the workplace, 2023 Victorian Trainee of the Year Rebecca Hope is paving the way for youth and disability employment.


Living with autism and anxiety, Rebecca was recognised by the Victorian Skills Authority for her contribution to her traineeship at the Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry and Regions (DJSIR) and advocacy for such pathways for people with a disability.

Rebecca is now a program coordinator with Amaze, Victoria’s autism peak body.

Her accomplishments seemed unrealistic many years ago. At the worst of times Rebecca couldn’t attend a mainstream primary school for more than 90 minutes a day, struggling with social communication and anxiety.

“My educational journey was, to put it lightly, a little bit rough,” she says.

She only started full-time schooling from 13 after moving to Rossbourne School, a specialist secondary college that serves the needs of students in a non-mainstream setting.

“I still experienced challenges, but I was able to get more targeted support there,” she says.

Despite that support, thinking ahead to the future was difficult. VCE, university and beyond seemed beyond Rebecca – not academically but mentally.

“Back then I thought the only way I could get a job was if I went to university, so I didn’t really think much about getting a job because I assumed I wasn’t going to be able to get one,” she says.

“I had dreams but they weren’t realistic dreams.”

Fortunately, at Rossbourne Rebecca learned about pathways offered through the TAFE system. After high school she attended Holmesglen Institute, completing work preparation courses for people with a disability, including an Australian-first program at Royal Melbourne Hospital where she enjoyed a placement at its people and culture department.

After another traineeship where she completed a Certificate III in Business, Rebecca finally had a clearer sense of direction.

“It took me until I was about 20 to figure out what I seriously wanted to do with myself,” Rebecca says.

She discovered the Youth Employment Scheme (YES), which includes a disability stream and provides young people aged 15 to 29 with a 12-month, entry-level opportunity to work in the Victorian public service while completing accredited training.

“I thought I might have a better chance of getting this because I have a disability and I’ve already been knocked back a couple of times from other jobs, so they might be a bit more understanding if they’ve set aside a position for someone with a disability,” Rebecca says.

Rebecca applied and was contacted by NECA Education and Careers, which is a group training organisation that also employs trainees and ‘leases’ them to businesses. Through NECA, Rebecca was able to complete the YES program with DJSIR as the host employer, while also completing a Certificate IV in Business through Melbourne Polytechnic.

Rebecca’s time at DJSIR led to developing effective coping strategies and working on initiatives such as a disability support services directory for her workplace.

Having built up her skills and confidence, Rebecca was poised to take the plunge into full-time employment. Reaching out to her networks, a contact at Amaze got in touch about an opening for an administration officer position.

“I went into Amaze, had a little bit of a chat with them about what I’ve been doing, what I wanted to do, where my skills and interests were,” she says.

“I didn’t get the admin officer role – but they created a program coordinator role specifically for me.

“I think they could see the skills and the lived experience being an autistic person and thought I would be a good fit for the organisation.”

In the role made for Rebecca, she works across several teams helping to deliver a range of initiatives both within the organisation and to the broader autistic community.

She now feels comfortable and empowered in her environment to achieve what she once thought was unachievable – full time work in a setting that requires social communication.

“No two days with the same, and that’s what I love about it. Every day is different.”


Rebecca’s journey has been complex and often arduous but she is now able to flourish. Through her experience she is a strong advocate for improving employment outcomes for young people with a disability.

“There’s a saying in the disability world and in minority groups that you can’t be what you can’t see,” Rebecca says.

“So I thought by using my voice and my lived experience I can contribute to developing reforms that would enable the employment rate of people with a disability to increase.”

Rebecca says she would have benefited in her youth by hearing from people with a disability who had taken traineeships as part of their professional development.

Her key call for improvement is more information on, and exposure to, post-schooling pathways from a young age.

“A lot of parties are responsible in some way for encouraging economic participation of people with a disability,” she says.

“Schools and educational institutions have a significant role to play, not only in teaching the theoretical content but also the practical work experience.

“More practical placement opportunities from a school and educational-based level with employers is also vital. Many people with a disability can’t effectively learn what it’s like to be in a workplace unless they’re put in that environment. I found that approach effective and many others have as well.

“I also strongly encourage educators and employers to listen to the person with disability themselves. After all, they know their needs better than anyone else, and they’re in the best position to tell what works and what doesn’t work for them to achieve their best.”

Personal recognition

The Victorian Training Awards celebrate the outstanding achievements of individuals, employers and training providers in Victoria’s TAFE and training sector. Rebecca was crowned the Victorian 2023 Trainee of the Year for her accomplishments, gaining a place as a finalist at the National Awards in Hobart.

She says the accolades spur her on to achieve more for the community.

“It was a really rewarding experience and obviously it led to a positive outcome not just for myself, but for NECA, Melbourne Polytechnic, DJSIR and the wider community who I work with,” she says.

“By telling my story through education and employment I hope to inspire others who might be facing similar challenges. I know I certainly surprised myself with what I could do, so if that can happen to somebody else that’s great.

“So that’s my aim, to be that role model to these kids with a disability who are coming up through school that I never had myself.”

Victorian Chamber support

Businesses highly value the role of career services in creating a high performing and efficient labour market. Following feedback that a current lack of adequate career services is having a negative impact on the labour market, and after extensive consultation with members and stakeholders, the Victorian Chamber released our Boosting Business with Career Services Policy Paper.

The Paper delivers 29 recommendations to improve the future of careers services nationally, ensuring that every Australian can access the support they need to thrive in the workforce of tomorrow. The full paper and recommendations can be read via the Career Services Policy Paper.

If your business needs support with trainees and apprentices, Apprenticeship Support Australia, part of the Victorian Chamber, is contracted by the Australian Government to provide free personalised advice and services for employers. Our Industry Training Consultants will provide quality support to help recruit, sign up, train, and retain apprentices and trainees and provide advice on financial supports, incentives and government or industry updates. Contact our ASA team with any enquiries.

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