The first week in October was also the last week of school for BSSC Year 12 student, Caeleb Johnson.

As a member of BSSC’s Head Start program, Caeleb had the opportunity to pursue an apprenticeship alongside finishing his secondary education, spending three days each week on the job and two days at school.

As you read this, he’s launched into a full-time apprenticeship with ‘The Tilers Victoria’ and his plan is to complete three apprenticeship tickets—tiling, water-proofing and stonemasonry.

“I initially heard about the Head Start program at my 7-10 college,” Caeleb says. “To be honest, I thought it would be a great way to get out of schoolwork!”

Once he was at BSSC, into the Head Start program and on the job for much of the week, Caeleb realised the load he’d taken on was demanding and he had a choice about whether he stepped up or shirked the challenges.

“I feel like I was quite immature at the beginning of Year 11,” he admits, “just trying to find an easy path. But you can’t be young forever. I’m so glad I stepped up and took this opportunity”.

Caeleb recommends Head Start 100%, despite the demands of juggling work and school while trying to have a life outside of it all.

“The teachers have been nothing short of amazing and it’s so great to finish school and know I’m already well into my apprenticeship,” he says. “I’ve tried to keep pushing towards the big picture.”

For Caeleb, signing his apprenticeship paperwork felt incredibly significant and made him realise “this really is happening”.

As well as learning and practising the skills required on the job, Head Start schoolwork built skills that supported Caeleb to be truly work-fit. He’s studies covered things like budgeting and how to stay organised.

Head Start also teaches participants to be good communicators which is something he’s appreciating as he chats with clients about numerous aspects of the jobs he’s on.

Tiling has come with its own special set of challeges

“It’s complex and ten-times harder than you’d think,” Caeleb says. “It’s so important to do every part of the process correctly—there are numerous layers to ensuring water-proofing really will be waterproof—and getting it wrong can be very expensive.”

Earning an income has allowed Caeleb to get his own wheels and keep up his sessions at the gym, so he can also maintain a great level of personal fitness.

Meanwhile, BSSC has supported Caeleb to keep connected to his Indigenous roots.

“It’s difficult when you don’t know which mob you’re from,” he explains, “but I hope I’ll find that out in time.”

His involvement in the Indigenous program gave Caeleb a ready-made safe community, an Advisor who has taken his heritage seriously, and opportunities to participate in cultural events and even learn to play didgeridoo.

And of course Caeleb has achieved all this in the shadow of Covid.

“During the first lockdown I felt like I was disciplined with my schoolwork,” he says, “but the subsequent short lockdowns had a massive effect on my motivation for the academic side of Head Start.

“I really missed that easy and immediate contact with teachers and friends. You can always email a teacher but, if they are in the middle of another class, you have to wait till they have the space to get back to you.”

To get through, Caeleb used exercise, long walks and various ways of distracting himself.

His focus is now very much on the future with hopes to eventually complete an electrical or plumbing apprenticeship as well, so he has even greater skills to offer clients or employers.

“It will take years but one day I hope I’ll have my own business,” Caeleb says.

Looking back on the past 18 months, it’s family and close friends to whom he feels his greatest gratitude.

“It’s been such a rocky year and they’ve helped me across the line,” he says. “Although I’m so proud of graduating Year 12, it feels like a team effort. I never thought I’d achieve this and six months ago I would have said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to get there’.”

But get there he did! In hindsight, if he could go back in time and offer some advice to his 12-year-old self it would be this:

“Bad stuff and hard times happen, but it’s not about how hard you fall, or how hard you’re hit… it’s whether you get back up again.”