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  • Writer's pictureCaterina Sullivan

I Received the Best Education a Young Girl Could Ask For, And It Wasn’t From School

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

On Thursday October 11, we celebrate International Day of the Girl Child. The United Nations explains this celebration as a day ...”to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls' empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.”

This year’s theme for the International Day of the Girl Child is With Her: a Skilled GirlForce. The theme is focused on the 600 million girls who, in the next decade, will enter the workforce. Among those living in developing countries, over 90% will be employed in informal work, experiencing low, if any, pay and abusive working conditions. This year’s Day of the Girl dialogue is focused on the transition from education to meaningful and safe employment.

The idea of a Skilled GirlForce made me reflect on my life and how I transitioned into the workforce.

My parents were small business owners. My dad was on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (except for one hour on a Sunday when we went to Church). I grew up in this small business environment, and it fundamentally shaped the person I have become in more than just my professional life.

I had an unusual childhood because my parents treated me as a mature young person from a very young age. I grew up working in the family business and actually used that time to bond with my parents. Some of my favourite memories were “helping” Mum in the kitchen, cooking cupcakes and other baked goods for customers. Sometimes I was more help at licking out the bowl she had finished with than I was at actually preparing the batter, but what else do you expect from a three year old with a sweet tooth?

I would also “help” with the washing up, standing on a chair at the kitchen bench, splashing water around as I took apart the mix master to wash the individual parts. I have fond memories of these times in the kitchen with Mum. As I have fond memories making deliveries in the work ute with Dad. The best times were when Dad picked me up in the van though.

My parents loved their work. Yes, there were complaints of the day to day struggles and pressures of running their own business, but I knew that overall they were passionate about what they did. This has always inspired me to look forward to work and love what I do, even when I was working a government 9 to 5.

I believe passion is the single most important “skill” in work. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be passionate about the day to day tasks of your job... but overall, you need to be passionate about what you are achieving. If you are working a retail job, for example selling clothing, think of the self confidence you are giving to someone by selling those clothes. You also need to be passionate about the fact that you are doing the best you can do everyday, and take pride in your work, even if it isn’t something that you want to be doing 10 years from now.

Of course, I learnt a lot more from my parents than how passion can drive a good work ethic. I learnt to be a risk-taker and to say yes to opportunities. It has landed me in some difficult situations, but it has also landed me in some incredible situations. And risk-taking is just part of the game.

My parents taught me to be confident and to carry myself with pride. During school holidays, I watched Dad in countless sales meetings with new clients. He walked in to these meetings, so sure of what he was going to say, and he believed in his product with his whole heart. He knew he would make a business better if they switched to his products, and it translated into the meeting. His self-assurance translated into my personality. I was a very confident young girl, sometimes too confident for my own good. I felt confident in debating a point, which I considered “selling” my opinions to someone.

Mum and Dad would pull me out of school at times to teach cooking classes. I ran my first solo cooking class when I was still in primary school and was named as a “cook to watch” when I was 11 years old. It was through actively watching my dad and taking notes on his behaviour and mannerisms that I became so comfortable with public speaking. If Dad had no fear, why should I?

My parents would also pull me out of school from time to time to work at trade shows and food festivals. I felt comfortable selling our products both to other businesses and everyday consumers from a young age because that’s what I had watched my parents do growing up. I had been so involved and so present in their work that it became second nature to me. Of course, Mum and Dad still had tips and tricks for me to develop my skill set further.

During school holidays, if I wasn’t at client meetings with Dad, I was in the accounts office with Mum, keeping the books. I would do data entry with Mum, help with the banking and discuss some of the issues we had in the business on the back-end. The best part was when Dad would call past with coffee and cake.

I was very lucky in my education. I went to good schools which challenged and extended me, even though I didn’t skip grades until I went to high school. But I learnt very little in the classroom. The skills I now use in my work came from spending time with my parents in their business. School didn’t make me fast at arithmetic; working behind the counter made me quick with numbers. School didn’t give me confidence in public speaking; running cooking classes taught me how to address an audience.

In fact, the education system is failing some people, with many students graduating or leaving school without understanding how to write a proper cover letter or construct a good resume, with many students not knowing how to speak professionally on the phone to someone or send a professional email and with many students not being able to fill out a basic employment form. I saw all too much of this at my previous job where I managed a team of 70 casuals and received many job applications during recruitment periods.

So when it comes to a debate on creating a Skilled GirlForce, I believe it all starts with an education in the home. It doesn’t mean bringing children along to work like my parents did, although I am eternally grateful for their decision to do so. But it does mean talking about practical skills in the workplace, some of the struggles faced in work and ways to be a better and more capable employee in the home. Parents can use their lessons from their professional lives to help shape their children’s futures.

Some of my favourite stories my parents tell are the ones from their work days, the clients they had, how they navigated those situations, their creativity in problem-solving. Education has such an important role to play in a child’s development, but we cannot discount the education children receive from their parents’ lived experiences also.


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