From carpenter to counsellor making difference in young people’s lives

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The careers counsellor at The Pavilion School in Melbourne had quite an interesting and unconventional pathway himself.

From refereeing soccer games and scrubbing sports hall floors as a teenager, through part-time jobs at fast food outlets and on to a carpentry apprenticeship after completing his year 12 leaving certificate, Andrew Zarafa was never without a job.

The “pathways and transitions” co-ordinator attributes this to the work ethic instilled in him by his parents. His father always said, “never leave a job unless you’ve got another job”.

After a number of years in the carpentry trade, circumstances led Andrew to his own fencing business and a variety of other jobs until one day an advertisement for a course caught his eye in the newspaper. “Do you want to help people?” it read.

Andrew completed a diploma of community studies and outreach counselling and secured a job at Berry St as a residential care worker and an outreach worker in a youth program.

From there he was encouraged to join the education department of the organisation and seconded to work with the students at The Pavilion School, where students are completing Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) instead of traditional Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) courses. The Pavilion School is a public school in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and provides a more flexible learning environment for students who have disengaged from mainstream education.

It was not long before he was offered a full-time role at the school.

As student pathways and transitions counsellor Andrew co-ordinates work experience programs, VET courses, and further education pathways.

Patience, empathy, problem-solving ability and emotional intelligence are essential attributes for the role, he says. He spends his days negotiating with students, parents and industry partners, with his sole aim being better pathways and brighter futures for his students.


“When you see the look on a student’s face when they graduate and there’s something waiting for them,” says Andrew, “that’s a real highlight.”

Parent and school council member, Teresa Hettrick, credits Andrew and his careers counselling with making a huge difference to her son’s future career prospects and his independence.

“He opened up James’ eyes to so many options, and encouraged him to follow what he really wanted to do,” she said. “Andrew is such a genuine, dedicated, caring counsellor who really wants equal opportunity for everyone.”

Andrew’s tip for those wanting a career as a school careers counsellor is that anyone with life experience, finely tuned communication skills and a solid understanding of educational career theory, will find it a really rewarding job.

While he admits it can be challenging at times, he loves that he is able to see young people change and develop over time. Many of his students have little concept of self-belief when they first consider career choices and part of Andrew’s mission is to give confidence to those who have not previously been supported.

For those young people who don’t yet have a specific career pathway mapped out as yet, Andrew’s advice is this: “The world is your oyster. Whatever you do now, you’ll use the skills that you’re learning throughout your life. Commitment is the key. Whatever you start, finish.”

On the wall behind his desk there is a huge sign with a mantra that he repeats to his students regularly. Nothing grows without hard work except weeds.

Andrew certainly seems to have answered that newspaper advertisement from years ago with a resounding “Yes”. He does want to help people.

What to study: Graduate certificate in career development
Skills: Communication skills and social intelligence are essential skills for this type of role. There are times you will need to advocate for students and negotiate with parents and/or business partners.
Tips: Read about Donald Super’s lifespan theory of career development. His work highlighted the importance of the development of self-concept and how this develops as a result of life experience. Super was the first scientist to assert that career development is a lifelong process.