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From Humble Beginnings To Social Entrepreneur

Meet Michael Combs, the intern turned executive turned social entrepreneur. By the time he resigned from Hewlett Packard, he was the youngest director in the Asian Pacific, then 27. Now 30, School for Social Entrepreneurs graduate started up CareerTrackers – A national not for profit social enterprise. CareerTrackers works with Indigenous university students and private sector companies, creating career pathways through a structured internship program.

Michael worked with Hewlett Packard for five summers during his university years through a program called Inroads for African and Native Americans.

“When I graduated, a year later I was the youngest person selected into their Global Leadership Program where they select four employees around the world to be the face of the company” he said.

In 2005, Michael left the U.S to work for Hewlett Packard in Melbourne. And on his second day on the job Michael noticed the non presence of Indigenous Australians within the management ranks. When asked why, Michael was laughed at. The next day, Michael walked in with a program proposal similar to the Inroads model, which was welcomed with open arms by HP management.

After several months of researching he discovered seventy percent of Indigenous jobs were tied to government funding. Combs said it was the Indigenous Support Unit at Melbourne University that allowed him to speak with its students at a seminar. Only two students showed up. One being Sean Armistead, who became Michael’s first intern at HP. Combs says after two years they grew from one intern to 12, winning Hewlett Packard’s Global Diversity Initiative of the year Award”. – which year?

In 2009, Michael left HP to launch CareerTrackers as a national enterprise aiming to employ more Indigenous people into the private sector. He claimed for many of its Indigenous students who were the first in their families to go to university, and for many the first to work; the internship was an “opportunity”.

“They have no role models or direction from their own communities in terms of creating career pathways for them”.

In return CareerTrackers goes out to find companies who are willing to take them onboard for a minimum of 12 weeks paid employment every year while at university into graduation.

“We train students on interview preparation and urge companies not to lower their interviewing standards as we want the students to really earn their positions” he says.

CareerTrackers has built relationships with 16 universities across NSW, ACT, VIC, QLD and SA. They plan to expand to the NT, WA and TAS with the aim to support 700 students within the next 5 years.

CareerTrackers has 28 employment partners ranging from major organisations like Price Water House Coopers, Westpac and Microsoft to small architecture firms and theatre companies.

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