True Stories: Athena Kontonis – Best of both worlds

Athena KontonisMy introduction to people with disabilities was at high school. My home economics class ran a program where students from a school for people with disabilities would come to our class once a week and cook with us. I remember thinking how awesome an idea it was. From then I was interested in disabilities and teaching and learning, but wasn’t sure how to proceed. By chance, I was looking in the university courses guide at the end of my final year at school and discovered a Bachelor in Applied Science in Intellectual Disability Studies degree and thought it would be perfect.

Placements in the disability sector was a primary component of my degree. Within a month of starting the degree, I had a short placement. The following year I did a month-long placement. In my final year I had to do 12 hours a week for the entire year. Each year I selected a different speciality to do my placement in so I’d experience the spectrum of the sector. That final placement lead to my career at Oakleigh Centre Industries, the employment arm of Oakleigh Centre in Victoria.

Straight out of uni I was offered a casual position as the Production Supervisor in the supported employee program, where I assisted and taught people with disabilities work skills. After about six years in that role, I became the Quality Coordinator for Oakleigh Centre Industries, which saw me away from the supported employees and instead working in an office developing standards, policies and procedures. These days I have the best of both worlds as the Learning and Assessment Manager. My role is complex, with my responsibilities including; assessing the skills and needs of the supported employees, employees and the business and organising appropriate training as a result; overseeing and maintaining the quality management systems; managing a team; running a viable business; ensuring customers’ needs are met and managing occupational health and safety (OH&S) concerns. My role also changes, adapts and expands as the business and the industry evolves, plus it’s busy, but that’s a good thing because I love a challenge.

The best thing about my role is seeing people with disabilities achieve. Some learn new skills, some progress to such a degree that they can obtain open employment, and some love their work at Oakleigh so much they don’t want to leave! It’s true, we have some supported employees that have been here for 40 and 50 years!

I feel lucky to be where I am today. If I hadn’t stumbled upon the course in the university guide, who knows what I would’ve done. It just goes to show that you never know how incredible your future could be if you don’t take the time to consider your education and career options.

Study and change your life – and others at the same time.

Athena Kontonis
Learning and Assessment Manager
Oakleigh Centre Industries

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