Introducing Megan Aitken, General Manager for TAFE NSW’s Digital Operations.
What is TAFE Digital?
Our office manages the online education offering for TAFE NSW. At the moment, we have three online businesses across the state offering over 100,000 students a range of online courses, and our mandate is to bring them together to leverage TAFE’s size, scale, and reputation so we can offer more courses, more flexibility and more choice to our students. It’s not about offering all of our courses online. It’s about giving students greater choice about how and where they want to learn. Students who complete a course online will also have the chance to top up their education with campus workshops or in-class lessons and visa versa. So, it’s about giving students choice and variety as to when and how they want to learn. What is exciting, is that it is all headquartered in Armidale.
Can you tell us about your background?
I grew up in Sydney and spent most of my career in financial services. Working in finance gave a me a lot of insight into how large and complex companies work, and how technology can really impact the way things operate. For the past 10 years I’ve worked in Asia, which gave me and my family a much better understanding about life outside of Australia. It also taught me how to manage people and lead projects across different countries and cultures. I’ve worked at UNE as well, heading up their Strategic Projects Unit, which showed me just how exciting the educational sector is at the moment and how important technology is in giving students a better, more engaging, learning experience.
What brought you to Armidale?
My husband went to UNE, and many of his life-long friends live here. We also have family close by, so after 10 years in Asia, we felt this was a good place to relocate with our two children. We wanted an environment that provided both a career opportunity and supported family life. Our children ride horses and we love the community here, so Armidale provides all of this. It was quite a shift from Asia, but we felt that it offered everything Sydney does but with a much stronger community spirit, which we like.
Why did you join TAFE NSW ?
TAFE makes such a huge difference to people’s lives. This sounds a bit like a press release, but it’s true. We skill our workforce, first and foremost, which is an important role. But even more importantly, we give our communities access to education, and this is life-changing for so many people.
We cater for lots of young adults coming out of school, but we also educate people looking to change their careers, or professionals wanting to top up their skills. For those living in the country, our online courses are really important, because they can access the same courses and the same opportunities as their city counterparts.
What is the opportunity for our community with TAFE Digital located here?
I think it cements Armidale as an educational hub, with UNE, TAFE NSW as well as great schools. We will also be creating 40 new jobs within the department. Bringing new jobs to a city like Armidale means an increase in the money spent in our community that ultimately supports local business. I think an even greater opportunity is that TAFE Digital could act as a precedent for other government agencies to move to regional locations. If we get the model right, we will demonstrate that jobs with statewide responsibility can be successfully delivered from towns like Armidale, and this sends a message to decision makers.
And your broader contribution?
We give people the skills they need to secure a job, get that next promotion or change careers. I think that’s such an important contribution.
As a woman in business, what has been your biggest challenge?
I have focused not on being recognised as a woman in business, but rather as a good business person. I think starting my career in banking, which is such a male dominated environment, helped. It was so fast paced and you needed to really deliver, so your focus wasn’t on gender but on doing your job well and adding value to the team.
What would you advise a young woman starting out in her career?
Find yourself a mentor, but don’t automatically focus on finding a female mentor and it doesn’t have to be formal. I benefited from having brilliant male mentors in my career, and they weren’t officially labelled as mentors. They just gave me exposure to different ways of thinking, networking approaches, communication styles, and a more well-rounded perspective about business.
What are the biggest challenges that lie ahead?
The pace of technology is such a great opportunity, but it’s also a challenge. There is so much we can do when it comes to education – things like virtual reality, augmented reality and machine aided learning will open-up new ways to teach people in virtual classrooms – people from all walks of life, regardless of where they live and like to learn. This is all exciting, but we just need to make sure it really adds to the student experience.
Thank you, Megan.