Meet the high school dropout who became an Indigenous leader

Meet the high school dropout who became an Indigenous leader

With high drop-out rates and disengaged learners, encouraging Indigenous students to complete their education can be challenging. But has this MBA graduate finally found the answer?

Pursuing a career helping others obtain an education is somewhat ironic for someone who dropped out of high school. But for Zack Haddock, it’s his life’s work.

Haddock leads the Koorie Education team within South-Eastern Victoria’s Department of Education and Training (DET). He oversees the Aboriginal Education Plan, and manages a team dedicated to improving educational outcomes for Koorie learners and communities.

La Trobe MBA graduate Zack Haddock leads Indigenous education in south-east Victoria.

Having worked in the DET with Koorie youth for over a decade, he knows better than anyone the needs of Indigenous students. So, when he eventually decided to return to study in 2014, he chose the Graduate Certificate course in Public Sector Management at La Trobe University.

‘I wanted to refine the skills I thought I had, and see what else I could learn from,’ he explains.

This course, offered in partnership with the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA), is directly aimed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working in the public sector. For Haddock, it was a perfect fit.

Often my studies have seen me as the only Indigenous person in the room,’ he says. ‘But in the Graduate Certificate I was able to focus on the learnings, and not feel like the odd one out.’

Being in an environment of his peers (culturally and professionally) ‘provided an environment closer to a family than a class,’ he says.

The course gave him plenty of new insights into his role at the DET.

‘Up ’til this point I had led from the heart and from gut feel. The Graduate Certificate gave me the theoretical grounding to be more strategic in my approach.’

Pathway to success

The Graduate Certificate in Management (Public Sector) is one of La Trobe’s many pathway courses. These pathways are ideal for students who don’t qualify for enrolment in degree courses, due to poor English skills, insufficient ATAR results or, like Haddock, haven’t completed VCE. After completing the pathway course, it’s easy to transition to further study.

Haddock says completing the Graduate Certificate was a massive confidence boost.

‘I started to believe that I actually could find success in further education.’

And so, emboldened, Haddock embarked on a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) at La Trobe University, which he completed in 2017.

Zack Haddock at his MBA graduation, with partner Kate and son Zack (Jr).

Preparation for a management role

The MBA was the ideal preparation for his role as Manager, Koorie Education at DET.

‘It’s provided me with a great theoretical knowledge base of traditional and contemporary business management,’ he says.

This has also given him the confidence to make informed, data-driven decisions and put forward arguments to his region with the confidence that the proposal is sound, and appropriate.

On a personal level, Haddock explains that the formal qualification has ‘provided me with the confidence to challenge within the DET, with confidence that my knowledge and skills are as valid as anyone else’s.’

Addressing the Indigenous education gap

As an expert in Koorie education, Haddock has a personal and professional interest in programs targeting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, such as the Indigenous Academic Enrichment Program and Indigenous Scholarships at La Trobe University.

He believes courses like the Graduate Certificate in Management (Public Sector), which is dedicated to Indigenous students, are critical.

‘Having an opportunity to stretch our learning in an environment where we can feel like we are in a community is a perfect platform for building courage, ambition and confidence to engage in more mainstream learning,’ he explains.

‘As an entry point, or re-engagement, with further education, the dedicated program enabled us to focus on learning, while we all supported each other culturally,’ he says.

‘I wouldn’t have had the confidence to enter a Masters level program without the grounding that the Graduate Certificate provided’.

Indigenous students get a feel for life on campus at La Trobe.

A tough-love approach

While enrichment programs and scholarships encourage Indigenous students to enrol in further education, high drop-out rates are the real issue. Support is essential. But for Haddock, a tough-love approach is essential.

‘The teaching staff were very supportive of my progress,’ he says, ‘but at all times they maintained very high expectations of me’.

As a result, Haddock says he felt validated. ‘I know that I can stand behind my degree with confidence that I earned every gram of the paper it is printed on,’ he says.

‘As a Koorie learner, I don’t want to second guess if my degree is as valid as anyone else’s, and I don’t want to feel like others assume I was handed a degree,’ he says.

So how does the Indigenous Education Strategy at La Trobe University measure up? ‘The proof is hanging on my wall,’ laughs Haddock.

‘I have an MBA that I know I earned, and that my family, community and colleagues are proud of. If La Trobe wasn’t effective in the Indigenous Education Strategy I wouldn’t have found the success that I have.’

Excel in your field with an MBA from La Trobe.