STEM LICENCE: Sky’s the limit for trainee grad

Natalie Piper is setting herself up for a promising STEM career after completing her traineeship. Picture: Contributed

Getting hands-on experience in the STEM world is the best way to kick start a promising career.

This is according to Stanwell’s newest Laboratory Techniques Trainee graduate Natalie Piper.

The 20-year-old student fast tracked her three-year traineeship in two years at Stanwell’s Tarong Power Station, setting herself up for a career in STEM -science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The wide variety of practical tasks she undertook at the power station -including environmental sampling, testing and chemical laboratory analysis -helped her to breeze through her coursework at an accelerated pace.

“If I was doing a Laboratory Techniques Traineeship through a commercial laboratory, I don’t think I would have gotten as much out of it as I have at Tarong,” she said.

“I would have just been stuck doing repetitive tasks, and I wouldn’t have been able to have hands-on involvement with as many different situations as I have here, where I can have a completely different experience every day.”

Now that she has obtained her Certificate IV in Laboratory Techniques, Ms Piper will go on to study a dual Science and Engineering degree at the University of Southern Queensland, and is looking forward to a long career in chemical engineering.

“I always loved chemistry because it teaches you about the world around you, and I enjoyed studying it in school, but I didn’t know I wanted it to be my career until I started this traineeship,” she said.

“I actually originally went to university to study nursing, but I realised it wasn’t for me.

“I went back home, saw an ad for this traineeship with Stanwell, and realised that I should go for it and give myself a shot at a career where I really love my work.”

The budding engineer is embarking on her career at a time when women continue to be underrepresented in STEM.

The STEM Equity Monitor 2021 found the number of Australian women in STEM-qualified occupations dropped to 13 per cent in 2020. Women make up less than a quarter of students studying STEM in Australia.

“I think it’s important that there’s more female representation in STEM,” Ms Piper said.

“It is a male-dominated industry, and like any male-dominated industry, it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s no reason why more women shouldn’t be getting into the field if they want to.”

Ms Piper’s supervisor at the Tarong Power Station, Process Support Superintendent Kirk McNaughton, has been consistently impressed by her can-do attitude during the traineeship.

“She’s very driven, she’s always asking questions, and she’s always looking to help and to do more,” he said.

“If I say I’m going to go climb into a feedwater tank to grab a sample, she’s the first one to put her hand up and say she’s going to climb in there with me,”.

“I want trainees who have a lot of get-up-and-go and are willing to think outside the box.

“I don’t want to train somebody just to be a lab technician; I want them to take the initiative and think about how they can apply their skills and their knowledge outside the lab. Natalie has that mindset.”

Mr McNaughton had started his own career with a Laboratory Techniques Traineeship at a power station, and knows the wide range of opportunities it can lead to.

“I’ve worked in laboratories, but I’ve also been an operations manager, I’ve done power station commissioning, I’ve worked in consulting, I’ve worked with liquefied natural gas and I’ve even worked with explosives, and it all began with that traineeship,” he said.

“Chemistry is the backbone of almost every single industry in the world. Groceries, pharmaceuticals, textiles – it’s all chemistry, so there are just so many opportunities for someone with a qualification in Laboratory Techniques. You really can go anywhere and do anything with it.”

Any residents in the South Burnett region wanting to kick-start their career can apply for the Laboratory Techniques Traineeship starting in 2022. Applications are open now and will close on 11 July. Visit for more information.