Automotive apprentice clinches Disability Achievement Award

Living with disability has not stopped 18-year-old Massimo Zurzolo from forging a career in what he loves – automotive mechanics and technology.

His commitment to success in the industry has been recognised, with the Kangan Institute automotive apprentice named the Apprenticeship Employment Network’s (AEN) inaugural Disability Achievement Award winner in February.

Mr Zurzolo, who is deaf and wears Cochlear Implants, said the award recognised the potential for people living with a disability to succeed in their chosen fields.

“I feel very honoured to win the prestigious award Disability Achievement Award at the AEN awards night,” said Mr Zurzolo.

“The award gives me a great sense of achievement and pride. I feel that this award will provide more opportunities (for people with a disability) and is an acknowledgement that people with a disability can do anything.”

Currently employed in the BMW #NextTech Mentored Apprenticeship Program with NextGen Jobs and BMW Group Australia, Mr Zurzolo is enrolled in Kangan Institute’s Certificate III in Light Vehicle Mechanical Technology.

Mr Zurzolo said a strong support network was a key factor in his success.

“I would like to thank my employers NextGen Jobs and BMW #NextTech, my mentor Mark D’ Aversa, my teacher Michael Valastro from Kangan Institute, and my family and friends for their support and guidance,” he said.

“Kangan Institute provides extra support for students with disability, but I haven’t needed to use this service because of the quality of training that has been provided to me.

“My training has been flexible and tailored to me. My teacher Michael has been open and willing to adapt his training by understanding that lip reading is important, with no hands over his mouth and with clear speech.”

A strong interest in cars – from their mechanics and design to engineering – sparked Mr Zurzolo’s determination to pursue a career in the automotive industry. The journey was at times challenging, particularly during COVID-19 restrictions, but the young apprentice stayed positive and focused on his goals.

“During the COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne, my workplace closed, so I did extra TAFE work online, including undertaking more units of study, to upskill my knowledge,” he shared.

“I have found online TAFE classes isolating and Zoom meet up classes challenging because of my deafness. Accessing all the information can be difficult because there are no subtitles and limited lip reading.

“I overcame the challenge by moving forward, having hope and being positive. I successfully completed all the units and was recognised by my teacher for this effort. I have gained motivation throughout my apprenticeship to ask lots of questions and learn as much as possible.”

Mr Zurzolo’s award win is the latest in a string of accolades. He was recognised in 2021 as a finalist for the Victorian School-based Apprentice and Trainee of the Year and awarded Kangan Institute’s 2020 Apprentice of the Year for Automotive - School Based.

Automotive Apprentice – Massimo Zurzulo

Kangan Institute’s Chief Executive Sally Curtain said Mr Zurzolo’s latest award reflected his personal resilience as well as a strong focus on inclusivity at TAFE.

“Congratulations to Massimo for this much-deserved recognition as AEN’s first winner of the Disability Achievement Award,” said Ms Curtain.

“Massimo’s passion for cars, combined with a personal determination and resilience has enabled him to overcome obstacles to build a future in doing what he loves. He is an absolute inspiration to all of us.

“Massimo’s success reflects the strong focus on diversity and inclusivity at TAFE and in the wider workforce – at Kangan Institute we are committed to tailoring our programs to ensure every student has an opportunity to succeed in their desired field.”

Mr Zurzolo, who plans to work with electric vehicles in the future, hopes that his story will inspire other people living with disability to pursue their dream vocation.

“Being deaf allows me to bring diversity into my workplace and school setting. It allows people to see that having a disability does not impact my ability to be a great mechanic,” he said.

“Being an advocate for people with disabilities, I strongly encourage people to know their rights. Every person has the right to feel safe and valued at work, school and in our society.

“For anyone considering an apprenticeship, make sure that the right support network is in place to assist you with your disability. The key to a successful, inclusive workplace and school is communication, with the right mindset. I believe in being honest and comfortable in discussing my needs at work and school.”

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