Growing up in Ocean Grove, Vic, Audrey Kottek knew very little about Australia's dairy industry and certainly had no inkling of working in it.
Today, Ms Kottek has exchanged the sandy beaches of the tourist town for the rolling hills of Korumburra, Vic, and a blossoming career at Burra Foods.
He involvement in the industry stemmed from her participation in the Monash Industry Team Initiative (MITI) in partnership with Gardiner Dairy Foundation.
Her 12-week summer MITI placement led to a full-time job and Ms Kottek is now helping Burra Foods to improve its yields and reduce its waste.
It's far removed from what she expected, but Ms Kottek is relishing the challenge and the rural lifestyle.
"Ocean Grove is a bit bigger and a lot more touristy than Korumburra but I didn't enjoy living in Melbourne and definitely prefer living somewhere regional," she said.
Ms Kottek has settled into Gippsland life, playing for the local soccer team and coaching a junior squad.
"It's been a good change," she said. "It feels a bit wetter and colder here in the hills in winter but I don't mind."
The program also opened her eyes to the breadth of employment opportunities in the dairy industry.
"Before I did the MITI project, I never thought of working in the dairy industry and didn't really know anything about it," she said.
The Burra placement was one of three projects nominated by Ms Kottek, who has a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering.
"MITI has a list of projects from different places and you can nominate three of interest," she said. "I picked Burra because it was looking at waste and yield on a packing line and it sounded interesting to me."
During the placement, Ms Kottek identified some key sources of loss, including a high number of underweight bags that had to be removed from sale.
After completing her degree, Ms Kottek secured full-time work with Burra Foods to continue her work in reducing waste and improving yield.
She particularly focuses on the chemical recovery plant, finding ways to recover and reuse chemicals used in cleaning silos or drains.
"We help to look after the plant and optimise the way it's running to reduce our water consumption or increase our yield," she said.
She's now a dairy industry convert.
"It's very interesting and there's a lot going on. It's a lot more complicated and a bigger industry than most people think and it's an important part of this community," she said.
"The regional opportunities appeal to me as well because I know I don't like living in the city."
Ms Kottek attributes her change in attitude to the MITI program and Gardiner Dairy Foundation support.
"I wouldn't be on this path if I hadn't done the MITI program. It definitely changed what sort of roles I was looking at," she said.
The Gardiner Dairy Foundation partnered with Monash University to introduce the first dairy industry MITI program in 2014-15 after manufacturers identified challenges in attracting highly skilled young employees to work in regionally based facilities. Engineers were particularly sought after.
The MITI program adds value to the Victorian dairy industry by exposing some of the best and brightest students to the industry as a potential career prospect and helping to attract high calibre individuals to work in regional Victoria.
At least six students who have taken part in the program are now working in the dairy industry with Burra Foods and Bega Cheese and joint projects by processors have achieved new shared outcomes for industry, including developing an app to record milk temperature at farm gate pick up.
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