Community Education and VET providers are important local resources. In addition to helping meet personal aspirations and providing options for local study they play a vital role in their region’s economic development and supporting an aging workforce.
Two recent reports have looked at these two latter issues. The first, by Community Colleges Australia (CCA), is New South Wales focused. It looks at the role of Community Education Providers in economic development. The second, published by the Regional Australia Institute, looks at the issues of aging, work and providing pathways for accelerating economic growth. They term it the ‘silver economy’.
Rural and regional education
The discussion paper prepared for the schools-focused Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education points out that:
“…vocational education and training (VET) provides an important pathway to further education and work opportunities.”
As the TAFE Directors Australia’s 2016 position paper on rural and remote vocational education suggests:
“In Australia’s regions industry diversity is high, population densities are low and geographical spread is wide. High quality, efficient training provision in these regions requires close cooperation between TAFE, community agencies and services, other training providers, and with local businesses.”
The education and training markets in these areas are ‘thin’ and there are significant challenges in delivering viable and relevant education and training. Providers need to be agile and flexible. Also, all the players really need to work collaboratively.
The role of Community Education
CCA’s report points out that community education has an important role to play in regional economic support and development. They do this in a number of ways, including through: business incubators, working with Indigenous communities, providing workplace and business services and employment programs. The best approaches are ‘place based’ as they recognise “…that regions are different, that one-size-fits-all approaches are often inappropriate, and that local communities must be central to development efforts.”
However the report recognizes that there are a number of barriers that prevent their better engagement, for example:
- “institutional and program blocks, such as the Commonwealth’s Building Better Regions Fund, which does not allow not-for-profit educational institutions to participate, and an absence of funding sources to develop pilot programs;
- difficult[ies] in attracting, keeping and supporting quality trainers and assessors because of distances to regional and rural centres; and
- [meeting] resourcing, facilities and infrastructure needs, which prevent organisations from delivering more services and developing new programs and strategic capabilities.”
An aging regional workforce
For regional economies, keeping their older workforce active and engaged can bring substantial local benefits. The Regional Australia Institute believes that, with the right strategies, regions can lift participation rates and boost spending power in local economies. They suggest that greater workforce participation requires a mix of policies that aim to empower older workers to stay in their jobs for longer, as well as making it easier for them to take advantage of new opportunities. This includes those that are out of work. The Institute has drawn on OECD work which recommends “a policy package that improves the employability of older workers, addresses barriers on the side of employers, and strengthens financial incentives to remain in the workforce.” CCA sees that working with regional universities and encouraging and developing social enterprises provides a way forward.