A Community Colleges Australia (CCA) submission to Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) has highlighted the essential role not-for-profit adult and community education (ACE) providers play delivering “foundation skills” – language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills – to Australia’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable populations.
“The context for this discussion on foundation skills is huge, following the Commonwealth’s Budget announcements that commits almost half a billion dollars to revitalised and refreshed foundation skills programs. Australia’s ACE providers deliver to more than one in seven (15.2%) of Australia’s total vocational education students. In 2021, this represented 450,000 learners,” said CCA CEO, Dr Don Perlgut.
“Most importantly, ACE providers play a profound role in engaging the most disadvantaged learners, out-performing, in percentage terms, all other VET provider sub-sectors in their ability reach and engage those learners including First Nations Australians, people from a lower socio-economic background, people with a disability, older students and rural and regional areas. ACE providers specialise in lifting our learners – many of whom have complex needs – from unemployment to employment,” said Dr Perlgut
“Some 20% of adult Australians – rising to 40% of First Nations peoples – have one or more significant language, literacy or numeracy needs. The future of our economic prosperity and social cohesion is dependent on the ability of ACE providers to deliver essential foundational learning skills,” said Dr Perlgut.
CCA’s submission identifies several “big issues” in foundation skills:
Foundation skills have an integral role in reducing Australian inequality – and by extension – improving national social and economic participation. Unfortunately, wealth and income inequality are both increasing in Australia. As the Australia Institute recently stated, “Between 2009 and 2019 the top 10% got almost all of the gains of the latest recovery: that group secured 93% of the income growth in that period…. How long can Australia sustain an economic and social setting which excludes the bulk of its people from sharing in the economic gains?
Australia has an acute need to create and sustain post-secondary pathways. The Productivity Commission recently stated:
“The education sector needs to adapt to emerging skills requirements of the Australian economy. The skills demanded have been shifting, and there is also likely to be ongoing structural adjustment in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic. Over time, technological change and automation has replaced or enhanced aspects of some jobs, and generated demand for others. An increasing proportion of jobs require non routine skills, which typically demand workers with higher levels of education or training.”
ACE providers specialise in “place-based” foundation skills delivery. Australian governments and institutions have recognised the importance of place-based community services: “Place-based community-led initiatives are collaborative, long-term approaches to building thriving communities where many people and organisations work together towards a shared vision for their community.
This week’s Commonwealth Budget reinforced place-based servicedelivery, committing to addressing entrenched disadvantage in communities through “better use [of] place‑based approaches to target disadvantage and to support a greater ability for communities to make decisions reflecting their needs.”