CCA National ACE Summit Focuses on Foundation Skills

The CCA National ACE Summit on 29 June includes a major focus on the role and contribution – both current and future – of how Australia’s not-for-profit adult and community education (ACE) sector can improve the nation’s foundation skills: language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) as well as digital literacy (DL) and employability skills

Jason Coutts, Assistant Secretary, Foundation Skills, of the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment (pictured) will deliver a keynote speech, and be joined by an expert panel, which includes:

  • Tim Rawlings, Director & Head of Training Product Development, PwC’s Skills for Australia
  • Megan Lilly, Head of Education and Training, AIGroup
  • Vanessa Iles, Manager, Reading Writing Hotline
  • Jo Medlin, President, Australian Council for Adult Literacy (ACAL)
  • Kylie Fergusen, CEO, Community Centres SA
  • Caspar Zika, GM, VICSEG New Futures, Melbourne

Read their biographies here. The Summit will also discuss proposed resolutions, chaired by facilitator Frier Bentley.

The Summit takes place both in Sydney in-person and hybrid online, for those unable to travel on the day, concluding at 1.30pm: register to participate through the Summit platform or email CCA at for assistance or to book a place.

Commonwealth Recognition of Foundation Skills

The national importance of foundation skills has been recognised in a pre-Budget interview by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who said “We have initiatives to try to get some of the long term unemployed into roles with more specialist intensive support as well as a focus on foundational skills.” The Treasurer acknowledged the special requirements of teaching language, literacy and numeracy: “It does require additional resources for some of this more intensive training. There’s an economic and social dividend from taking people out of long term unemployment and into work, which has consequences for the individual’s quality of life but also for those around them.”

The Commonwealth is currently updating the National Foundation Skills Strategy, and a current Parliamentary Inquiry into Adult Literacy and its Importance underlines the national focus.

The Commonwealth Government has committed new investment to foundation skills capacity and support, which includes:

  • Development of an updated National Foundation Skills Framework
  • Removal of caps on the Australian Migrant English Program (AMEP)
  • The new Foundations Skills for Your Future program
  • Expansion of the Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) program
  • Increase of the role and capacity of the Reading Writing Hotline, with additional funds for outreach

Aged Care Workforce Training

The Summit will also highlight the contributions of Australian ACE providers in training the aged care workforce, a topic of particular significance following the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care, and the recent Commonwealth Budget commitment to 33,800 new aged care training places.

BACKGROUND: The Role of ACE in Foundation Skills

Australia’s ACE sector is one of the nation’s major providers of foundation skills, along with TAFE, delivering substantial accredited, informal and non-accredited training that assists disadvantaged learners in metropolitan, regional, rural and remote locations. ACE providers maintain a successful learner-centric service delivery model, partnering with local community organisations.

The unique abilities of Australian ACE providers in foundation skills have been highlighted through:

Provision of foundation skills training by community education providers in regional Australia, National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER, February 2021) states:

“The characteristics of community education providers, such as their relatively small scale and flexibility in teaching strategies, make them particularly suitable for providing [foundation skills] training.” (p. 3)

“Proportionally more regional community education providers deliver foundation skills training than other regional training providers, although regional ACE enrolment have declined, because of difficulty in securing sufficient funding and appropriately qualified staff.” (p. 9)

Foundation skills students with ACE providers are generally more disadvantaged than students with other providers. Consequently, community education providers are more challenged in their reach, teaching and delivery strategies. “For example, the lower socioeconomic status of their students acts as a barrier to securing transport to attend training, using the internet, and accessing childcare.” Despite their more disadvantaged profile, a higher proportion of foundation skills subjects in regional areas were completed by students with community education providers than with other training providers.” (p. 15)

The National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults (2012, Department of Education, Skills and Employment) states:

“Providers of adult education in community settings are critical to providing diverse foundation skills programs for adults, including through pre-vocational and bridging programs. The adult and community education (ACE) sector provides flexible pathways to help learners build their skills and confidence and progress to further learning or employment.” (p. 15)

“Informal learning as a stepping stone: For many individuals who are not engaged in formal learning, non-accredited education and training can build self-esteem and confidence and can provide a viable pathway into pre-vocational training, education or employment.  Adult and community education (ACE) currently provides a diverse array of vocational and learner interest focused education and training that fosters the development of skills required for individuals to participate fully in their communities and the economy. Australian governments will continue to support purpose-built community-based approaches to delivery through the ACE sector.” (p. 21)

BACKGROUND: The Importance of Foundation Skills in Australia

Australia still retains stubbornly low levels of language, literacy & numeracy (LLN) and digital skills nationwide. Around three million – one fifth – of working age Australians have low literacy (43%), numeracy (54%) and digital skills, reports the OECD.

The Productivity Commission found that the current range of language, literacy numeracy and digital literacy (LLN DL) programs are barely keeping pace with the flow of school leavers and new migrants who lack adequate LLN&DL skills. The Commission recommended that a national LLN LD skills strategy to bring together measures to improve school education, ‘second-chance’ learning in the VET sector and the other adult education services delivered by public and private providers.

Training providers, including community education providers, have a role to play in helping adults develop their foundation skills, says the NCVER:

  • “The need for individuals to build and develop their foundation skills is becoming even more important with the growth in the use of technology in the workplace causing a shift away from low-skill work.”
  • “Almost half of Australia’s adult population at that time had literacy and numeracy skills at a level considered to adversely impact on their ability to participate and function in a technologically-advanced economy.”
  • “Online learning may be a cost-effective delivery mode for education and training … but is generally not suited to foundation skills training, especially in LLN, because it requires a prerequisite level of literacy. Further, internet access is often poor in regional areas. Traditional class-based, face-to-face teaching was the typical mode of delivery for foundation skills training among survey respondents and interviewees.”

Foundation skills, including those delivered by ACE providers, also play an important role in Australia’s democracy and its economic and societal health, as a recent CCA report details.

Workforce Literacy

The AIGroup has communicated that mastery of workplace literacy and numeracy is increasingly important to meet the challenges of the evolving economy. In 2018, they reported that 99% of the businesses they surveyed were adversely impacted by low levels of foundation skills in their workforce. Australian employers want an estimated three million more workers with digital skills than are available. Language literacy and numeracy skills were identified as the fifth most important category of generic skill need across industries by industry reference committees in 2019.

Foundation Skills Workforce Needs

There is an insufficient current supply and pipeline of suitably qualified LLN specialists to deliver foundation skills training, due to factors such as:

  • low relative levels of renumeration
  • the casualisation of positions
  • the unwillingness/ lack of capacity to pay for skilled practitioners.
  • the Foundation Skills (FSK)Training package delivery skill requirements
  • the cost of specialist qualifications
  • a lack of a clear career pathway, and the absence of quality professional development inhibiting career progression

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