CCA Western Sydney Regional Economic Development Skills Forum emphasises the role of not-for-profit community education providers

A Skills Forum organised by Community Colleges Australia (CCA) has emphasised the roles and opportunities that not-for-profit community education providers can play in Western Sydney.

More than 70 participants gathered in Parramatta on 26 October 2018 to hear a number of presentations on Western Sydney skills and training, and to brainstorm how the region’s not-for-profit community education providers can increase their contributions to the region’s economic, social and community development. The Forum was arranged as part of CCA’s Western Sydney Regional Economic Development project to obtain input from a number of government, non-government, business and educational stakeholders, and was supported by the NSW Department of Industry.

In the Forum’s opening keynote presentation, Zoe de Saram, Deputy Secretary, Skills and Economic Development, NSW Department of Industry, spoke of the importance of government in providing critical infrastructure to Western Sydney, referring to the Greater Sydney Commission’s Three Cities Report and the Western Sydney City Deal. In closing her talk, she reaffirmed “the commitment by government to adult and community education – what you are good at, where you complement, where you connect and how you can leverage off each other.”

What’s Happening in Western Sydney

In setting the scene for Western Sydney’s regional economic development, a number of presenters described the region’s unique challenges and opportunities.

Therese O’Dwyer (Executive Officer, Regional Development Australia) discussed now the number of the region’s residents participating in formal vocational education and training (VET) decreased in the period 2006 to 2016, and emphasised the lengthy journey to work, with more than 200,000 residents of the region travelling more than 30 kilometres to work each day.

Billie Sankovic (CEO, Western Sydney Community Forum) referred to the Western Sydney Community Forum Community of Changes report, produced to provide insights to shape the future delivery of services in the region. She highlighted the region’s tremendous social, cultural and human diversity, including more than 40,000 Indigenous Australians, the highest concentration in Australia. She also spoke of the region’s challenges of incorporating more than a million new residents by 2036.

Sam Stewart (The Committee for Sydney) summarised research undertaken by the Committee for Sydney, which shows how rapidly Western Sydney is changing. The region already has two major education-economic hubs in Westmead and Macquarie Park, and growing in Parramatta. The Committee’s report Rebalancing the City recommends embedding education in town centres, ensuring that business can work close to educational institutions and helping education providers to become involved in regional governance and planning frameworks such as the City Deal.

Michael Cullen, Western Sydney Regional Manager of TAFE NSW, spoke of TAFE’s activities in the region, with 90,000 students attending at 21 facilities. He pointed to Western Sydney’s different educational demographic: many more people with no post-school qualifications, far fewer residents with university degrees, but more with VET certificates III and IV. He also discussed the region’s unemployment, where “the rate hides a huge concentration of youth unemployment”.

Kerry Robinson, General Manager of Blacktown City Council, described why the Council had issued an expression of interest to place a university campus in the Blacktown CBD: “It’s the ecosystem that surrounds a university. The activity will enliven the centre and change Blacktown from a ‘stagecoach town’”. The Council has already received “two fully formed bids” for the campus. The Council’s population is estimated to exceed 500,000 people by 2036.

In her presentation, Julie Scott (Manager, City Deal, Liverpool City Council) noted that “Liverpool is no longer on the edge; we’re in the middle of everything.” The Council is heavily promoting the Liverpool Health, Education, Research and Innovation Precinct, with TAFE, University of Sydney, University of Wollongong and Western Sydney University all key education partners. She also committed to assisting community education providers to get engaged in the Western Sydney City Deal.

Terry Rawnsley (SGS Economics and Planning) reported on a CCA-commissioned study of the region’s education and training needs. He noted that low access to job opportunities means that 46% of the region’s workers travelled to jobs outside of Western Sydney. He presented convincing data showing that higher education equalled higher lifetime earnings, and lifetime labour for non-English speakers was significantly lower: thus learning English was essential for migrants. Additional education is even more important for disadvantaged groups.

A large number of the Forum’s presenters were born or grew up in Western Sydney.

Community Colleges Australia Comment

In his concluding remarks at the end of the Forum, CCA’s CEO Dr Don Perlgut said that he once worked for the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC), and understood first-hand the region’s economic and community development challenges – and how important the “place-based” learning offered by the region’s community education providers could be.

“It is imperative that the not-for-profit community education providers operating in Western Sydney work closely together as part of a consortium or network to swing resources to our sector, so that we can do more of what we do well – providing education and training services to the region’s large number of vulnerable and disadvantaged residents and workers,” said Dr Perlgut.

“We have heard at length about the employment and training challenges facing Western Sydney. We have the opportunity to rise to meet these needs, of migrants and refugees from non-English speaker backgrounds, of young people keen to participate in the workforce, of older workers who need and want retraining, and of small businesses that need a ‘leg up’ in developing skills,” said Dr Perlgut.

“A large part of government investment into Western Sydney regional post-secondary education has gone into universities and to some extent TAFE. It is essential that community education providers be added to the mix and the partners in the Western Sydney City Deal, the Aerotropolis training hub and the Parramatta and Blacktown educational developments,” said Dr Perlgut.

“Today a number of organisations have made commitments to assist community education providers expand our services. We are committed to developing our relationship with TAFE NSW to complement TAFE’s major role in Western Sydney, and will focus on specific, ‘do-able’ projects. We are also keen to work with the region’s local councils – four of which sent senior representatives to the Forum – and to developing our strategic relationship with the New South Wales Government,” said Dr Perlgut.

Other Forum Presentations

The Forum participants also heard presentations from the region’s not-for-profit community education providers: Theresa Collignon, CEO, Macquarie Community College; Eric Wright, Principal, Nepean Community College; Cliff Pacey, Principal, Macarthur Community College; Danielle Bensley, CEO, The Parramatta College; Ka Chan, Manager, and Fiona Keene, JobQuest; Lisa Lillis, General Manager – Education and Training, MTC Australia; Brittany Jack, Chief Operating Officer, VERTO; Tonya Cook-Pederson, Sydney Community College; and Bernadette Mills, Vocational Manager, St George & Sutherland Community College.

Other Forum presenters included Uncle Greg Simms, Aboriginal Elder, who provided a welcome to the land of the Darug people; Councillor Sameer Pandey, who welcomed participants to the City of Parramatta and underscored the Council’s commitment to education and training; Nicolene Murdoch, CEO of Western Sydney University – The College, who described that College’s unique model of engaging new students; Dennis Smith, Multicultural Engagement Officer, Paula Abood, Sydney Regional CALD Coordinator & Jude Cooke, Head Teacher Career Pathways, TAFE NSW; David Hill, CEO of the ARC Group and member of the Parramatta Business Chamber; and Bob Turner, CEO of BREED Australia – and former Sydney Kings basketball star, coach and owner.

Copies of selected Forum presentations are available on the CCA website.

The Forum Participants

Other community education provider staff present at the Forum included Ted Nabung, CEO of Hornsby Kur-ring-gai Community College;; Jennifer Aldred, Senior Manager, Sydney Community College; Stuart Bastock, Head of Training & Sandra McKinney, Marketing & Sales Manager, Macquarie Community College; Syed Moniruzzaman, Education Manager, The Parramatta College; Carla Dawson, Curriculum Manager, MTC Australia; Shayma Saafan, Bankstown Community College (BCC Institute); and Libby Waring, Principal & Margaret Teed, Mentor Program Coordinator, City East Community College.

Other organisations represented at the Forum included NSW Business Chamber, the Parramatta Business Chamber, Penrith Chamber of Commerce, Warakirri College (MTC Australia), Training Services NSW – NSW Department of Industry, Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC), The Hills Shire Council, Greater Sydney Commission, the Reading Writing Hotline, Villawood Public School’s Community Hub, Ability Options, Settlement Services International, Schools Industry Partnership, Adele House, Wentworth Community Housing, TAFE Community Alliance and a number of local businesses.

Michelle Walker from Curious Minds facilitated the Forum, assisted by education and training consultant Camilla Couch. Forum organisers were CCA staff Evelyn Goodwin, Manager Policy; Anne Walter, Manager Operations; and Don Perlgut, CEO.

More Information

Go to CCA’s Economic Development Resources page for copies of a number of the presentations made at the Forum.

Contact CCA if you have any questions or wish to be included on CCA’s Western Sydney regional economic development mailing list.

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