National ACE Summit Emphasises Role of Australian and Community Education Providers

The Community Colleges Australia (CCA) National ACE Summit has underlined and reinforced the role of not-for-profit community education providers in meeting two crucial national skills goals – expanding the trained aged care workforce through new training, and broadening and deepening foundation skills – language, literacy, numeracy and digital skills.

More than 170 people participated in the virtual Summit on 29 June. They had the opportunity to watch unique keynote presentations and panel discussions, including three skills ministers, three shadow skills ministers, economists, not-for-profit leaders, aged care workforce experts and language, literacy and numeracy specialists. Representatives of every state and territory participated, along with speakers from New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT.

View all of the Summit sessions on video through this link.

Ministerial Addresses

The Summit included three ministerial keynote addresses. (See image above.) In his keynote address, Commonwealth Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business, Stuart Robert, said:

“A big thank you for what you do. It takes focus and discipline to study as an adult…. For vulnerable and isolated community members, the ACE sector is invaluable in helping people overcome obstacles, which might otherwise have prevented them from pursuing training opportunities. What you do is important, and we should never give up on people, never stop learning and developing…. Each year close to half a million students take accredited vocational education and training through ACE… Indigenous Australians, people living with disability, rural and regional residents, people from lower socio-economic groups, people from non-English speaking backgrounds and those over the age of 50. By enrolling in a training course offered by ACE, all Australians are given an opportunity to learn a new skill.”

In his speech to the Summit, the Hon Dr Geoff Lee, NSW Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education, said:

“This Summit is a wonderful opportunity to share innovative ideas and experiences. I continue to be impressed by your dedication to education. You are reaching some of the most disadvantaged people in New South Wales. [In my state, ACE students] – 13 percent identify as having Aboriginal heritage, 19 percent identify as having a disability, 64 percent are from a remote or regional area, and 28 percent are aged over 50. Even though the past year has been challenging, I am encouraged by the way you have adapted to new technologies to deliver education. You are playing an important role in the New South Wales skills response by helping people to build new capability, to be employable, and to achieve personal, family and community goals. I commend you on these efforts.”

Victorian Minister for Training and Skills & Minister for Higher Education, Gayle Tierney, also addressed the Summit, and said:

“We have shared values where we recognise the importance of adult education. This sector is not more important than ever before. Community education delivers for our society and our economy, and I am also proud the Victoria is the leader in the adult and community education sector. The Victorian Adult Community Education Statement focussed on giving adult community education the recognition and strategic direction it deserves…. A constant focus is the delivery of accessible training in foundation skills, digital literacy and employability skills…. When it comes to Learn Locals, we have brought them out from behind the kitchen door; they are considered a key part of our post-school system. We recognise that Learn Locals are committed to engaging and supporting our most vulnerable learners, and that they create pathways that not only lead to employment and further skill development, but also set the path of life-long learning and strong community engagement. We recognise their importance …. Learn Locals change lives.”

Other Keynote Addresses

Dr Marcia Keegan, SGS Economics and Planning, spoke about “Australia’s Economic Wellbeing: The Role of Community Education Providers”, and David Crosbie, Community Council for Australia, talked on “Surviving and thriving in challenging times – lessons from today”.

Other Speakers

David Mackay, Chair of Community Colleges Australia (CCA) & CEO of TLK Community College

“Australia’s adult and community education – known by the acronym as ‘ACE’ – sector is wide, diverse and highly significant, especially when it comes to reaching our nation’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. Foundation skills is on the national policy agenda, following the Steven Joyce VET report in early 2019, and the emphasis on foundation skills placed by the Productivity Commission’s report leading to the upcoming National Workforce Agreement. Training the aged care workforce has also become a higher priority following the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care, and the vulnerability of aged care residents last year to COVID-19 infections, when they constituted two-thirds of all pandemic deaths in Australia. This Summit is intended to ensure that our sector’s providers can play their part in urgent future skills policy development.”

Dr Don Perlgut, CEO of CCA

“What factors have led to not-for-profit ACE providers becoming so important to training the aged care workforce? More than 23 percent of government-funded Certificate III Individual Support students – the core certificate for aged care workers – and more than 19 percent of Victorian students study with an ACE provider. Thus our sector makes an enormous contribution to aged care workforce training. Did the New South Wales, Victorian or Commonwealth Governments create policy settings to encourage that? The answer to that question is no, no and no. That’s not good enough. If we are really serious, as a nation, at recruiting and training new aged care workers, we must have policies that actively support ACE providers and that will leverage the important roles ACE providers already – and can – play. This must be changed, and quickly.”

Theresa Collignon, Deputy Chair of CCA & CEO of Macquarie Community College

“It’s important to emphasise that as a nation we have very different approaches, levels of support and ACE organisational structures in different states and territories. It is essential that the Australian Government move its focus to create policy settings that will facilitate the ongoing presence and the efforts of ACE providers, no matter where they are located.

“We are overdue for the upcoming and updated National Foundation Skills Framework. And it is essential that Framework clearly specifies the vital role of ACE providers. We are the most effective and efficient providers in foundation skills, and deserve to be recognised for our decades of expertise in engaging the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. The not-for-profit ACE providers are ready, willing and able to deliver these vital services for the community in the community.

“As Dr Keegan outlined, national policies that are based on “well-being” are key areas that we can easily contribute to, because we do so much, as community-based organisations that keep the individual learners, their families, their employers AND their communities in mind, simultaneously. That’s the key to our success, and all governments must acknowledge and assist that.”


The Summit’s two panel discussion groups examined two sets of resolutions, now in final draft prior to going to governments: Aged care workforce training (PDF) and Foundation skills (PDF). CCA welcomes comments on the resolutions until Monday 5th July by emailing

Shadow Ministers Panel

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