Atwea College Name Launch April 2019

Speech by Rowan Cox, CEO, at the launch of Atwea College name, 5 April 2019

I’d like to extend a very warm welcome to all those in attendance today, because it is the members of our community that make this organisation what it has become. You are in some way a part of our history and now will become a part of our future.

I’m sure most of you know that the WEA movement started in this area in 1913, and as an organisation we are nine years older than the Country Women’s Association.

We are very proud of our history, of the opportunities that have been afforded to members of our area regardless of their background, social standing, economic status, and it is this enduring commitment that brings us to this very point in time.

We are making history today.

Almost every time we talk to people about the modern day WEA, people often comment that they didn’t know we did as many things as we do. The modern day WEA does more than languages and liberal arts. We are a successful RTO, we run a senior secondary school for at risk young people, we stretch more than 6,500 square kilometres, and we employ more than 90 people on permanent contracts and hundreds more as sessional trainers.

What I really like about this organisation is that despite our community-based approach – where we make things work with the resources we have available because it’s the right thing to do – is that we do achieve great results.

We operate from eight permanent sites, and many others through outreach. We actively consider the decentralisation of education and training opportunities to be at the centre of engaging local learners.

But we are more than that.

Yes, we still offer the traditional lifestyle type programs that have made us iconic in the area; last year alone more than 1000 people participated in a course just for fun or to learn a new life skill.

Rowan Cox, CEO, Atwea College

But we are now so much more than that.

We are an incredibly diverse RTO that works in niche markets and is driven by community need. We are not just a business services provider, an aged care provider or a traineeship based provider. If there is a community need that is unanswered, then we consider it part of our community development role to contemplate how we can help.

How can we play a part in strengthening the fabric of our community through the provision of education and training? How can we be part of building social capital?

The National VET completion rates in community-based VET providers is 47%.  In 2018, our Community Services Obligation programs rates for positive outcomes was 70%, Smart and Skilled funded programs was 80%.

In our VET Student Loans programs last year we had a student retention rate of 100%.

The national average of students in VET who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is 3.4%; our population of learners who identify the same is 12%.

The national average of VET students with a disability is 4.2% and among our population last year 31.9% identified as studying while managing a disability.

But – we are so much more than that.

Since 2002 we have run a registered and accredited independent school as a community based model. We have been a leader in this model across the state in the last decade. More than 1000 young people have been given the opportunity to complete their school-based education with us and go on to become better members of our communities, with many progressing to further education, training or employment.

Our school retention rates are on par with the state average, and we work with kids who’d rather be anywhere than in a traditional school. Our HSC results mirror the same bell curve as other schools; our subject selections are wide and varied.

We are so much more than what people think.

But what people think was starting to box us in a bit. If every conversation has to start with what does WEA stand for, and what do we do, we were running out of time to start telling people about all the other things we are doing and could be doing.

So our legacy, while an outstanding foundation, had started to constrict our potential.

How could we identify unity as an organisation when our names so clearly tied us to geographical locations? How could we convey easily what we do when we have an acronym that doesn’t actually include any words that link us to education or training?

How could we show how vibrant, energetic and enthusiastic we are when our name, if known by others, automatically conjured up images of quaint, aged, maybe a bit dusty and in some cases, irrelevant.

This organisation has grown more in the last 10 years than it did the 90 years preceding it.  We’re a late bloomer – but flourish we have.

We needed to redefine our title. But not who we are or what we stand for.

 Integrity, inclusion, innovation. 

And that’s how we come today to be celebrating Atwea College.

Atwear College Launch, Newcastle

We are pleased to have with us the expert who facilitated this challenging process, Louise Karch, author of Word Glue and considered to be Australia’s #1 name whisperer.  She was invaluable in helping guide us to finding Atwea.

Atwea is not an acronym. It’s not a different or ancient language. Atwea is a word that has no meaning.  Its meaning will be created by what we make of it.

It pays homage to our history with the letters WEA so clearly prominent.

It creates a sense of purpose and destination with the AT, but it is just a word that allows us to invest all the energy and innovation that brought us here today, into the next 100 years.

Kodak, Ikea and even Google are words that have no pre-determined meaning, but speak them now and you all automatically know what I am referring to.

Atwea will be the same.

Instagram started as Burbn.

Dell was PC’s Limited.

Yahoo used to be Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web.

Google used to be Backrub.

And Amazon was previously named Relentless – and if you’ve ever bought from Amazon you’ll understand why when you receive all their follow up emails.

These companies were successful but needed to break away from what they were before in order to really meet their potential.

Atwea will be the same.

What is not the same for Atwea as many other community based providers is that we have a team of people who are willing to consider what we do, and how we do it and are not afraid to take a risk to ensure we are thriving and not just surviving.

We have very strong leadership in our organisation and many of them are here today, but I am specifically talking about WEA’s and now Atwea’s Board of Directors.

They are all experts in their fields, professionals, locals; who volunteer their time to help ensure the governance of our amazing organisation remains strong.

They embrace leading from the top.

And without this amazing group of eight people the vision that I have for this organisation would remain unrealised.

I want to thank Martin Coates, Chairperson; Chris Seysner, Deputy Chair; and Merran Magill Executive member, for their leadership and support through this process. To have people of their standing back the conceptualisation and logic of this bold move is without doubt a great privilege.

Atwea’s role in our communities is to unlock potential. Potential of individual learners, of groups of learners, of learners in a certain areas. Of employers, of support agencies and of our staff who engage with all those people in different ways every day.

Atwea was WEA. WEA is now Atwea. Integrity, inclusion, innovation. And now as Atwea we move forward to embrace the full capacity we have made available to unlock potential.

Thank you for indulging me and allowing me to speak so long; my personal passion for this organisation’s achievements and capabilities has not diminished one ounce in the 20 years I’ve worked here.

Now I’d like to hand over to Martin Coates, outgoing chairperson of the Board of Directors to say a few words and to propose the toast.