Planning for training recommencement: A guide for ACE providers

In the following article, CCA’s CEO, Dr Don Perlgut, outlines the importance for Australian adult and community education (ACE) providers to commence planning for recommencement of training in coming months, as vaccination rates increase.


Despite a devastating wave of COVID-19 infections since late June, both New South Wales and Victoria are making plans for a re-opening in October, following highly successful vaccination programs. In New South Wales, this will mean that “stay-at-home orders for adults who have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be lifted from the Monday after NSW passes the 70% double vaccination target”. The Victorian plan notes that “we’re no longer aiming for COVID zero,” and “as we reach 70% and 80% double dose vaccination targets, the Roadmap lists certain venues for opening – but only on the condition that all eligible attendees to the venue are vaccinated.”

The message in those two states: to participate fully in the economy, you will need to be fully vaccinated. Although there have not yet been any announcements about the requirements of training providers to exclude unvaccinated staff and students, it appears that New South Wales and Victoria are moving in that direction. As a precursor, the New South Wales Government mandated that “from 8 November 2021, all NSW school and preschool staff [including non-government schools] will be required to have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine.”

Other Australian states and territories – except the ACT – are operating at close to “COVID zero”. But it is likely to come for them as well. By world standards, Australia fared extremely well during COVID-19, but “Delta strain” outbreaks in New South Wales and Victoria changed the equation dramatically. The strain’s transmissibility has upended previous assumptions about how to deal with COVID. As Sydney struggles through its 13th week of lockdown and Melbourne’s lockdown days exceed more than 230 in total, ACE training – even in the less-affected regional areas of those two states – are still hampered by restrictions. Earlier, simple measures, such as 1.5 metre distancing and masks on public transport, are no longer sufficient.

Although Australia started its vaccination program relatively late, the good news is the wide-scale availability of vaccines and a rapid Australian uptake have provided potential for the country to become a world leader.

The Challenges of Re-opening Training of ACE Providers

ACE providers will face numerous challenges as they move (or are pushed) to recommence training, which will probably not fully commence until February 2022. Challenges include vaccinations of staff and students, masking requirements (“here to stay,” says Monash’s Dr Michael Lydeamore), improving classroom ventilation, dealing with nervous staff and reluctant learners and fulfilling contracts with governments. To deal with these issues, ACE providers need to conduct proper advance planning.

Metro Sydney and Melbourne providers, subject to longer lockdowns, have been more impacted than their regional counterparts; many metro providers will lose up to half the 2021-22 financial year in training by the time restrictions are lifted. Nevertheless it is clear that disadvantaged groups – which make up a significant part of Australian ACE students – are often the first to leave training and the last to return. But providers still incur significant costs even without conducting training, and online delivery remains unsuitable for a large proportion of disadvantaged learners, as CCA’s research in early 2021 proved, with an average of about 50% of students of ACE providers unable, unwilling or otherwise incapable to utilise online learning effectively, due to cost, access, internet speed, hardware or educational background.

Planning the Post-Lockdown Vaccinated Future for ACE Providers

What do Australian ACE providers need to do to plan their post-lockdown, over the next 6, 12, 18 or 24 months? Even though a full re-opening of training may not be months away, it is important to start planning now. It’s helpful to separate that planning into five categories:

  1. Vaccination: How will you ensure that your staff and students are properly vaccinated? What can you do now to encourage vaccination, including becoming a vaccination “hub” for your local community, in conjunction with local health providers? Read CCA’s Special Report on Vaccination and COVID-19 Impact, which is being updated daily with new links.
  2. Healthy learning environments, including proper ventilation, air quality testing and air filtration – what changes do you need to make to ensure fresh air?
  3. Financial stability: How do you keep your organisation on a financially even keel, with reduced income from training, and inability to fulfill some government contracted student numbers?
  4. IT systems: COVID-19 has speeded the introduction to digital by several years worldwide, a trend that will not reverse itself. Many things have changed: customer behaviour, supply chain and operations and ways of working. The impact on post-secondary education has been profound, with many post-secondary institutions quickly implementing e-learning How does an ACE provider operate in this world? Improving your IT system and your employees’ ability to operate those systems are more important than ever.
  5. Strong governance and leadership are more important than ever in the COVID world. Ensuring that your organisation maintains a strong Board of Directors and that your leadership style embodies essential ingredients for a time of crisis, summarised by HBR as act with urgency, communicate with transparency, respond productively to missteps and engage in constant updating (see image below).

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