Vocational pathway programs that lead to employment outcomes are central to closing the gap that currently exists between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians in the areas of education, employment and economic development. It also provides an important link and a pathway between schools and universities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who undertake higher education qualifications.
A large proportion of jobs in rural and remote Queensland communities are in the primary health care, community services, and trades apprenticeships spaces and all of which require a vocational qualification for employment.
Having a job can be life-changing. Employment creates financial stability and independence and often enhances the social wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by enabling them to positively contribute to their community.
VET plays an incredibly important role in connecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and apprentices with their communities, local industry and government agencies to provide pathways to real job outcomes throughout Queensland.
The power of VET is that it is flexible. It allows training providers to not only customise training and skills development in close consultation with local industry, but also to better support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners by tailoring the student experience to meet individual needs, abilities, and cultural backgrounds.
We [TAFE Queensland] take pride in celebrating our First Australians’ history, culture and achievements – it is important to us. Each year around 7,000 Indigenous students choose to study with us – a result of our commitment to delivering inclusive and culturally appropriate training for all Queenslanders.
To further advance equal and equitable social and economic opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Queensland, in 2018 we launched TAFE Queensland’s first ever Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). Guided by our RAP we have successfully implemented a range of Indigenous-specific programs and initiatives throughout our organisation, including establishing an external Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group, developing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment and Retention Strategy, and producing an Indigenous Education Strategy.
Notably, TAFE Queensland partners with James Cook University and the Queensland Department of Education to deliver an education program called the Remote Area Teacher Education Program (RATEP). RATEP is a community-based teacher education program that assists Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to become registered teachers or qualified teacher aides. Successful completion of a certificate or diploma course in education or child care with TAFE Queensland opens up pathways towards a Bachelor of Education qualification at James Cook University (JCU).
RATEP is an essential program. By building the capabilities of educators from within rural and remote communities, it also increases the likelihood of attracting more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into education and training. After all, no one knows their communities better than they do and we find that Indigenous learners recognise that their educators will help them, support them, and advocate for them when required – essential factors in improving student success, retention and completion rates as identified in the Government’s Closing the Gap report. As at the end of 2019, there have been almost 200 RATEP graduates who have gone on to complete a four-year Bachelor of Education at JCU. Vocational pathway programs like this form an important link between school and university for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and lead to real employment outcomes – this is the power of VET.
Indigenous business is everybody’s business and schools, TAFEs, private providers, universities and workplaces alike all play an important role in closing the gap and ensuring First Australians are afforded the same opportunities for learning and prosperity that everyone enjoys in Australia.
Written by Leanne Bell, TAFE Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs Manager and proud Ganggalida and Birri Gubba woman.