In remote Northern Territory communities where ongoing employment can be hard to come by, Swinburne has partnered with Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation (ALPA) to provide more than 1,200 locals with accredited training to develop the skills of local Indigenous people, leading to sustainable and meaningful employment.
A growing project
The program launched in 2014 as a three-month pilot called ‘Doors to Jobs’. The pilot was a massive success, resulting in the highest employment outcome of any trade training ever undertaken in East Arnhem Land.
Since then, Swinburne has been running courses in eight locations in Arnhem Land, including in first aid, chainsaw operation, small motors maintenance, painting, concreting, bricklaying, carpentry, construction induction, welding, horticulture, landscaping, introduction to allied health, basic computing, and digital media.
Swinburne’s Project Officer, Cam Gleeson, has been in the Northern Territory since February 2020 working with digital transformation and teaching digital media, computers and customer service.
“Our programs are important because they offer people a leg-up to the workforce so they can feel included while fulfilling their roles in their own family,” he says.
Swinburne is also delivering the Certificate II in Construction Pathways as part of the Vocational Education and Training Delivered to Secondary Students (VETDSS) program.
The program’s success reflects the dedication of the community and trainers who travel from Melbourne – usually for a period of four weeks on and two weeks off. They work closely with ALPA staff and school staff in each community to ensure training is linked to beneficial local projects.
The Swinburne teaching team, made up of Mr Gleeson, Richard Thorpe, Jonathan Wallace and Rodney Thorne, are supported behind the scenes by Manager of NT Programs, Meredith Fraser, and Project Officer, Rachael Woods.
Students participating in the program have been involved in larger community projects, including constructing a handball court at the local primary school, concrete ramps for local shops, footpaths and furniture, landscaping community areas and building a pizza oven. The pizza oven was a year-and-a-half long project that acts as a reminder of students’ achievements and is used for celebrations and gatherings.
Richard Thorpe is a Trainer and Assessor in Building and Construction and says these programs have had a “significant impact on the culture and people”. The skills that students learn help them to find longer term jobs and many are still working in their trade on the island, which Mr Thorpe says is “extremely positive and encouraging”.
Trades trainer Jonathan Wallace says these programs “not only give the participants news skills or a certificate they could use to help with finding employment, but they also give them confidence to seek out opportunities in their communities”. The feedback he’s received from students is positive, who “enjoy the training and hope that it helps them find employment”.
Mr Gleeson is currently working on teaching two-week courses in basic computers and digital media in six different communities around Arnhem Land. “Students seem to be getting a lot of digital realisation out of them,” he says. “In our next round we will be teaching customer service so it will be interesting to see how this will relate directly to employment prospects for the students.”
Mr Gleeson says working in Arnhem Land is an experience that is “beyond comparison” and recommends all Australians to immerse themselves in Indigenous culture.
“Remote postings come with their own challenges, none more than the isolation that you experience, but contact with Aboriginal culture is something that all Australians should be seeking. The oldest and truest stories in our nation are here.”