Strong start for Upper Hunter education and care

The NSW State Government has been under pressure from industry of late to undertake an aggressive resumption of immigration levels to bolster the nationwide skills shortage that has resulted from Australia’s border closures.

However, recent reports from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) show a 35 per cent increase in the number of Australians enrolled in courses linked to apprenticeships and traineeships compared to the start of the pandemic. It has sparked debate about whether this growth in Australia’s vocational education and training sector is a more sustainable way of filling the gaps for employers.

The latest Skills Shortage List published by the Australian Government’s National Skills Commission identifies the childcare profession as being in the top seven per cent of all occupations in short supply. The shortage is even worse in regional communities.

St Nicholas, an agency of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, has experienced the perils of the skills shortage first-hand, having recently opened a new early education centre in Muswellbrook, as well as new out-of-school-hours care services in Scone, Denman and Jerrys Plains.

“It’s very difficult to recruit staff in those regional areas, and due to the large number of parents and carers working long hours in the mines, manufacturing and agriculture, there is a high demand for care and education for young children,” said Erica Wilkinson, Business Manager for St Nicholas Pathways, the vocational education arm of St Nicholas.

To help combat these challenges and provide high-quality support for families with young children in these areas, St Nicholas was successful recently in securing the Sustainability Support Grant from the Community Child Care Fund (CCCF). “The Sustainability Support Grant is intended to help eligible childcare services operating in areas of limited supply improve the viability and sustainability of their service,” said Fiona Mackie, Director of the Community Child Care Fund (Program & Delivery).

In conjunction with its registered training organisation (RTO) partner the International Child Care College, St Nicholas will use the funding to support the introduction of its CONNEX program in the Muswellbrook area. Providing both early childhood education and employment opportunities for the Muswellbrook and Upper Hunter communities.

“There also hasn’t been a great deal of accessibility to training for people wanting to pursue a career in early childhood education,” Ms Wilkinson said.

“Up until now, those people would have to study through a traineeship or distance education, but that doesn’t suit everyone’s learning style. That face-to-face, personalised support is missing.”

The St Nicholas Pathways CONNEX program offers a blended program of face-to-face, online, and workplacebased training that leads to a nationally accredited, entry-level qualification in early childhood education and care.

“Our trainer and assessor is on-hand twice a week in a class-based setting to support students’ understandings of the various concepts and skills needed for them to have a successful career in early childhood education,” Ms Wilkinson said.

Students also participate in workplace experience, which includes placements with St Nicholas Early Education and St Nicholas OOSH. Ms Wilkinson said this presents them with an opportunity to showcase their skills for potential employers.

“It’s a win-win for everyone. Training and support for people who want to pursue a career in early childhood education, higher quality education and care for families, and a pipeline of talent for St Nicholas’ services in the region.”

St Nicholas Pathways will also launch its Industry Immersion and School-Based Traineeship (SBAT) programs in the region in 2022, providing opportunities for school students to explore and pursue a career in early childhood education and care.

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Alexander Foster

Alexander Foster is a Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle

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