By ERWIN CHLANDA
The was much pomp and ceremony at the Batchelor graduation last week but the institute is facing serious challenges.
Clearly one of the most important courses for the region is in Aboriginal primary health care but just two of the 126 graduates last week were in that field.
“This highlights the crisis that exists and makes the leadership of Minister Lambley in setting up a task force even more timely,” says Central Australian Aboriginal Congress CEO Donna Ah Chee.
“We cannot fix the Aboriginal Health Practitioners workforce crisis without dramatically increasing the number of graduates.”
Eike Pakeha, Batchelor’s Manager of Student Services, says primary health care attracts significant numbers of students in the Top End and numbers in The Centre and the Barkly “are increasing”.
In some cases potential students are already employed out bush and cannot be spared for periodic formal training in town to upgrade their qualifications.
But Ms Ah Chee says she is surprised to hear this: “There are always more than 10 students undertaking the training program in Alice Springs with Congress.
“Congress is currently meeting the demand for training with primary health care funds when this training should be funded with education money.
“There are many students from remote areas who apply to Congress but are referred to Batchelor. This demonstrates significant interest.
“Being a registered Aboriginal health practitioner is a great starting point in employment. The starting wage of a level four health worker is around $60,000,” says Ms Ah Chee.
“There are many unfilled positions in Central Australia.
“We need to ensure we overcome any barriers for remote students to access training.”
Interest in Business I and II courses is also very low in The Centre.
Ms Pakeha says there are new courses suitable for private enterprise employment, such as AgriFood Operations, Construction, Horticulture, Indigenous Environmental Health.
Again, enrolments are strong in the Top End. Construction is taught in prison, there are no enrolments in The Centre but “interest of potential students is increasing”.
“Attracting students is less of an issue, retaining any students requires hard work,” says Ms Pakeha.
Some people seek to gain skills which do not require the completion of a course resulting in graduation.
“Some take only units. Most students are part time. 30% at present are in current employment seeking additional skills.
“Some have family obligations that can lead to intermission of studies.”
Batchelor has more than 3000 students Territory-wide. In 2013 it had a budget of $41.5m ($16.3m from the Feds, $15.3m from the NT, the rest from fees, charges and contracts. Aboriginal students pay no course fees.)
Batchelor does not release information about how many of its ex-students are in jobs as a result of the education they received at Batchelor.
In Alice Springs the most popular course was Certificate I in Work Preparation (community services) with 33 graduates: “This qualification provides an exposure to work in the community services industry” is the way the Batchelor website explains the course.
“This is a pathway qualification that may lead to a VET in Schools qualification, career clarification and greater participation of equity groups.
“It may also serve as a basis for workplace entry training for people with a disability seeking employment in business service or open employment.
“This course will help you prepare for starting work. You will learn about how to communicate with other people, how to stay safe in the workplace and develop the skills that will help you find a job. The course will also help you practice your reading, writing and number skills.”
Ms Pakeha explains the popularity, in part, by many students having literacy and numeracy issues, the majority being mature age.
The Certificate III course in children’s services had 12 graduates, achieving entry level qualifications into child care centres.
The Certificate II in community services, obtained by 11 graduates, is for “workers who support individuals by providing a first point of contact in a crisis situation and referral to a broad range of services, or workers in residential facilities and / or in community services under direct or regular supervision within clearly defined organisation guidelines and service plans.”
The Certificate II in conservation and land management, with 10 graduates, “enables individuals to select an indigenous land management, conservation earthworks, lands, parks and wildlife or natural area management context as a job focus or a mix of these.”
PHOTOS: Academic staff and graduating students at last week’s ceremony.
By ERWIN CHLANDA