September 26, 2014

Snapshot of TAFE Success

By Julie Tait

Kwebana Tutu (Osei) Gyimah completed his Certificate III Engineering Fabrication Trade apprenticeship at South Western Sydney Institute in 2011 and was nominated as Apprentice of the Year because he demonstrated that he was a great ambassador for his trade.

Osei arrived in Australia from Ghana in 2006 and was referred to the Teacher/Consultant (T/C) for Students who are Deaf and Hearing Impaired at South Western Sydney Institute by his father, who had been a past TAFE student when he first arrived from Ghana several years previously and knew that support was available for students with a disability at TAFE.

Osei had attended the residential State School for the Deaf in the Ghanaian capital city, Accra. Osei was fluent in American Sign Language as this was the language of instruction at his school. He was also fluent in Ghanaian Sign Language. Both these languages are as different from Australian Sign Language (Auslan) as spoken French is to English. After an interview with the T/C, Osei was enrolled in an Access Course where he was able to meet other students who were deaf, learn Auslan, learn to work with interpreters in an educational setting and to improve his written English skills. Osei arrived in Australia on a Monday, met with the T/C on the Tuesday and started classes on the Wednesday. Clearly Osei is a highly motivated young man.

Osei made great progress in the remainder of that semester and then followed his Access Course by a “taster course” in Light Automotive, which included units of panel beating, spray-painting, welding and mechanics as well as a work placement. The teaching section recommended Osei for an interview with Custom Coaches, a company based in Western Sydney that manufacture and build quality buses for the Australian bus and coach industry. Osei was successful in gaining this apprenticeship in a highly competitive field of applicants. He was then enrolled in Certificate III Engineering Fabrication Trade and was approved for Disabled Australian Apprentice Wage Scheme (DAAWS) funding.

The T/C provided Osei with support from a highly qualified and experienced Teacher of the Deaf so he could continue to improve his English skills and assist him in accessing course materials. TAFE had an ongoing relationship with Custom Coaches, which ensured that Osei was well supported and mentored in his workplace. Custom Coaches suggested that Osei could benefit from completing a Certificate III in Warehousing and Logistics. He then articulated to Certificate IV.

Close working relationships between the T/C, the teaching section and the employer enabled the provision of customised support for Osei, which was a key factor in Osei’s success.

Since completing his studies at TAFE, Osei has been able to take his portable qualifications to other employers. He has recently returned to Ghana and married his long-term partner. They have settled in South Western Sydney and are looking forward to purchasing their own home.

If Osei came to the door of TAFE today like he did nearly 8 years ago, this story would be very different. TAFE no longer offers the Access Course that was crucial to allow Osei to develop the required skills for engaging in vocational study in Australia. Taster courses too are very rare, if even non-existent, for young people who may not have clear career goals or paths. The access and support that Osei received through his studies at TAFE will not be possible under Smart & Skilled funding.

Sign Language Interpreters in TAFE are paid a wage recognising their qualifications, skills & experience. The cost to support Osei with interpreters, and a qualified disability teacher over the 3 years of his Certificate III Engineering Fabrication Trade apprenticeship was approximately $70,000. During this time Osei was working as an apprentice and contributing to society by pay his taxes.

Under Smart & Skilled funding, due to start in NSW in 2015, $1775 would be allocated to support a student with a disability for the 3-year duration of that particular Certificate III Engineering Fabrication Trade course. $1775 would pay for interpreting for 3.3 days. For the remaining 32.7 days, a student like Osei would not have access to his course. He would not have access to any Learner Support. Effectively he would not be able to complete his course. If he could not complete his course, this apprentice would not be able to continue with his employment. If unable to continue with employment, this tax-paying citizen - one who Joe Hockey would describe as a “lifter”, would need to access a disability support pension for the remainder of his working life at an unindexed cost exceeding $2 million and become one who Joe Hockey would then describe as a “leaner”.

The Federal Government has indicated that they want more “lifters”, and less “leaners”. TAFE does more to assist disadvantaged people, in particular people with disabilities than any other organization to become “lifters”. With nearly 30 years of working with people with disability I have seen over and over the difference TAFE makes. Osei is but one fine example. If you care about equity and a fair go for people then you have to care about TAFE.

Education & training is one of the most important investments a country can make in its people and its future and is critical to reducing inequality and discrimination. Education & training gives people critical skills and tools to help them better provide for themselves and their families. It helps people work better and can create opportunities for sustainable and viable economic growth now and into the future.

The impact of investment in education & training for people with disabilities is profound: education results in raising income, improving health, and reducing the cycle of poverty. Education & training is one of the most effective ways to break the cycle of discrimination and poverty that people with disabilities and their families often face.