Employment and training provider NORTEC have recently withdrawn the government funded outreach program aimed at providing language, literacy and numeracy training to help people access employment and training opportunities.
Like their recent termination of small business incubators in the region, NORTEC only provided the Mullumbimby District Neighbourhood Centre (MDNC) where the program was run with a very short notice – two weeks.
The Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) program was based at the MDNC and was accessed by a range of age groups who used the program to create opportunities for meaningful work where literacy and numeracy has been a barrier.
The Department of Education and Training said NORTEC closed the Mullumbimby site owing to low student numbers; however, it is understood by The Echo that some students believed they were being diverted away from the Mullumbimby program prior to its closure.
‘On average there were ten or more students in classes at any one time,’ said student Tanya Winters who completed the last three sessions of her course in Murwillumbah after the Mullumbimby service closed.
On paper, NORTEC appear to be servicing this area, even though they no longer deliver any local services. Students are now required to travel to Ballina, Kingscliff or Murwillumbah to access them.
‘Locally based programs are very thin on the ground in the Byron Shire,’ said Julie Williams, MDNC manager.
‘I am weary of organisations being funded to deliver across LGAs without a locally based presence, or at least an authentic partnership with a locally based organisation that has an ongoing relationship with the community.’
‘When purse strings get tight, the first thing to go is “outreach” services which leaves a community high and dry. It doesn’t get the funded service and can’t apply for funding because on paper – there is already another organisation delivering.’
When NORTEC applied for the funding for delivering the SEE program across the north coast region, the MDNC provided a reference, ‘and it is my understanding that the innovative model of co-location with access to wrap around services was the basis for the successful tender,’ said Ms Williams.
As part of the innovative service provision, NORTEC paid a room hire fee to the MDNC that included exclusive teaching space, reception, unlimited internet, access to support and electricity. The fee then helped pay the wage of a community support worker, ensuring that the ‘Neighbourhood Centre provided students with access to wrap around community and social support services such as parenting support, social inclusion, volunteer and work experience opportunities, emergency relief, personal support, DV services etc.’ said Julie.
Tanya also pointed out the other training services were difficult to access without a car, as bus services were minimal at best. The Echo understands that there have been a significant percentage of students who are no longer able to access the services in Ballina, Murwillumbah and Kingscliff owing to the cost and challenges of travel to the regional sites.
‘The additional money that students receive in their benefit for travel wouldn’t even cover two trips to either Ballina or Murwillumbah,’ said Julie.
‘If there had been a conversation with the MDNC regarding the business of NORTEC not being able to afford the hire fee, we would have looked at reducing the hire fee to what was affordable, or supported the program to find an alternative site close by. We would have done whatever we could have to ensure that the SEE program continued in the Byron Shire so that community members had access.’
NORTEC was contacted in relation to this story, but there was no reply by deadline.