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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

New SKILLS4You program providing supportive job pathway for migrant women into aged care

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Four years in the making, Macquarie Community College (MCC) is thrilled to launch its new training program open to migrant women interested in joining the aged care workforce.

The SKILLS4You program, offered to migrant women living in Western Sydney, involves increasing participants’ English language and literacy skills, including language for the world of work in caring careers, understanding their level of employment readiness for local workplaces, setting specific employment-related goals, and working towards achieving them.

Many participants will choose to pursue a career in aged care; some will alternatively pursue child care or disability support work.

For Theresa Collignon, MCC chief executive officer, as both a woman and child of migrant parents, this project has brought her great pride to finally see it up and running.

This is a group of women that may not have worked in Australia ever, whose English may need some work, who may not have the employment readiness skills and need that extra bit of support.

MCC chief executive officer, Theresa Collignon

“We have a soft spot for people that need that extra bit of help to get on their way to create a better future,” she tells Aged Care News.

“This is a group of women that may not have worked in Australia ever, whose English may need some work, who may not have the employment readiness skills and need that extra bit of support.”

Therefore, the course gives participants up to 18 months to comfortably progress through the variety of skills workshops and, in later stages of the pathway, Certificate II and III assessment requirements.

Macquarie Community College works with migrant women in a very supportive, holistic way to provide highly skilled, work-ready graduates.

“We’re really bringing together two of our great strengths at Macquarie Community College – which are working with migrant women in a very supportive, holistic way; and providing great graduates: highly skilled workers that are carefully qualified by us to move into the workforce,” Collignon, pictured above left, says.

She says the program aims to address two major macroeconomic and social issues facing Australia at present.

“One is the engagement and employment of migrant women, on a pathway to empowerment … and the other is that there’s a massive skill shortage out there.”

Australia is facing a shortfall of at least 110,000 directly engaged aged-care workers within the next decade unless urgent action is taken to boost the workforce – with similar shortages existing in the child care and disability support sectors.

We’re really bringing together two of our great strengths at Macquarie Community College – which are working with migrant women in a very supportive, holistic way; and providing great graduates: highly skilled workers that are carefully qualified by us to move into the workforce

Theresa Collignon

Most recent figures (from 2017) show that 65 per cent of migrant women are unemployed, each costing the Australian economy around $340,000 over their lifetime.

Meanwhile, the cost of disempowerment for these women is impossible to quantify.

Research from the Australian Institute of Family Studies suggests that the environments from which many of these women have fled have a sustained impact on their ability to develop agency and human capital, even once settled in Australia.

“…migrant and refugee women may have cultural norms and gender roles within their families that can be a particular challenge and add an extra layer of difficulties… they’ve come from a very patriarchal society,” the report reads.

New buildings and smaller class sizes mean that this is a big investment for MCC, but CEO Theresa Collignon says she is thrilled by the prospect of producing significant “community dividends”.

Many women arrive in Australia with children; and for many of those women it is especially difficult for them to embrace shifting their attention, for up to 40 hours a week, to paid employment opportunities.   

“For most migrant and refugee women coming to settle in Australia there exists a tension between the need to learn English, find and maintain employment and/or, if they have children, raise children, including supporting children’s transition to school…” the report states.

“… migrant and refugee women are often the ones who will step back from progressing opportunities for themselves.”

Hence, the MCC has developed the program with a full suite of ‘wrap-around supports’, providing referrals to government and non-profit services aiding in areas such as financial support, housing support and child care.

For most migrant and refugee women coming to settle in Australia there exists a tension between the need to learn English, find and maintain employment and/or, if they have children, raise children, including supporting children’s transition to school…

Research excerpt from the Australian Institute of Family Studies

Collignon notes that classes have be timetabled with the demands of motherhood in mind, too.

“One of the simple things is running the course during hours that allow them to manage their family duties before and after school, and we will be certainly working with women to identify whether they have childcare options.”

Overall, Collignon foresees true empowerment stemming from MCC’s culturally-sensitive approach.

“We’re an amazing confidence factory – we build self-esteem and connections and confidence,” she beams.

“We just want these women to feel welcome, respected and supported, which is very much our mantra.”

New buildings, smaller class sizes and purchasing rights to a new, Canadian assessment tool – the ‘Employment Readiness Scale’ – mean that this is a big investment for the company, but Collignon says she is thrilled by the prospect of producing significant “community dividends”.

“We’re just going for it, because we believe in it… our freshly inked vision: stronger community, through the power of learning and connection.

“We’ve been in the learning business [for decades], but we’re increasingly recognising that connection to people, to employers, to each other, to other agencies – and working together – is a really important piece. 

“Not just for our students, when they connect with their classroom peers and their teacher, but for us to be connecting with other agencies and connecting with government to work together in a different way.”

We’ve been in the learning business [for decades], but we’re increasingly recognising that connection to people, to employers, to each other, to other agencies – and working together – is a really important piece. 

Theresa Collignon

Collignon is sure that women who graduate from the program have excellent job prospects in the aged care industry.

Paying credit to providers, she says aged care is one of the most inclusive industries in Australia.

“They are incredibly inclusive, and they recognise the incredible skill that comes from being multi-lingual, bringing a different perspective, and having lived experience.”

Elfa Moraitakis, CEO of SydWest, which provides aged care, disability and other community services across greater Western Sydney, seconded this.

“We are always looking for great staff to work in our services,” she says.

“It is great to think that our clients from Culturally & Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds in our aged care and home care services will be able to be cared for by bi-cultural and bilingual staff.

“When both clients and staff have lived experiences as migrants and understand the cultural nuances in care, there is a unique and special bond that can result.”

It is great to think that our clients from CALD backgrounds in our aged care and home care services will be able to be cared for by bi-cultural and bilingual staff. When both clients and staff have lived experiences as migrants and understand the cultural nuances in care, there is a unique and special bond that can result.

CEO of SydWest, Elfa Moraitakis

Sue Advani, MCC director, says that supporting migrant women has been one of her life-time commitments and the reason she became involved with the college.

“I encourage community networks and local agencies to get in touch with Macquarie Community College about this program,” she says.

“Participation in SKILLS4You could really make a difference and help migrant women find suitable employment in key growth areas.”

Macquarie Community College is under contract with the NSW Government as a Smart and Skilled and Adult Community Education (ACE) provider, meaning the program is fee-free for eligible students.

The college was also recently recognised by the NSW Department of Education as a High Performing Provider for Smart & Skilled.

Online information sessions for potential applicants will run on:

  • Wednesday March 16, 11am-12pm
  • Thursday March 17, 3pm-4pm
  • Thursday March 17, 7.30-8.30pm

The information sessions will explore program requirements, employment outcomes and potential future pathways.

Classes will commence Tuesday, March 22.

To find out more about the program, follow this link.

Macquarie Community College is a not-for-profit Registered Training Organisation (RTO) that has set the standard in adult community education since its beginnings in 1950.

The college’s three main program areas are English language and literacy tuition, career training for jobseekers and those changing or accelerating their careers, and our open entry short courses for leisure and self-improvement.

Macquarie Community College has expanded its services and locations over 70 years and now serves a diverse range of communities across northern and western Sydney from its campus locations in Blacktown, Carlingford, Chatswood, Mt Druitt, Richmond and Ryde – in addition to hundreds of classes delivered in other community and employer sites.

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