The Minister for Skills and TAFE, The Hon Gayle Tierney MP, has announced 25 finalists for the 17th Learn Local Awards. The awards celebrate great individual success stories, leadership, programs, innovation and collaboration in the Learn Local sector.
Winners will be announced at the 2023 Learn Local Awards gala on Friday, 24 November 2023.
Learn more about this year's finalists.
The Ro Allen Award – Learn Local Pre-accredited Learner (Skills for study and life)
Born in Somalia, Ayan, the youngest of 9 children, was unable to attend school. Her first educational experience happened when she came to Australia. In 2021, Ayan joined the Kensington Neighbourhood House Reading & Writing for Work course. Exceptionally determined and a highly motivated leader, Ayan supported the development of the pre-accredited program Sew & Grow, launched in 2022.
Sew & Grow was designed for women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds with complex needs, including mothers looking for flexible employment, small business opportunities or connections. Fostering and nurturing participants, Ayan mentors fellow students in basic sewing.
Although she prefers to be out of the limelight, Ayan’s contributions to major events don’t go unnoticed. In 2022 Moonee Valley City Council described her as one the most engaged and inspiring participants in their Women’s Leadership program.
Time at Sew & Grow reinforced Ayan’s desire to become a fashion designer. She hopes to establish her own business creating clothing for Muslim girls and women.
Arriving in Australia as a refugee widow from Afghanistan, Noor had limited education and was unable to read or write in her language. With exceptional commitment, she embraced a learning journey and became a steadfast student at Cultura Settlement Services. After completing pre-accredited courses in fundamental English skills, conversation, digital literacy and financial management, she embarked on a career in hospitality.
Noor’s enthusiasm and unwavering dedication to personal growth and exploring new skills had a profound influence on everyone around her. As well as excelling in her studies, she cultivated community connections and participated enthusiastically in many events and activities. In contributing to International Women's Day and Refugee Week Singing, she danced, sang and prepared food as she advocated for women's and refugee rights.
Recently, Noor launched a home-based cooking venture specialising in Afghan cuisine. She aims to achieve self-sufficiency and continue part-time education while proactively inspiring growth in her community.
Jack migrated to Australia in 2020 to embark on a new beginning. His hopes were smashed when he was knocked off his bicycle, receiving multiple injuries including head trauma. After surgery and rehabilitation, he became depressed. Jack’s life changed when he undertook English Language and Transition to Employment classes at Kew Neighbourhood Learning Centre.
Increasing his English proficiency for everyday conversation and business settings gave him renewed confidence and the ability to communicate effectively in the workplace. He successfully applied to volunteer at KewNLC in an administrative capacity, where he became a valued team member. He also completed a Jobs Victoria course in product management and was awarded a paid internship at Dulux Group.
Jack’s optimism, that he could achieve a brighter future, bore fruit. He joined the youth group at his local church where he shares his personal stories and inspires other young people to navigate their challenges with hope.
Born deaf, Chiara couldn’t hear anything until she was 2 years old. Speech development delays and hearing disabilities affected her ability to engage with basic skills at school. That, coupled with bullying, led her to leave school at age 15. However, her life transformed when she enrolled in the Introduction to Hairdressing program, a pre-accredited vocational skills-based course developed at Orbost Education Centre.
The 10-week program was delivered from a hairdressing salon where learners gained firsthand experience in the industry. With determination, she overcame her fears and developed literacy and numeracy skills through practical hands-on industry tasks such as money handling and estimating colour formulas.
Chiara’s confidence grew as did her customer service skills, as she became a self-assured communicator actively listening to customer needs. Chiara developed the ability to participate not only in a career that she enjoyed, but the world around her, which was an inspiration to others.
Victorian Learn Local Pre-accredited Learner (Skills for work) Award
Being neurodivergent, Jayce’s special challenges precluded them from doing VCE. A busy classroom was overwhelming and noisy environments were an enormous challenge. This coupled with the anxieties they experienced about being non-binary, made it very hard to complete tasks.
Jayce was encouraged by a youth coach to enrol in the Stepping Forward for Work & Kick Start Your Life program at WCIG, a support service for people experiencing disadvantage in Geelong. Overwhelmed and anxious, they began the program with the belief that they would not be of value to any employer. With determination, and the employment of noise-cancelling headphones, Jayce completed several programs and certificate courses in self-development and hospitality.
After a trial run in a commercial kitchen, Jayce was heartened to be offered a job in the company. With renewed confidence, they re-enrolled in VCE for 2024. Jayce inspires others to power through the setbacks, while they work towards further studies for a career in biology.
Jordan is an exemplar of personal transformation. Within a few years, he went from being unable to communicate well with others to someone who confidently and proactively engaged with the local mayor and Parliamentary Secretary for Training and Skills.
Despite behavioural challenges, Jordan learned to embrace growth opportunities with resilience and commitment. Through Workforce Plus, a not-for-profit that creates innovative pathways into sustainable employment, Jordan completed 3 Learn Local courses, built his independence and strengthened his employability and digital skills, enabling him to move into employment.
Due to his tremendous growth and ability to take the initiative, he became a highly valued student. His WorkForce trainer relied on him to be the go-to guy providing direct assistance in a range of projects. Proud of his achievements, Jordan became a confident learner and mentor for other students who sought to change their lives. Now he’s exploring new educational and community opportunities.
A natural leader, and with an insatiable desire to try new culinary ideas, Daria embraced new and enriching learning experiences in the Ready in Hospitality course at Cultura. The course is crafted to cater to the unique needs and aspirations of multicultural learners, and Daria sought out every opportunity to become a well-rounded hospitality professional.
In the classroom, assigned tasks were tackled with enthusiasm and despite the pain she experiences as a result of previous work injuries, she thrives in the demanding world of hospitality. Her passion for cooking and related studies in English were infectious, and she inspired fellow learners.
Daria made great strides given that English is not her first language. Every task was completed to a high standard and her hearty appetite for learning saw her develop a broad range of employability skills. Bridging the gap between aspirations and achievements, Daria continues to build confidence to re-enter the workforce.
On presenting to CIRE Services, Bella was a shy young woman, lacking confidence and self-esteem. She felt defined by her disability and figured that she probably wouldn’t ever get a job. Once trust was established Bella opened up, her confidence soared and she became a completely engaged and eager participant who inspired everyone she met.
Bella participated in 2 pre-accredited programs, the 23EMPFUTURE course designed to develop independent life skills and the FICE (First Impressions Clothing Exchange) Future4 Me employability program.
As Bella’s confidence grew, she found her voice. Determined that her disability wouldn’t continue to define her, she continuously challenged herself and soon began sharing her story with others living with a disability. Now, Bella is a staunch disability advocate through her membership in the Yarra Ranges Council Disability Advisory Committee. She’s also secured part-time employment at a local bakery while she continues building her skills through the FICE program.
Victorian Learn Local Pre-accredited Trainer Award
Katrina's journey into the Learn Local sector was driven by a deep-rooted passion for education and a profound desire to make a meaningful impact on her community. Previously, she’d taught at Mission Australia, then Department of Justice in corrections. For the past 6 years, as a trainer at WCIG, an organisation responding to unemployment and disadvantage, she’s focused on students aged 17–24 from challenging backgrounds. This includes homelessness, families of crime and abuse, and migrants.
With a focus on improving employability, Katrina is committed to addressing educational disparities and empowering students to achieve their potential. Primarily, her students are job seekers so she teaches foundation courses and equips them with practical tools for job searches, interviews, resume writing and communication.
By taking a multifaceted approach, including personal development, Katrina has a remarkable impact on her students and goes the extra mile to create personalised learner pathways to meet their unique needs.
Renee leads vulnerable women into brighter futures in Cire Training’s First Impressions Clothing Exchange (FICE), a program that supports personal and employment goals. Renee's background in retail as a store and operations manager gave her the perfect grounding to apply her experience to addressing social and educational disparities.
In 2019 she commenced work in the Women's Warehouse program for long-term unemployed women. Then she designed and developed FICE, where training takes place in a retail environment. Learners come with challenges such as health, isolation and financial issues. In a real-life setting, they learn retail operations, merchandising, communication and marketing so they can enter the workforce.
The success stories abound. Long-term unemployed women with severe mental health issues who struggle to see through a daily routine, completely transform. The ongoing success of the FICE program is assured with Renee at the helm. Enrolments have increased and she’s opening a second FICE retail location.
Zohra is the Adult Education Coordinator and lead educator at Hampton Park Community House. With a background in early childhood education and community services, she transitioned into adult community education to enhance cross-cultural competencies and teach English language and vocational pre-accredited courses. This sets her multicultural students on the path to a productive, fulfilling life in Australia.
Often migrants and refugees arrive feeling stressed and lacking confidence. Some have never attended school. Zohra guides them with patience and care and makes class fun and effective by combining dynamic group discussions and hands-on experiences.
In 2022, she taught a pre-accredited course, Afghan Women's Literacy, as well as digital literacy and small business courses. Dedicated to fostering inclusivity and reducing learning barriers, her staff are proficient in multiple languages. Zohra’s unwavering commitment has led to a significant expansion of delivery hours. Consequently, students have made significant educational progress, with many gaining employment or pursuing further studies.
The structure of language was once tediously drummed into students by old-fashioned grammarians. Not so for Laurie, who teaches grammar at Pines Learning. Her classes are usually at capacity and have high retention rates. With a particular focus on grammar skills and writing for work, Laurie inspires positive change in students' lives. Improved communication skills lift their performance at work and in their personal lives.
During 2022, she taught Speak Up, a speaking and listening course focusing on fluency, colloquial language and pronunciation, and an intermediate and advanced level reading, writing, speaking and listening course aimed at refining workers’ English skills.
Laurie goes to great lengths to present information and makes it relevant to everyday work and social life. Students tell each other stories about their lives and experiences, which enables them to practise and retain language. Laurie treats students like they’re family members as she delivers inspiring and enriching instruction.
Victorian Learn Local Leadership Award
As coordinator for Employment and Pathways at Pines Learning, Jenny aims high for her students and achieves outstanding outcomes. The pre-accredited programs she designed and developed for women, and adults with disabilities, were destined for success because she developed a culture where adherence to learner-centered approaches is non-negotiable.
Programs are tailored to meet individual needs. The Business Administration Skills course attracts women experiencing significant challenges who lack digital skills and the confidence to return to the workforce. In 2022, 86% of participants gained employment.
Jenny meets her learners where they are. She developed the All Abilities Essential Skills for Work program in response to a significant unmet need, whereby high-functioning adults with intellectual disabilities struggled to remain employed. Jenny’s program was tailored to each participant's workplace and achieved an 80% success rate. Jenny single-handedly raised the teaching standards at Pines Learning and has maintained a cohesive training team.
As Manager of The Basin Community House, Heather made great strides to turn the organisation into a viable, thriving educational facility that transforms the life of vulnerable people, including people exiting the justice system.
To change the lives of people leaving prison, she innovated the Employment Skills Pathways to Employment program. It delivers online group training that enhances literacy, technology and employability skills. The weekly program provides a safe learning environment that encourages learners to find purpose and develop healthy self-esteem. Job agencies also attend classes to promote employment opportunities. As a result, many of the learners find employment.
In her work with people with disabilities, Heather finds training opportunities that lead to jobs. In partnership with a catering social enterprise, Tasty Az, an introductory hospitality course was accomplished in a commercial kitchen. Other Learn Local managers regularly turn to Heather for advice and guidance and she generously shares her ideas, insights and experience.
Victorian Learn Local Pre-accredited Program Award (For small providers)
Stitched into the fabric of African-Australian women is the 60-hour pre-accredited course Sew & Grow. The program was co-designed predominantly with mothers from Somali backgrounds and is delivered through Kensington Neighbourhood House (KNH). More than a sewing course, it provides language, literacy and numeracy training and employment pathways. During course design, participants expressed the desire to develop sewing skills and industry knowledge.
Launched in February 2022, 39 women have participated to date. Students identify the items they’d like to make and upskill under the guidance of experienced teachers and volunteers. Industry knowledge and networks are built through regular excursions to community organisations specialising in clothing production, including social enterprise Second Stitch.
Learning is project-based and strong wrap-around supports remove learning barriers and facilitate strong commitment. Knowing that they can turn to KNH for any support helps participants maintain focus as they make their way into paid employment, further training or volunteering.
Introduction to Floristry is a pre-accredited course that seeds a new lease on life for vulnerable people in Lakes Entrance and surrounding communities. Developed at Orbost Education Centre in 2019, participants are blossoming and mastering the field of floristry.
In 2022 Orbost Education Centre partnered with Forget-Me-Not Florists to deliver authentic industry experiences from their premises. Learners include long-term unemployed, young women seeking to re-enter the workforce and early school leavers.
They had opportunities to work with businesses such as Lakes Entrance Garden Group and learn about plants and growing techniques at a flower farm. Low self-esteem and self-confidence were cut off at the stem, allowing new skills and confidence to flourish as they pursued their own businesses or embarked on jobs, volunteering or further studies. With the support of tutors and mentors, learners mastered technology, numeracy, problem-solving and self-management, and pursued their professional ambitions and passions.
Victorian Learn Local Pre-accredited Program Award (For large providers)
Refugees and asylum seekers are being nourished in a program that addresses the ingredients of their unique needs. The Prepare for Employment program developed by Cultura Settlement Services is developed specifically for those wanting to pursue job opportunities in the food industry.
Delivered in collaboration with Eclipse Education in 2022, this dynamic and immersive course equips students with practical skills and a comprehensive understanding of food safety practices in commercial kitchens.
Adaptive, innovative teaching techniques including gamification, culinary competitions and simulation exercises. Learners engaged in commercial kitchen scenarios that tested their food handling prowess and developed soft skills such as effective communication and customer service.
Career trajectories were ignited for the 17 learners who successfully completed the course. They worked enthusiastically to transcend barriers such as language, and find employment or enter further training and volunteering opportunities. Importantly, the course also contributed to their overall integration into Australian society.
Future4me is a program targeted at marginalised people who face a multitude of barriers to education and training. More than a training course, Future4me invests in the potential of each individual and gives them the tools to lead fulfilling lives. Participants, who previously faced mental health and other issues, emerge from the course confident, independent, and ready to contribute meaningfully to society.
A personal development approach gives learners the skills to foster independent living including banking, shopping, taxation and rental processes. Classroom instruction is blended with experiential learning in community locations. Mini goals are set so realistic targets can be achieved without the burden of excessive pressure. Wraparound supports, including counselling, ensure that every aspect of wellbeing is attended to.
Committed to ensuring that every learner finds a direction, Future4me participants develop resilience and self-awareness and take away a robust set of skills tailored to navigate a path to a brighter future.
Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services (LCMS) established the pre-accredited training course Starting Work in Cleaning in collaboration with Spotless. It’s targeted to jobseekers from a multicultural background, predominantly refugees, and graduates who can continue into employment as hospital cleaners at Bendigo Hospital.
Utilising full bilingual support, language, literacy, numeracy, digital and employability skills are taught with an emphasis on foundational knowledge for a health setting. The course is run in a training room at Bendigo Health, so participants become familiar with working at a large, busy hospital. Back-of-house tours and meeting reception staff, supervisors and other employees from CALD backgrounds help trainees feel welcomed and safe.
Starting Work in Cleaning became their most successful employment pathways program. It’s achieved an incredible reputation with multicultural communities. Of the 78 participants who undertook training, more than 50 have successfully entered employment with Spotless, and more than 65 gained employment in the cleaning industry.
Victorian Learn Local Innovation Award
Baptcare is a faith-based, not-for-profit organisation that provides residential and community care for older people and vulnerable community members. They discovered that their in-home support program was at risk because they struggled to support employee skills development. In partnering with Carringbush Adult Education, they developed the In-Home Care Language and Literacy Immersion Pilot.
In-home support workers were largely made up of migrants and refugees. They lacked language, literacy, numeracy, employability and digital skills and were at risk of losing their jobs because they couldn’t fulfil their role requirements.
Once Baptcare identified that staff didn’t understand the importance of daily reporting, Carringbush created an innovative solution – a 10-week contextualised group learning program tailored to Baptcare’s needs. Participants built their language, digital and numeracy skills, learned how to understand care plans, work safely with customers and complete role reporting. Outstanding staff improvement meant Baptcare could be confident about delivering quality in-home care.
With the introduction of the NDIS in the Mildura region in 2019, it became apparent that they needed to treble staff numbers in the disability sector. The role of a disability support worker is complex and can be challenging. A short course, Introduction to Disability Work developed by the Christie Centre in Mildura, aimed to attract new people to the industry with a try-before-you-buy experience.
Introduction to Disability Work aimed to attract people with diverse skills and experience, even those who felt daunted about returning to study. Participants were given a no-obligation, comprehensive and accessible introduction. Learners with a disability or low levels of education could utilise fully verbal modes and self-paced online training units.
Introduction to Disability Work resulted in 9 students enrolling in Certificate IV in Disability and 17 undertaking work in the industry. Others have gone on to volunteer or commenced work in other industries.
Social enterprise Just in Time Garden and Maintenance Enterprise (JiTGM) was launched by Kew Neighbourhood Learning Centre (KNLC) in 2022. It met an important training challenge for horticulture students and provided an outstanding community service to elderly people in the local community.
KNLC had delivered many horticulture programs and partnered with businesses to provide work experience. However, potential employers noted that some students found it hard to commit to a workplace culture. Parallel to this, many elderly neighbours in the area were asking KNLC to fill the void left by the cancelled council gardening service. Their solution addressed the gap in work training and a community service.
With a wraparound program to build pre-employment skills, final-year horticulture students were taught everything from resume writing to workplace responsibilities. The achievements of the JiTGM enterprise have been extensive and potential employers gained confidence that graduates can successfully transition into structured employment.
The Ukrainian Conversation Class was designed and implemented by Cheltenham Community Centre (CCC) to assist Ukrainian refugees in integrating into their new community. Language was the major barrier they faced in participating in their new surroundings so CCC developed an immersive, life-changing English learning experience.
The Ukrainian Conversational Course is unlike traditional language programs because it’s centered on real-world conversational scenarios. This enabled participants to negotiate day-to-day interactions such as shopping, public transport, seeking employment, childcare, education and the medical system. Also, an emphasis on culture, values and laws helped them to integrate into a new life in Australia.
Bilingual tutors and volunteers tailored lessons to individual’s needs and the Ukrainian refugees flourished in the vibrant and inclusive learning community. Based on course evaluations, over 90% of learners showed significant improvements in their conversational skills and approximately 75% of job seekers found employment – an outcome directly attributable to improved language skills.
Victorian Learn Local Partnership Award
The Albury Wodonga Volunteer Resource Bureau (VRB) and Wodonga TAFE formed a resource-sharing partnership to address digital skill deficiencies in learners from diverse backgrounds. Enabling seniors, people with disabilities, labourers and vulnerable women to gain basic computer skills opened them up to greater participation in daily life and further education and employment.
In a well-defined partnership, VRB’s role was to address the region's growing digital literacy needs while Wodonga TAFE presented further education opportunities that boosted learner confidence and prepared them for higher education. Wodonga TAFE offered insights into higher education and provided services including guest speakers and apprenticeship support programs.
As learners overcame their apprehensions about using technology and acquired digital skills, they were empowered to confidently apply for jobs online. Students were given every opportunity for success as VRB developed an adaptable training program with a curriculum covering everything from computer basics and internet navigation to online safety.
Hungry 4 Success – Training is a pre-employment program offered by Glen Park Community Centre in partnership with Eastland Shopping Centre and Glad Group property services. It was created specifically for people living with significant issues that hamper life success. This includes mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness, mild to moderate intellectual disabilities and repeated interrupted learning. The training transforms lives by breaking the cycle of unemployment.
Learners develop the attributes to achieve paid employment in industries such as hospitality, cleaning, security, maintenance and guest services. In partnering with Eastland Shopping Centre and Glad Group, learning and employment opportunities expanded. Learners undertook ‘a day in the life’ trade taster to experience various roles and services, which fostered confidence.
On completion, they have the option of a job or stepping stones to further education and training. The training has a high completion rate of 76.99%, with most participants going into further education or gaining employment.