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Case study: Transport improving access to education

A community bus service is providing Bass Coast and South Gippsland students with access to VET training and trade programs in the region, enabling young people to pursue trade careers.

A community bus service

Led by AGA Apprenticeships Plus and the South Gippsland Trade Skills Alliance, the bus service was first piloted in 2019 from Phillip Island to Leongatha, via Wonthaggi, Inverloch and Korumburra. This service operated a 57-seater chartered bus on Wednesdays and a 24-seater bus on Fridays to VET education providers, catering for 60 students over the two days. Additional services operated for students from Foster and Mirboo North secondary colleges.

A need for the service was identified following the closure of the building and construction VET program at Chisholm TAFE in Wonthaggi in 2017. The nearest providers, AGA in Korumburra and Federation Training and Community College Gippsland in Leongatha, are a considerable distance away. With limited public and private transport options available, students faced a commute of up to three hours, or no access at all to VET programs.

The Department of Transport brought together transport providers, stakeholders and local communities in the South Gippsland and Bass Coast Local Transport Forum. The forum looked at the gaps and opportunities highlighted in a local transport survey of over 600 community transport users and providers. It identified that existing school bus and public transport services for VET students were inadequate, and that direct and safe transport to education providers was needed. Local working groups were held to investigate specific issues and solutions.

Maintaining engagement of students looking for an alternative to secondary school and for employment pathways was a key consideration in developing a transport solution.

Lainie, who lives in Cape Woolamai and is a VCAL student at Wonthaggi Secondary College, has always wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a registered plumber. However, the closest training centre to deliver the VET Plumbing program is AGA Apprenticeships in Korumburra. With Lainie’s parents both working full-time, a two-hour drive each way to drop her off or pick her up is not feasible, and no public transport services are available.

“Without this bus service, Lainie would be unable to attend trade school,” said Jim Lees, VCAL/VET coordinator at Wonthaggi Secondary College.

Jackson lives in Cowes and is participating in a Construction Pathways Pre-Apprenticeship Program with AGA. He relies on the bus service to get to his training in Korumburra on Fridays. Through the program Jackson has found a placement with a carpenter on Phillip Island and is developing the skills and confidence to pursue a career in the building industry.

“Young people living in the area can miss out on these important career opportunities due to access to education,” said Michael Dixon, AGA Field Officer for South Gippsland. “It can force students to make undesirable choices because of accessibility and can result in disengagement from school and the community.”

Driven by strong community participation, the trial was so successful that it was extended in 2020. Bus sizes from Wonthaggi and Foster secondary colleges have doubled, and a new service from Korumburra Secondary College has been introduced. The Mirboo North bus is in such demand that there is currently a waiting list, and a bus from Leongatha is well-utilised by 30 students.

This type of service has proved to be a more cost-effective model than traditional route timetabled bus services, and consultation is now underway with other schools in the region to investigate the use of a similar model.

With a greater number of students able to travel to Korumburra and Leongatha, education providers can now offer more courses. Prior to the introduction of this bus service, many courses could not run due to low enrolment numbers. Students now have access to an additional 22 VET programs that would not otherwise be available – a great result for the region.

This local transport solution is improving access for South Gippsland students to training facilities, leading to increased secondary school retention rates and a greater take-up of apprenticeships. It is enabling students to pursue a trade career of choice and supporting longer-term economic and community benefits by securing trade skills in the region.

DoT has worked with AGA to ensure the service continues to run, improving equality of access for South Gippsland students to training in their region – proof of the power of partnership and collaboration to devise creative solutions and achieve community outcomes.