Ask any CEO about their workload and it’s likely they will be working on a diverse array of projects spanning different departments. However, few CEOs will oversee an organization like the Bendigo Kangan Institute.
This educational organization is made up of two Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutes, the Bendigo TAFE and Kangan Institute, as well VETASSESS and eWorks, two education service providers.
“We actually have a number of arms,” Sally Curtain, CEO of the Bendigo Kangan Institute explains. “As the CEO, it makes the job really interesting and it’s much broader and deeper than you might imagine.”
“We’ll continue with a blended delivery model – it will never just be face-to-face again.”
With operations from central Melbourne all the way to the border with New South Wales, Curtain can find herself at any location on any given day. As a TAFE provider, the organization is best in class in several fields, including automotive, health and trades.
In automotive training in Australia, the Institute trains more mechanics than anyone else in the country.
“We’re a market leader, recently winning the Victorian Large Training Provider of the Year Award, and we have 300 courses on offer. Whether you want to study fashion, Indigenous education, plumbing, cybersecurity, general management, aged care – and everything in between – our offering is very broad,” she adds.
Like the vast majority of other businesses, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed how the Bendigo Kangan Institute operated. Before the pandemic, a major part of its value proposition was the practical training and assessment that happens in-person and on-campus.
Making the transition to online learning wasn’t something that had been planned. But thanks to quickly moving to build up the skill base of teachers and staff to be able to deliver materials online using Zoom and Microsoft Teams, the move was relatively seamless.
“Partners have confidence that they can build a pipeline of talent in their workforce.”
“We delivered hundreds upon hundreds of sessions with staff to build their skills in teaching online and I think there’s a lot of learnings for us in it. We’ll continue with a blended delivery model – it will never just be face-to-face again,” Curtain says.
Like all other initiatives, students and partners are consulted on these changes, with the blended approach towards learning being a direct response to the needs of these two groups.
For example, with the availability of materials online, the theoretical elements of a program can be completed at a time that suits students who may have to work during the day.
“But it is also important that the face-to-face practical, hands-on learning remains on campus,” she says.
As an educational establishment, being industry-driven and maintaining strong partner relationships is vital. Thanks to the strength of the Bendigo Kangan Institute Automotive Centre of Excellence, the organization has managed to foster a long-term partnership with Toyota.
Toyota apprentices are trained at either Bendigo TAFE, the Automotive Centre of Excellence at Docklands, or at the Toyota facilities in Altona, with a key focus on closely tracking business needs, such as ensuring that technicians not only have generic skills but also specialist Toyota training.
“We work very closely with partners and now we’ve signed another partnership agreement with Toyota for three years, which will take us into our 23rd year of this relationship,” she adds.
Throughout the pandemic, Curtain and her team regularly checked-in with industry partners and students to make sure all their needs were being met. Working closely with partners to assess pandemic impacts, and looking for new ways to support and deliver students during this time, helped solidify long-standing relationships.
“We really were seen to be an essential part of our partners’ response during COVID-19,” concludes Curtain. “Partners have confidence that they can build a pipeline of talent in their workforce, where there’s been such a high level of turnover, knowing that they’ve got quality students and graduates coming through.”
Curtain and the Bendigo Kangan Institute serve a diverse, broad community. The role of TAFE is the provision of top-level public vocational education to create well-rounded and happy communities with great education, training and skills.
With the current skills gap in multiple essential industries, the Bendigo Kangan Institute is well placed to support the next generation of skilled workers.
“TAFE has never been more important for the success of our nation. As the Australian government has said, TAFE is at the heart of vocational education and training. We are ready to meet that challenge,” Curtain says.
“We also play a role for our students that can often be life-changing for them,” she continues.
“We provide them with confidence and choice, to the extent that many students return to re-skill with us so they can progress even further.”