ArticlePDF Available

What gaps need closing in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander training provision

  • Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, Darwin, Australia


A brief article outlining findings of work carried out by the CRC for Remote Economic Participation
5 Research Today
Research Today
What gaps need closing in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander training provision?
John Guenther, Principal Research Leader, Remote Education Systems project, CRC-REP/Flinders University and Eva McRae
Williams, Principal Research, Pathways project. CRC-REP/Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education
Recently, the Prime Minister gave the
annual Closing the Gap speech to
parliament. The accompanying report
(Turnbull, 2016) was a mix of optimism
and despair as a few gaps closed and
more widened. One that remained
stubbornly open was the gap in
employment. At one point, in relation to
remote communities, the report notes:
‘The difficulties in accessing training and
the absence of strong labour markets
make it difficult to secure continuous, paid
employment’. (p. 32).
Over the past four years, we have been
working on projects with the Cooperative
Research Centre for Remote Economic
Participation, managed by Ninti One
Limited. We have written widely on
issues related to training delivery in
remote communities and have come
to some conclusions that challenge the
assumptions of statements like the one
given in the Closing The Gap report.
To begin with we soon discovered that
the way we (who come from a western
position) frame the notion of ‘pathways’
through training to employment, is built
on a number of philosophical standpoints.
The ‘pathway’ which is often portrayed
as a linear, sequential and logical process
to achieve status and income, is built
on certain ontological, epistemological,
axiological and cosmological assumptions,
which when translated into remote
environments, do not make sense
(McRae-Williams & Guenther, 2012).
Put another way, the metaphor which
was designed to orient navigation to
an endpoint of job, income, and status,
depends on congruent philosophical
standpoints; for example is my identity
shaped primarily by my work role (such
as I am a mechanic) or is it shaped by
my position in kinship, my connection to
country, law and ‘dreaming’. This helped
us understand why it was that many
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living
in remote communities seemingly jumped
off the pathway that was made available
to them.
Next we grappled with the idea that
training in remote communities should
somehow be connected to ‘real jobs’.
The theory, which is often articulated
(as a form of Human Capital Theory),
is that if training and employment were
somehow connected then training
would be successful. For example, if
there were construction jobs available
in a community, then training would
facilitate transition into employment in that
industry. The same could apply to mining,
agriculture or manufacturing and a number
of other industries in which few remote
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are
employed. Our analysis of 2011 Census
data revealed some interesting findings.
We found that many jobs with low skill
level requirements were taken by non-
Indigenous people. Agricultural jobs for
example, where more than 60 per cent
of the workforce had no qualifications,
had very low levels of local Aboriginal or
Torres Strait Islander participation. Other
industries with relatively high demand
for qualifications such as health and
education, had higher levels of local
participation. We came to the conclusion
that holding a Certificate III or having
real jobs available did not facilitate
employment (Guenther & McRae-Williams,
2014; McRae-Williams
& Guenther, 2014).
This was despite the
presence of real jobs
and a viable labour
market, and where
training was available.
So what would then
make a difference?
We were asked to
examine several cases
of effective collaboration among job
service and training providers to see how
cooperation between service providers
would make a difference. It turned out that
despite the collaborative effort and good
will of many people, some of whom were
experts in their field, highly collaborative
service provision did not make much
difference. In one of the cases we
examined, attrition rates from enrolment
to completion were as high as 100 per
cent. That is, of more than 100 people
identified as being suitable for training,
with the prospect of jobs attached at
the end, none completed the training. In
another case touted as a success, where
15 Certificate I completers were proudly
lined up in front of a camera with their hi-
vis vests, the data suggested that these
completers came from a pool of more
than 800 eligible people (Guenther &
McRae-Williams, 2015).
In other data we have analysed, we
noted a correlation between high levels
of employment and training with higher
levels of school engagement and
academic outcomes (Guenther et al.,
2014). All of this has led us back to a
proposition we originally considered:
effective training in remote communities
will occur when the identities of trainees
and employees is aligned to their local
ontologies, epistemologies, axiologies
and cosmologies. That is, training and
employment ought to fit with what trainees
value, think and believe are important;
and fit with how they see themselves
belonging to their community and
country. This explains why those living
in remote communities readily engage
in ranger work, community services,
the arts industry and even health and
education. Training and employment in
these industries fits with identities that
are attuned to caring
for country, family and
maintaining language
and cultural traditions
(McRae-Williams, 2014).
We suspect that
the question of high
attrition rates is linked
to this. To test this
proposition, Ninti One
was successful in obtaining an NCVER
grant in 2015 to examine what it is about
successful adult learning programs in very
remote communities, that contributes
to employability and results in higher
retention rates. We will report on initial
findings of this work at this year’s No
Frills conference, but the work we have
already done suggests that the gaps
we are trying to close are not ‘real’ to
those living in remote communities. We
suggest that the gaps, which first need
closing are ontological, epistemological,
axiological and cosmological gaps. They
need to be carefully defined. Otherwise
the assumptions driving current training
Continued on following page >
The ‘pathway’ which
is often portrayed as a
linear, sequential and logical
process to achieve status and
income ... depends on
congruent philosophical
6 Research Today
Research Today
Market rules? Where are women in skills
provision in 21st century vocational
education and training?
Linda Simon, WAVE National Convenor
In 1999, Butler and Ferrier wrote a
landmark report for NCVER entitled
‘Don’t be too polite girls’. As part of this
extensive literature research and review,
the authors noted that women’s
participation rate in VET had improved, but
that there were continuing problems,
including women ‘... clustering in fields of
study and at lower levels, less employer
support for external training, under-
representation and low completion rates in
apprenticeships in non-traditional areas ...’
(1999:vii). They also observed that the
diminishing commitment to equity in a
marketised VET system would present
even greater challenges for many women
and wrote that: ‘The business of equity has
never been central to the ‘real’ business of
VET. There is little understanding of what
equity means at a national level and there
is a reluctance among policy makers to act
on recommendations of equity-related
research which call for structural or
systemic changes that would see equity
become a central organising principle
within the VET system’ (Butler and Ferrier,
Sixteen years have passed, with the
VET system being subject to ongoing
significant changes including the 2012
agreement on a new market-driven funding
model for vocational education. ‘Markets
require a rationing of education, and the
creation of hierarchies and mechanisms
of competition’ (Connell, 2013, p99). VET
is now a highly complex public/private
industry firmly located in a competitive
market place. What has this meant for
women and girls engaging in VET?
Drawing on research undertaken by
Women in Adult and Vocational Education
(WAVE) over this period, this paper
considers equity and gender equity in C21
VET provision. This is in light of the G20
commitment by Australia (amongst other
countries) to reduce the gap in workforce
participation rates between men and
women by 25% within the next 10 years.
G20 leaders announced that by increasing
female labour participation by 25% over
the next 15 years, they would bring
100 million women into the workforce
– thereby allowing the G20 countries
to reach their goal to increase global
economic growth by 2.1% by 2018.
Workplace Gender Equality Agency
(WGEA) spokesperson Yolanda Beattie
said when the G20 communique was
released in 2014 that the G20 target
could only be reached by addressing all
the embedded workplace structures that
disadvantage women. ‘There is no silver
bullet. It begins with a deep understanding
of all of the systemic barriers to women’s
full participation in the workforce,’ she
noted. ‘Every key decision maker needs
to understand that the workforce is not
a level playing field, and they need to
understand why this is the case and then
make a commitment to addressing every
single element of women’s disadvantage
at work’. Beattie said there were three key
‘levers to pull’ in terms of lifting female
workforce participation: social change,
policy change and workplace change
(Osborne-Crowley, 2014).
The marketised VET system in Australia
has recently seen the demise of the
National VET Equity Advisory Council
(NVEAC) and has little focus on equity
and equality. This paper asks the critical
questions: Have we moved on since 1999,
or are women and girls facing the same
challenges as then? Could the situation
be even worse as a result of government
commitment to markets in education?
In comparing the VET landscapes of
1999 and 2015, this paper focuses on
equity policy and equity-related strategies,
generally at a Federal Government level,
and implications for women. Even by
2006, Butler and Ferrier noted that the
position of women in VET was ‘highly
problematic’, and provided the example
of the NCVER round of funded research
for VET, which stated: ‘Research showed
that women as a whole are doing well in
VET and should no longer be seen as (an)
equity group’ (NCVER, 2005). In 2006
Damon Anderson’s report on ‘Trading
places: the impact and outcomes of
market reform in vocational education
and training’ was also published. It drew
attention to the impact of the market
on VET provision, characterised by the
increased numbers of private RTOs, and
the loss of ‘support services and access-
related initiatives’(Butler and Ferrier, 2006,
p. 583).
From previous page
Guenther, J, Disbray, S, & Osborne,
S 2014, Digging up the (red) dirt on
education: one shovel at a time. Journal
of Australian Indigenous Issues (Special
Edition), 17(4), 40-56.
Guenther, J, & McRae-Williams, E,
2014, Does education and training for
remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander lead to ‘real’ jobs? Evidence
from the 2011 Census Paper presented
at the AVETRA 17th International
Confernce, Surfers Paradise. 22-24
April 2013. Retrieved from www.avetra.
Guenther, J & McRae-Williams, E 2015,
The training and employment challenge
of remote communities: Is collaboration
the solution? Paper presented at the
AVETRA 18th Annual Conference,
Melbourne. 10 April 2015. Retrieved
McRae-Williams, E 2014, Aspirations
for meaningful livelihoods: Challenges
of pathway navigation. Journal of
Australian Indigenous Issues (Special
Edition), 17(4), 57-71.
McRae-Williams, E., & Guenther,
J 2012, Pathways: following the
highway, taking the scenic route or
journeying through the dreaming.
Paper presented at the AVETRA 15th
Annual Conference: The Value and
Voice of VET Research for individuals,
industry,community and the nation,
Rydges Capital Hill, ACT. 12-13 April
2012. Retrieved from www.avetra.
McRae-Williams, E., & Guenther, J
2014, Learning Pathways for Economic
Enterprise in Remote Aboriginal
Communities: Are Certificate IIIs the
ticket? Paper presented at the AVETRA
17th International Conference, Surfers
Paradise. 22-24 April 2013. Retrieved
Turnbull, M 2016, Closing the Gap
Prime Minister’s Report 2016,
Department of Prime Minister and
Cabinet. Retrieved February 2016
and employment policies will perpetuate
the gaps rather than make a meaningful
difference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islanders living in remote communities.
Full-text available
In our earlier work on generalizing from qualitative research (GQR) we identified our two-decade struggle to have qualitative research outcomes formally “listened to” by policy personnel and bureaucratic systems in general, with mixed success. The policy sector often seems reluctant to acknowledge that qualitative research findings can be generalized, so impacts tend to be informal or simply ignored. The “official” methodological literature on generalizing from qualitative research is epitomized by Lincoln and Guba’s (1985) still oft quoted, “The only generalization is: there is no generalization” (p. 110). We now understand there are many alternative possibilities for generalizing. In this paper we hope to provide a platform for discussion on GQR. We suggest Normative Truth Statements (NTS) as a foundation. NTSs, used in our proposed generalizability cycle, are a potential key to ensuring designated qualitative research methodology provides a capacity for generalization—and therefore be considered as a valid form of evidence in policy decisions. In other words, we need a platform to articulate how to design qualitative research to maximize the type and scope of generalizability outcomes, referred to here as Designed Generalization from Qualitative Research (DGQR). Five steps of DGQR, using progressive NTSs in the generalizability cycle, are proposed as a way forward in understanding how generalizing from qualitative research may be made more transparent, accountable, and useful. The five steps are illustrated by reference to two example studies.
Full-text available
In this paper, the authors debunk a long-held myth that generalisation is primarily the domain of quantitative research. Based on a review of modern and historical approaches to generalisation, they argue that generalisation from qualitative research (GQR) can be achieved, not through a process of self-justification, but through defensible and rigorous research design and methods. The authors go on to consider examples from their own qualitative research work spanning the last 20 years. From these examples they offer mechanisms that qualitative researchers can employ to generalise from their findings. They suggest that generalisation is achieved through a process of generalisation cycles (GCs) which produce normative truth statements (NTSs), which in turn can be contested or confirmed with theory and empirical evidence.
In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people score poorly on national mainstream indicators of wellbeing, with the lowest outcomes recorded in remote communities. As part of a ‘shared space’ collaboration between remote Aboriginal communities, government and scientists, the holistic Interplay Wellbeing Framework and accompanying survey were designed bringing together Aboriginal priorities of culture, empowerment and community with government priorities of education, employment and health. Quantitative survey data were collected from a cohort of 841 Aboriginal people aged 15–34 years, from four different Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal community researchers designed and administered the survey. Structural equation modelling was used to identify the strongest interrelating pathways within the framework. Optimal pathways from education to employment were explored with the concept of empowerment playing a key role. Here, education was defined by self-reported English literacy and numeracy and empowerment was defined as identity, self-efficacy and resilience. Empowerment had a strong positive impact on education ( β = 0.38, p < .001) and strong correlation with employment ( β = 0.19, p < .001). Education has a strong direct effect on employment ( β = 0.40, p < .001). This suggests that education and employment strategies that foster and build on a sense of empowerment are mostly likely to succeed, providing guidance for policy and programs.
Full-text available
One of the primary goals of the Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation (CRC‐REP) is to improve the education and training pathways in remote areas so that people have better opportunities to participate in the economies that exist. In advancing this goal, the 'Pathways to Employment' project aims to understand the way that Indigenous Australians in remote communities navigate their way into meaningful livelihoods, and what kind of learning support these pathways. The paper highlights how mainstream ways of being, knowing and valuing make navigating such pathways inherently challenging for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples in remote Australia. Aspirations for belonging to family, community and country which shape economic engagement can be overlooked by a system that values different goal orientations and privileges certain ways of getting there. The paper argues that building on local social and identity capital might be a key ingredient in supporting educational and economic advantage.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Over the last decade, very remote Northern Territory has seen significant improvement in participation, retention and completion rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in vocational qualifications. The number holding a certificate qualification increased sixfold in the period from 2001 to 2011 while employment only increased by 10 per cent. This is despite increased attention to equipping people with necessary foundation skills through language literacy and numeracy and employability skills programs. Recent strategic policy interventions emphasise the importance of collaboration between training and employment service providers to improve outcomes for clients. The theory is that collaboration should reduce duplication of services, make service provision more efficient, and provide a seamless pathway for clients into employment. This paper presents two case studies of programs which, through service provider collaboration, aimed to improve the capacity of remote Aboriginal jobseekers to engage with and secure employment. Drawing from data obtained through the programs by researchers from Batchelor Institute, they demonstrate how collaboratively engineered pathways work or fail. Having tested assumptions about engineered pathways and collaboration to improve remote labour force participation, the paper concludes with implications for provision of job services and training in remote Australia.
Full-text available
Education is sometimes seen as an asset that can be drawn on and built up, or as a commodity that can be sold or put to good use. Human capital theory aligns with this view and suggests that investments in human capital will reap economic returns both for individuals and societies. Given this, in remote Australia improved educational outcomes should therefore result in improved economic participation and consequently the economic productivity of the nation. The investment in strategies designed to lift remote school attendance, attainment and retention rates have grown considerably over recent years. But so far the results are not encouraging. The analysis presented here, based on 2011 Census and My School data challenges human capital logic suggesting investment in education leads to economic engagement for very remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It suggests that linkages between education and economic participation are complex and may be multidirectional.
Abstract-72 The training and employment challenge of remote communities: Is collaboration the solution? Paper presented at the AVETRA 18th Annual Conference
  • J Pdf Guenther
  • Mcrae-Williams
April 2013. Retrieved from www.avetra. Abstract-72.pdf Guenther, J & McRae-Williams, E 2015, The training and employment challenge of remote communities: Is collaboration the solution? Paper presented at the AVETRA 18th Annual Conference, Melbourne. 10 April 2015. Retrieved from uploads/2015/04/50.docx
Pathways: following the highway, taking the scenic route or journeying through the dreaming. Paper presented at the AVETRA 15th Annual Conference: The Value and Voice of VET Research for individuals, industry,community and the nation, Rydges Capital Hill
  • E Mcrae-Williams
  • Guenther
McRae-Williams, E., & Guenther, J 2012, Pathways: following the highway, taking the scenic route or journeying through the dreaming. Paper presented at the AVETRA 15th Annual Conference: The Value and Voice of VET Research for individuals, industry,community and the nation, Rydges Capital Hill, ACT. 12-13 April 2012. Retrieved from www.avetra. McRae-Williams-Guenther_paper-no-20_final-submission.docx