Taking Shape: A New Trade Skills Centre

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Diggers, earthmoving equipment and excavators are slowly moving across a site behind Riversdale House between the maintenance sheds and the farm fences, as the new Chevalier College Highlands Trade Skills Centre (TSC) begins to emerge from the ground.

It is the start of an exciting regional vocational education and training journey being led by the College and brings together two years of intensive planning, political advocacy campaigns, negotiations and finally, the granting of $1.5M in Federal government funding.

How the trade skills centre came to be

Trade Skills Centres (TSCs) – originally known as Trade Training Centres (TTCs) – provide specialised VET teaching facilities in high schools by way of a capital development grant to a maximum $1.5 million per school. The program was an outcome of the 2007 Labor election c ampaign and launched in 2009 by then Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard. The promise was that all high schools in Australia would have access to these new facilities either directly on their own premises or by participating in voluntary cluster arrangements with other schools.Vocational education and training (VET) prepares students and young people for a career path in trade-related industries and primary production. It is also now a choice students can make to complete their HSC in conjunction with a VET course, making it possible for a student to undertake trade qualifications without ruling out entry to university.

After four rounds of TTC funding, the program seemed predictable enough. But immediately after Chev lodged its application for Round 5 funding, the Government suspended the TTC program in the May 2012 budget as its fiscal challenges became greater. Not giving up, Chev wrote to the Prime Minister and then led a network of schools from around Australia to advocate to Labor MPs and ministers the restoration of the TTC program, which was successfully achieved in late 2012.

Chevalier College initially put together a regional cluster of independent high schools and succeeded in gaining inprinciple approval from Federal Minister Peter Garrett for a $4.5 million grant. Unfortunately only the Catholic sector was able to commit its share of funding to the Round 5 Phase 1 final application. The eventual outcome was a $1.5 million grant. It was announced by then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and Federal Member for Throsby, Stephen Jones. MP., in its campaign leading up to the September 2013 Federal election.

1947 The Shed

The next twist in the plot was persuading the Coalition to commit to completing Labor’s Round 5 TTC funding. And it was here that the Chev family – past students and families – rallied to the cause. An online petition, letter and phone campaign picked up momentum, led by the LinkedIn ChevCONNECT group, with even Twitter coming into play in the final push.

Support and encouragement for the TSC was overwhelming and it came from alumni, past and current families, teachers and the Southern Highlands community. People like David Ryan AO who applauded and supported the application for federal funding and Margaret Rofe, who commented in the online petition that she was “…delighted Chevalier College has taken the initiative to construct a Vocational Education & Training facility on [the school] grounds which will provide valued skills not only for Chevalier students, but for all students in the Southern Highlands.”

Margaret knows. She has three sons who have all benefitted greatly from Chev’s VET programs in construction and primary industries. All three have gone on to win awards including gold at the World Skills Olympics and other nationally recognised vocational achievements.

In the end, the Coalition did commit to honoring Round 5 Phase 1 of the funding; but the rest of the national TTC program was culled soon after, indicating how crucial the College’s advocacy was for its cause at the time it was needed from its supporters and community.

The only trade skills centre of its kind between Sydney and Canberra

The new Chevalier College Highlands Trade Skills Centre is set to become the only facility of its type based at an independent school in the important and growing development corridor between Sydney and Canberra, focusing on the two sectors of Construction and Primary Industries.

In addition it is hoped that the growing trade skills hub at Chev will in due course be able to offer additional training opportunities in another important Southern Highlands sector, that of hospitality – utilising the facilities of a restored Riversdale House, turned into a Hospitality Education Centre. This has become more imperative since the consolidation of TAFE’s hospitality courses resulting in their relocation from Moss Vale to Goulburn from the start of 2013, making local access more challenging for Highlands-based students.

At first, the Chevalier Highlands TSC will offer two career paths.

Construction Trade Skills Centre

The Construction TSC will consist of two large workshops and separate classroom space as well as an outdoor covered work area – offering Certificate II in Construction Pathways potentially leading to more Certificate III options in the construction and building industry sector.

Primary Industries Trade Skills Centre

The Primary Industries TSC will have a classroom, a livestock theatre with tiered seating, holding pens and will adjoin the College’s 14 hectare working farm with fenced yards, tractor, livestock and other agricultural structures. The centre will offer a Certificate II in Agriculture as a pathway to Certificate III options in the agriculture and primary industry sector.

Discussions are being held with TAFE regarding possible use of the TSC for TVET courses and enable other regional secondary school students and private training organisations to benefit from the two facilities.

Riversdale House Hospitality Education Centre : the next chapter to be written?

Although not included in the Southern Highlands TSC right now, it is hoped that a ne w facility can be built, incorporating the historic Riversdale House – the original c1875 residence on the Chevalier College property – and creating a catering and functions/event space that would be an ongoing source of training placements for students required for them to complete their certificate accreditation.

The Riversdale House Hospitality Education Centre is a current goal for the next stage of the TSC development. It would make an ideal complement to the College’s existing commercial-grade teaching kitchens, and a unique way to adapt and reuse an important heritage building that is assessed by experts to be of state significance. It could be a perfect reception venue for the many weddings that are held in the College’s chapels, as well as for hosting past student class reunions. Other commercial uses to complement the training role include a venue for small conferences, trade exhibitions and gallery space for arts and crafts shows.

Economic benefits for the Southern Highlands will be far reaching

Skills shortages already exist in both the construction and primary industry sectors, not only in the Southern Highlands, but also in adjacent Priority Employment Areas like the Illawarra and South West Sydney.

Training local students, who are then likely to stay in the region, will help to ensure social cohesion among youth, build the local economy and provide skills and resources for development located along the Sydney-Canberra corridor, as well as for major regional construction projects like a second Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek.

The architectural firm selected to undertake both the TSC design and other master planning projects for Chevalier College is JDH Architects, based in Surry Hills. JDH has gained a strong reputation among clients and peers for excellence in design and for a pragmatic and innovative approach to environmentally sustainable development. Founder of the firm, Jayne Harrison, has now undertaken many educational sector projects, including other trade training centres such as LaSalle in Bankstown. She is currently writing a handbook for educators exploring creative sustainable design solutions in response to the key requirements of learning.

A Sydney building company, Rietsma Constructions, with extensive experience in similar major educational projects won the competitive tender to construct the TSC; no local builders were able to match the pricing, timetable and stringent Federal government contractual conditions. But the College did negotiate a commitment to use local subcontractors, suppliers and vendors as much as possible.

How can the community and industry get involved in the new TSC?

The Highlands TSC has received good support from the community and business sector to date – but more is needed to ensure its long-term success. While the $1.5 million grant was welcome, and represents the largest in the College’s history, the total estimated value of the TSC project is over $2 million. Opportunities exist for regional business, industry and enterprises in the Southern Highlands to become sponsors of the TSC, support the initiative with funds or donate tools and equipment, and contribute in many other ways to make the TSC a success. Alumni and past and current families may consider becoming ‘family sponsors’ and help purchase a tool, a piece of equipment or an important bit of the infrastructure. All help is welcome.

Industry and businesses will be needed to provide training placements, work experience and apprenticeships to complete the training and qualifications process.

1948 The Shed_Peter Beardsley RIP_PeterTrevaskis_BarryHarpley

As well as having a continuing strong academic focus, the College has a long tradition in providing learning experiences in the ‘manual arts’ going back to its origins.

As a boys boarding school, Chev attracted many students from farming families and rural regions. An early manifestation of this trend goes back to the College’s earliest years and the creation of ‘The Shed’ – a Chev legend. For years students would gather and work at The Shed for their recreation and to complete carpentry projects, repair things, make all sorts of practical devices and engage in hobbies like model aeroplane and kite constructions.

In his book, This Many Faceted Gem Fr John Franzmann MSC quotes the 1947 magazine: “It’s impossible to describe The Shed. Its architecture seemed to be that it had none. How it came to be there at all nobody seems to know. In Topsy fashion, it seems that it ‘just growed up’. Like the Old Bush School, it may be a queer old battered landmark, with its hat about its ears, but in years to come it will have for all ‘a motley host of memories’. In wind and rain and cold it gives its kindly shelter: it combines so wonderfully the hospitality of the inn with the delightf ul freedom of the nursery. Ping Pong, boxing, indoor games such as monopoly, a place where bicycles can be parked, dismembered and repaired – The Shed is the place for them all, not to mention the chance it gives to juniors of just floating around aimlessly and of being just where and when they are not wanted.”

As to what happened to The Shed? That seems as mysterious as its origins. But more on that in a future edition.

To support this project contact the College’s Manager Community Liaison & Development Paul McShane (02) 4861 1488 or by email at mcshane@chevalier.nsw.edu.au


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