THE RECENTLY announced closures of the Leongatha and Warragul campuses of Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE (GOTAFE) have raised concerns about the future of agricultural training in Gippsland, but Dairy Australia says the delivery of dairy training programs will continue despite the closures.
GOTAFE last week announced it had decided to withdraw from Gippsland to concentrate its programs on Victoria’s north east, with GOTAFE CEO Paul Culpan saying the move would “allow local TAFEs and training providers in Gippsland and South West Victoria an opportunity to service and support the dairy industry in these regions”.
GOTAFE’s Leongatha campus, which had nine permanent staff and about 200 students, closed at the end of December 2017.
GOTAFE says staff will be considered for existing vacancies or offered redundancy where possible and that students “will be supported through to the completion of their studies”.
Dairy Australia program manager Shane Hellwege says the community can be assured that GOTAFE “will meet its obligation to enable all current students to complete their studies by placing them with a suitable provider as soon as possible”.
“Dairy Australia has been working closely with GippsDairy to identify Gippsland-based education services providers to take over the GOTAFE programs as a matter of urgency,” he said.
“We expect to be in a position to announce the preferred providers in coming weeks.”
Students left stranded
GOTAFE says its focus is on “minimising the inconvenience to students and other stakeholders and making sure everyone is looked after and provided with a service that’s in line with the needs of the industry”.
But no one has been more shocked by the news than GOTAFE students who were part way through training at the now closed campuses and had assumed they’d be resuming their studies in the New Year.
Hayden Pike of Boolarra started a Certificate IV in Agriculture at GOTAFE’s Leongatha campus in September 2017, with hopes to become a second in command on a dairy farm and eventually run his own farm.
He says he only found out about the closure on social media after it had already happened.
“I’m a little stunned and annoyed as it happened so suddenly,” he said. “They had great teachers that knew their stuff about dairy farming and it was great to learn new things in the theory side of farming life and practices.
“I was hoping to complete the cert four and then look at doing a diploma, so hopefully GOTAFE can point me in the right direction or pathway that can lead to this, if not, I’ll have to look myself and see if it’s realistic enough to follow that or change careers.
“I hope they can help the students. People in my class have completed more or the same amount of units as I have, which costs money and hopefully that can be credited on to other training places,” Hayden said.
Kellie Walker of Glen Forbes, whose son Trent Argent had been training at GOTAFE Leongatha for the past year as part of an apprenticeship, says she also found out about the closures via social media and has heard nothing from GOTAFE about how they’ll be supporting their former students.
“It’s very sad and disappointing,” says Kellie. “Agriculture is so important and the dairy industry is such a vital industry in this area.
“Trent was learning things like first aid and he got his chemical certificate and all those OH&S skills that are really important skills to have.
“Farm workers will be managers one day and there’s definitely a need for practical, formal training,” she said.
Picking up the slack
Executive Officer of South Gippsland Bass Coast Local Learning and Employment Network Wendy Major said she has concerns about what will fill the space left by GOTAFE in 2018.
“Our concern [at SGBCLLEN] is whether there’s going to be any delivery into that space at all in 2018, and how they plan to service their obligation to currently enrolled students,” she said.
Wendy has been in talks with Federation Training managing director Jonathan Davis about whether its Leongatha campus can “pick up the slack” and give GOTAFE students a place to complete their training.
Mr Davis said Federation Training was planning to hold further meetings with GOTAFE and Dairy Australia in the coming weeks to discuss the situation regarding provision of agricultural and dairy training in the region.
“We will be discussing what options are available for the agricultural students and we will be happy to provide further comments once those discussions have concluded,” Mr Davis said.
Gippsland South MP Danny O’Brien called on the Andrews Government to work with Federation Training and private training organisations to “ensure that they fill the void left by GOTAFE’s decision”.
“Labor needs to get in and work with the industry to ensure the skills training the dairy sector needs are still on offer locally,” Mr O’Brien said.
AGRITRAIN, which is part of Wodonga TAFE, has announced that from February 2018 it will be offering a structured agricultural training program in both South and West Gippsland and welcomes enquiries from students impacted by the GOTAFE closures.
GOTAFE’s National Centre for Dairy Education (NCDE) Leongatha campus opened in 2009 after consolidating alliances with Gippsland Institute of TAFE.
Specialised training in dairy and agricultural was delivered both on and off campus and by flexible delivery. The Southern Victoria campus closures come as Dairy Australia retires the NCDE brand, moving to a combined education and extension framework with Dairy Learn.