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  What Works - The Work Program

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The Djigay Centre

Work-based learning and promotion of Indigenous enterprises

The context | Work-based learning | The outcomes | Key factors

The context


The Djigay Centre of Excellence in Aboriginal Education is located at the Kempsey Campus of the North Coast Institute of TAFE on the mid-north coast NSW. It began operations in the late 1980s and was officially opened in 1993.

Unemployment rates are high in the Kempsey area, particularly for local Aboriginal people, many of whom have historically had low levels of education. As well, their confidence in dealing with education and training institutions was not high.

The Djigay Centre is essentially an Aboriginal community response to this situation, and a concrete indication of the importance the community attaches to education and training. The community came together to agitate to have it established and the community still feels a strong sense of ownership. It is managed and staffed predominantly by Aboriginal people and provides a welcoming environment. The vision of the Dijigay Centre is to offer the Aboriginal community access to culturally appropriate education and training pathways which lead to employment opportunities and enable individuals to develop their basic and general educational skills.

Initially, Djigay concentrated on general education courses, and these 'access level' courses are still important today. However, there are now also emphases on outreach programs, partnerships with other agencies and 'work-based' learning.

In 1996, the Djigay Centre's Work-Based Learning Program was recognised by ANTA as a 'Best Practice' project.

Work-based learning

In the middle of the 1990s, the Djigay Centre began trying to link its courses more closely with employment opportunities and practical experience. There had previously been some difficulties in arranging adequate numbers of work placements for students.


Djigay trainees

So the idea was that a group of Aboriginal-run enterprises could be set up, to provide goods and services for which a need had been identified and opportunities for employment. These enterprises would also be able to provide work placements for students. At the time, however, there was no easy mechanism available to set up such enterprises, so the Djigay Student Association was established as an incorporated body which could establish and run them.

Such enterprises not only allowed for student work placements but also provided the opportunity for much more on-the-job training. The arrangement was, and is, that the Djigay Centre provides the training while the Djigay Student Association Incorporated provides the work placements. Most students spend their whole week on the job, at a particular enterprise. In addition to learning the skills particular to an enterprise, all provide an opportunity to train in business operation and management as well as generic work skills.

Initially, enterprises were supported by CDEP funds and Abstudy, but later some of them were able to generate more of their own funds and the amount of CDEP funding has been much reduced.

Successful enterprises include the Wigay Aboriginal Culture Park, a café at Kempsey TAFE, a landscape and maintenance business, Djigay Fashion, Gooragan Arts and Crafts, an administration and secretarial services business and a theatre group.

Djigay Manager, Ren Perkins, takes up the story.


Another benefit is that we have key Aboriginal staff employed in the incorporation. At the moment, Fred Kelly is the Manager, and Fred is a local Dunghutti person. We've got Carla Smith as Finance Administrator and she is a local Dunghutti person as well. Then we've got the key people who are supervising each of the enterprises. Not all of them are Aboriginal but the majority are, and our policy is that the people who are training up through the enterprises can go on to be managers. Like Vincent Cook, who was originally a student in the Canteen, and is now managing it.

We also use other people from the Aboriginal community as guest lecturers or team teachers wherever we can, especially where the regular teachers are non-Aboriginal. The guest lecturers are role models for Aboriginal students, they give them something to aim for. For non-Aboriginal teachers we provide cultural awareness training.

The other plan is that, when a business or enterprise becomes self-sustaining, then it can break away from the Incorporation and be solely self-sufficient. It has happened already for one business. For SKNIP [the South Kempsey Neighbourhood Improvement Program], we had a workcrew doing all the Department of Housing maintenance works and we provided them with training and outreach and workskills. That was an example of an enterprise which wouldn't have been able to happen in a TAFE college without the Incorporation. Because the Djigay Student Association was an incorporated body, a legal entity, it could actually apply to run it. They eventually broke away and set up their own Aboriginal company.

Now Goorigan [Arts and Crafts] is on the verge of breaking away. They are making money and building up the business. They have international contracts in Italy and Germany but we're not sure whether there's enough turnover to support five staff. But the idea is that we are helping them to develop a business plan, a five year business plan to get to that stage.

The outcomes

  • Eight Aboriginal enterprises are operating successfully through the Djigay Centre and the Djigay Student Association Incorporated.
  • One Aboriginal enterprise set up at the Djigay Centre has gone on to be self-sustaining and another is moving towards that end.
  • Over 75% of students participating in work-based learning programs complete nationally accredited VET qualifications.

Key factors

Ren Perkins (Djigay Manager), Kevin Naden (Institute Aboriginal Coordinator), Ron Naden (Aboriginal Student Support Officer) and Fred Kelly (Manager, Djigay Student Association Incorporated) suggest these factors as important in the success of the Djigay centre.

  • A high level of participation by the Aboriginal community in planning and implementing programs.
  • The fact that courses involve real work in real enterprises, so they can truly be described as incorporating hands-on learning.
  • Non-Indigenous teachers need cultural awareness training. The Aboriginal learner comes with a lot of knowledge and experience and this must be acknowledged and incorporated into education programs.
  • Flexibility is important and means making the curriculum work for a group of students rather than making the students fit the curriculum.
  • Attention is paid to each individual and his or her particular needs.

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