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Coding the Future of Vocational Training

21 April 2017 at 2:08 pm
Wendy Williams
A new Queensland-based not for profit that teaches vocational coding skills to adults for free is hoping to “totally change” the vocational sector.

Wendy Williams | 21 April 2017 at 2:08 pm


Coding the Future of Vocational Training
21 April 2017 at 2:08 pm

A new Queensland-based not for profit that teaches vocational coding skills to adults for free is hoping to “totally change” the vocational sector.

IT etc.Training was launched in February by Brendan Kelly and Paul Buckby with the aim of providing people with the opportunity to learn quality, industry relevant coding skills to enable them to participate in the “digital revolution”.

The program uses a challenge-based cooperative learning style and has eliminated entry requirements in a bid to remove barriers that restrict access to traditional education.

Kelly, who previously worked with Buckby at TAFE Brisbane and Careers Australia, told Pro Bono News it was a grassroots program making “a life-changing difference to people’s lives, in a time where other educational institutions were in the news for all the wrong reasons”.

“I worked for TAFE for about 10 years, and Paul for about 25 I think, teaching IT so generally programming and database stuff. We left TAFE and went and worked for Careers Australia for a little bit and then got out… we were basically pretty disillusioned with the whole way that that sector was going both in the quality of the education and also the cost of the education,” Kelly said.

“What used to happen with Careers Australia was [students] would come in, they would register for the course, it would cost them about $20,000-plus in VET FEE-HELP loans and they would find that they weren’t suited to coding, or they didn’t like the course, but they were saddled with that debt.

“So we always had in our minds, setting up something where people could come and learn coding for free.”

The course, which is run on Saturdays out of the State Library of Queensland, teaches students skills to code mobile apps, dynamic web sites or traditional desktop applications.

The first course in February offered 30 students an eight-week challenge to learn to code. The program is now set to launch two further coding challenges with more than 50 students taking part and more that 20 people on a waiting list.

Kelly said their strong numbers indicated an enthusiasm in the community for this type of program with people wanting to re-skill themselves in disciplines like software development in light of the uncertain future of many jobs.

“[We were] reading reports like the CEDA report, where people that are in jobs at the moment those jobs possibly aren’t going to exist in the next five or 10 years so they were the ones that initially we were targeting, or thinking about targeting,” he said.

“We run our course on the weekends, on Saturday, so if they were working full time they could work towards a career change without disrupting their work.”

Kelly said two-thirds of the participants were female which was “rare, if not unheard of” in software development courses.

He said the program was also using “robots” to reach out to remote students.

The state library has acquired a padbot, which is a telepresence robot,” Kelly said.

“They are a little like an ipad on a stick on wheels, so the user controls them from wherever they are and the robot has an image of the user on the ipad and then they can control that and talk and people can talk to the robot.

“We have got a remote student that… lives in Moranbah, and she’s going to be doing our course as a robot.

“So it is really exciting.”

He said the padbots could change the future of online learning.

“To do [the course] nationally, I’d like to be based in each of the capital cities, [but] with the robotic thing I think that’s where we can make regional education, economically viable,” he said.

“The libraries in regional areas are like the hub where a lot of people can go and we want to be able to use these robots so that we can take our course out to those regional areas as well.

“I guess we’ve seen, working for TAFE and working for Careers and stuff, a lot of the vocational training talk about online learning but I think it is just a convenience for the industry.

“For the students, very few people can successfully do online learning because they are isolated, and even if they can chat or whatever else, it is not the same as being part of a group and so only a very small percentage of people that undertake online training ever complete it.

“We think that these little things are probably the future because people can feel part of a group. So it is probably the next best thing to being able to come into class, you can actually be there from wherever you are and interact with people.

“We’ve got some Indigenous students, that is another area that we would like to help with, and obviously a lot of that is going to be remote as well.”

Up to this stage Kelly and Buckby have been donating their time for free and relying on the state library to give them a space but Kelly said they were keen to get industry involved in the program.

“Basically Paul and I have just donated our time and money for free up to this point as I guess we wanted to prove the model, which I think we have already done just in the one challenge,” he said.

“We want to get industry involved with it, so industry can work with [the students] and they get experience working with industry people, which they don’t with traditional education.

“A lot of people do like a diploma in software development but they never have any idea of what is it like to work in the industry and so we saw that as being really important.

“I guess that’s where our focus is going to be now. We’ll be looking initially for industry to get involved, because that is a big part of the education that we want to provide, and [then]… the government… keep talking about innovation and coding, so we hope to get some funding from them.”

Kelly said they were keen to shake up the sector.

“I think it is being irrevocably damaged and we believe our model is possibly the future of vocational training,” he said.

“I guess I just have this vision in my head of how everyone is going to be doing vocational training, and it’s going to be free and companies are going to be highly involved in it, and it is going to be relevant.”

Kelly said coding was vital for Australia’s future workforce.

“More and more, everything is being controlled by apps and everything is being digitised and it is all about big data and software development and coding is at the core of all that,”  he said.

“They talk about the innovation revolution [but]… the only people that are really in a position to take advantage of that innovation revolution are people with coding skills and with those technical skills, and most of the population don’t have those skills.

“We want to enable or empower a huge number of people to be able to take advantage of that.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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