In 2004 in the small community of Weipa in Far North Queensland students were graduating from Western Cape College (WCC) without positive academic or employment outcomes.
Further to this, senior school enrolments had decreased by 44%, retention rates were low and parents were seeking education alternatives.
Meanwhile the largest employer, Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA), was facing employee shortages and failing to meet local employment targets.
Research identified that WCC needed to become a “first choice” school and deliver positive student outcomes if they wanted to improve perception with parents; therefore increasing enrolments and retention rates.
In response, WCC developed a ‘Service Guarantee’ strategy that guaranteed all year 12 students in 2008 either achieve an overall position score, paid employment or be on a education or training pathway upon graduation.
To achieve this WCC conducted research to identify the reason of poor student outcomes, built sustainable partnerships with industry to address skills gaps and communicated positive student outcomes to target publics.
Working with a limited budget WCC has successfully accomplished the ‘Service Guarantee’ annually since 2005, achieved a 257% increase of year 12 enrolments, a 40% increase in retention rates since 2004 and is now recognised as an industry leader and provider of quality education.
At the end of 2004 42% of WCC year twelve graduates were not achieving further employment, university or further training, year 12 enrolments had decreased by 44% and only 58% of the 2004 graduates had been retained from the start of senior school. This made WCC one of the worst performing schools in the state.
These results met with negative media, departmental and community comment. Although these results had improved since 2001, higher results were expected and parents were sending their students to boarding school as an education alternative.
At the same time the aluminium industry was facing unprecedented growth in 2004 and the largest employer in the region, Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) Weipa Operations, formally Comalco, were increasing bauxite production and struggling to meet local employment targets.
It was identified that there was an opportunity for the College to work in partnership with the local employees and training providers to create sustainable career pathways to improve student outcomes and therefore increase community perception.
Research determined that a strategy was required that improved student outcomes; therefore WCC developed the ‘Service Guarantee’ strategy.
To form a complete understanding of the perceptions of the target publics and the reason behind the low year 12 outcomes WCC conducted research internally and externally.
This research revealed areas in which to focus activity and identified target publics.
Internal research consisted of analysis of student data which tracked year 12 outcomes upon graduation.
This data confirmed the severity of the problem with only 58% of 2004 year 12 graduates securing employment or going on to further training or education (refer to Appendix A: 1).
Data also revealed year twelve enrolments dropped 44% (refer to Appendix A:2) and only 58% of the graduates had been retained from year ten three years earlier (refer to Appendix A: 3).
An internal audit of the College curriculum also revealed 72% of VET certifications awarded to year twelve students in 2004 were not aligned with local industry employment opportunities, (e.g. sport and recreation) and therefore not leading to positive employment paths (refer to Appendix A: 4)
External research consisted of meetings with administrators from other Cape and Torres Strait high schools. These included; Cooktown State High School, Northern Peninsular Area College in Bamaga and Thursday Island State High School.
This consultation process revealed that a cultural change was required to increase expectations of students and shift perception, so students and the community considered WCC as a ‘first choice school’
An indicator of a ‘first choice school’ was described as a school that provided quality education and an indicator of quality education was positive student outcomes (refer to Appendix A: 5).
The result of this research was the development of the “Service Guarantee” strategy.
Other external research held on a local level consisted of meetings with the Weipa Chamber of Commerce, RTA and representatives from the Town Authority to assess gaps in the service provision of the College and determine ways in which partnerships could be developed.
Through this research, stakeholders revealed that graduates, particularly indigenous students, had low literacy and numeracy and as a result had trouble integrating into the work environment and maintaining employment (refer to Appendix B: 1).
WCC recognised that the only way they would become a ‘first choice school’ was to achieve the objectives set by the ‘Service Guarantee’ and to do this they must form partnerships with industry and communicate these positive outcomes to the target publics.
Due to the limited budget and high reliance of building partnerships with local communities the following target publics were crucial to the success of the program:
Relationship to WCC
Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA)
Largest employer in the region with strong
commitment to sustainable local employment
Weipa Chamber of Commerce
Potential employers of WCC graduates
Integral to the enrolment and retention rates
of senior school
Largest training provider in the region,
opportunity to develop training partnerships
Department of education, Employment and
Workplace Relations (DEEWR)
Possible funding partner for training
The communication strategy supporting the ‘Service Guarantee’ was focussed on three phases.
Phase One: Identifying areas of improvement and skills gaps of graduates.
Research was conducted with targets to determine the root cause of the low student outcomes and identify areas of improvement to meeting the objectives of the ‘Service Guarantee’.
Phase Two: Build mutually beneficial sustainable partnerships with employers and training providers to address skills gaps and achieve positive student outcomes.
The College needed to work together with industry groups and training providers to address these areas for improvement and to work together to support students so real student outcomes could be achieved.
Phase Three: Communicate positive student success stories to parents to shift perception
To achieve the enrolment targets, increase retention rates of students and eliminate parents searching for alternative education options WCC needed to communicate positive student results to shift perception.
A range of communication tactics were implemented to achieve this.
Research conducted during Phase One of the strategy identified that the areas of improvement were:
· VET certification offered needed to align with employment opportunities
· students with low literacy and numeracy and school engagement issues were not ‘work ready’ and therefore not employable or sustaining employment.
The College worked on improving these areas by establishing the ‘Work Readiness’ program and WCC-RTA Forum in 2006.
The ‘Work Readiness’ program is a partnership between FNQ TAFE and the Weipa Chamber of Commerce to better prepare students with low numeracy and literacy for the workplace.
Businesses representatives of the Weipa Chamber of Commerce tailored the program in consultation with FNQ TAFE so training would be relevant.
The program included general work ready aspects such as:
· helping students get drivers licences so that they could transport themselves to work
· complete paper work to open a bank account and receive a Tax File number
· good work-place hygiene
· resumes writing courses and interview preparation.
The WCC-RTA Forum was established as a result of the identified interdependent needs discovered through research (refer to Appendix B: 1).
The Forum was an action party of key representatives of both organisations including the WCC Director, RTA General Manager and RTA Human Resources Manager committed to meeting quarterly to put in place actions in which RTA and WCC could work together to achieve the ‘Service Guarantee’ objectives.
The Forum identified and actioned the following areas for improvement over the three year period:
- Increase work awareness and career advice, introduce school visits to the mine, career talks at the school and RTA staff to deliver specialist lessons.
- Introduce work experience programs for year ten – year twelve students.
- Actively promote Indigenous work role models
- Introduction of school based apprenticeship and traineeship program
- Introduction of a policy that gives priority for WCC students in recruitment process for apprenticeships, providing the meet selection criteria.
- RTA involvement in long term subject selection choices
- Introduce vacation work opportunities in other RTA site locations
- Introduce RTA sponsorship of university scholarships in 2008
In order to support Phase Three of the project, the Forum implemented a scorecard measurement tool that recorded annual targets of identified areas for improvement (refer to Appendix B: 2)
Phase Three of the strategy was implemented throughout the four year project and included the following communication tactics:
- Drafting College Quarterly reports that included student outcome data and printing these fortnightly in the College newsletter.
- Printing the College newsletter in the local paper so it could be read by the local community.
- Distributing the College newsletter to an e-database of parents and stakeholders.
- Erecting a WCC bulletin board in the Weipa shopping complex for parents and wider community to view newsletters and quarterly reports.
- Submitting student success stories to the RTA staff monthly newsletter and local newspaper.
- Writing an annual ‘Where are they now?’ feature about the previous graduates and inserting this in school newsletters, school magazine and local newspaper.
- The College Director reporting to the Management Board, made up of parent representatives and the Parents and Community (P&C) committee quarterly
Results of the ‘Service Guarantee’ strategy can be identified across three areas; student outcomes, industry recognition and student outcomes.
In the field of student outcomes, WCC has delivered the ‘Service Guarantee’ since 2005 ensuring 100% of all year twelve graduates achieved an OP, complete School-Based Apprenticeships or Traineeships, be on clearly articulated VET pathways or gain paid employment upon graduation (refer to Appendix A: 9).
Further positive results include;
· Twenty six of the 41 RTA Weipa apprenticeships since 2006 have been awarded to WCC students.
· Twenty WCC students have completed school-based trainees since 2005
· Three WCC students were successful applicants of RTA university sponsorships in 2008.
· 21 ATSI students completed Year 12 in 2008
· In 2008 WCC were successful in gaining 76% of students awarded VET Certification,a 26% increase from 2004, an increase of 23.8% compared to the state average (refer to Appendix A: 10).
For further results achieved in 2008 please refer to the Appendix B:2.
The Service Guarantee model has also been recognised in the industry with various public sector awards:
· Awarded the 2008 Premiers Award winner in the category of Partnerships and Reconciliation
· Awarded the 2006 Prime Ministers award in the category of Community Partnerships Community perception was measured by enrolments and retention rates which have increased significantly:
· Student enrolments in year twelve increased 251% from 14 in 2004 to 50 in 2008 (refer to Appendix A: 2).
· Year 12 retention rates increase 40% from 58% in 2004 to 98% in 2008 (refer to Appendix A: 3).
The results above clearly indicate that WCC achieved the goals and objectives of the ‘Service Guarantee’ strategy from 2005 to 2008.
In total over the four year period;
· 21 (16%) students achieved an OP and attended University
· 70 (53%) students completed School-based Apprenticeships (SBA) or Traineeships or were on clearly articulated Vocational Education Training (VET) pathways
· 41 (31%) students gain paid employment.
The College also exceeded the original objective of increasing senior school enrolments, by 226% and achieved the objective of senior school retention rates by 40%.
The ‘Service Guarantee’ strategy is now being adapted at a regional level across the Far North Queensland State School region and the Forum is being adopted in the Northern Territory by Energy Resources Australia in the community of Jabiru.