Abstract: The desert context provides unique challenges for the delivery of vocational training and adult and community education programs for Indigenous peoples. Apart from being isolated and remote, Indigenous communities are mostly small and do not have infrastructure capacity that might be expected in other rural communities around Australia. In addition, regional mobility, an industry mix that depends on high skill levels, language and cultural diversity and high population growth rates create challenges for the provision of services generally and post-compulsory education, more specifically. The main employment opportunity for desert Indigenous peoples is the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP). Only one in six working aged desert Indigenous people are in non-CDEP employment. CDEP forms the backbone of essential public and community services on desert communities. Participation rates in VET are high but cluster around Certificate I & II qualifications or in mixed field subject only enrolments. The two main employment areas of desert: mining and retail are noticeably under-represented by Indigenous people. The nature of the engagement of desert Indigenous peoples in VET reflects ACE type courses and learning programs more than vocationally oriented courses. There is a plethora of other educational activity occurring across the desert that are being driven and enacted outside of the formal educational sector. ACE does not exist as a formal sector across most of the desert. The extent of Indigenous engagement with other learning activities facilitated by the vast landscape of programs funded under the umbrella of capacity building or community development alludes to a suite of learning opportunities arguably more situated in and responsive to desert contexts. This suggests, particularly given the absence of a formal ACE sector across the desert, the need for some collaborative agency in shaping an array of learning opportunities more attuned to local aspirations and skill sets and perhaps less aligned to mainstream industry or occupations. The uptake of VET courses across desert Australia is limited to those Indigenous peoples prepared to journey to mine sites or major service centres where most employment opportunities exist and who are less likely to speak an Indigenous language, be employed in CDEP or rely on accessing compulsory education on their communities or homelands. In many ways the bulk of VET offerings across the desert sit uneasily within the reality that the training is aligned with jobs and opportunities available elsewhere and not in the places where Indigenous people live and in all likelihood will continue to choose to live. The available data neither counts nor reflects many of the activities occurring on the ground as desert Indigenous people innovate their own place based forms of engagement across the customary and modern economies as learners and as workers.
Guenther, J, Young, M, Boyle, A, Schaber, E, Richardson, J, 2005, Growing the desert: Regional and educational profiles of the Australian desert and its Indigenous peoples—Stage one report, Report, viewed 02 December 2023, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=5413.