Developing Social Capital In ‘Learning Borderlands’: Has the Federal Government's budget delivered for low-paid Australian workers?

Maree Keating


The 2011 Australian federal budget confirmed generous funding for language, literacy and numeracy programs as well as skills recognition and training for older workers as part of a strategy to upgrade workforce skills. In considering possible responses to the announcement, many Australian adult education theorists and practitioners weighed up the contexts in which such programs could build the resources and increase the options of vulnerable workers. One such group of workers, retrenched factory workers, have benefitted from participation in union-run, integrated post-retrenchment programs, which have incorporated access to language, literacy and numeracy as well as vocational education and training programs. Such programs can build on the existing social capital amongst close-knit groups of workers as they develop the confidence to transform their work identities.

This article draws on results from a study with a group of retrenched textile workers who accessed broad-based post-retrenchment support and subsequently participated in a high number of vocational education and training (VET) courses before finding ongoing employment. The study suggests that VET participation plays a limited role in broadening the employment opportunities for retrenched factory workers who move into low-paid occupations. Whilst VET participation alongside other factors supported entry into some occupations, it played no role in supporting most workers in their transitions into non-manufacturing jobs.

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