Maree Macgregor’s story will sound eerily familiar to many women. Having spent years out of the workforce raising children, she doubted her ability to rejoin it. The struggle to find work compounded Maree’s doubts and her confidence took a hammering.
Then, she lost her husband in an accident.
Grief-stricken in her empty nest, Maree still wanted to work. But she felt her age and lengthy gap in her resume were insurmountable barriers. That’s when she came across Ginninderry’s SPARK Training and Employment Initiative and discovered a new world of opportunities.
She went on to complete SPARK’s Certificate II in Business and the Horticulture & Conservation Land Management taster program, through which she grew a passion for horticulture.
The course led to steady employment in professional lawn and gardening services at social enterprise The Mower Shed – a job Maree loves.
Recently remarried and happily employed, Maree is one of many SPARK success stories.
The program currently has 1395 training places and 545 work experience placements. To date, its paid employment outcomes number more than 670.
Established by Ginninderry – a Joint Venture between Riverview Developments and ACT Government’s Suburban Land Agency – in partnership with non-government organisations and registered training organisations, SPARK graduates contribute to many developments in the new Ginninderry community. The program receives funding from Skills Canberra as part of the JobTrainer initiative.
At its core, SPARK is a training and employment initiative. But it’s a whole lot more.
Head of Community, Training and Employment at Ginninderry, Emma Sckrabei, attributes the high concentration of stories such as Maree’s to one big difference – what she calls the development’s “triple bottom line approach”.
“It’s not just about economics,” Emma says.
“Our 30-year project (Ginninderry) is on the back step of one of the lowest socio-economic areas in the Territory and we thought the local community should benefit from the economic growth that project brought.
“We could just build wonderful houses and parks, but we want to go beyond the bricks and mortar and incorporate environmental and social benefits.
“SPARK’s overarching objective is to be a sustainable community of international significance in the nation’s capital. Not just supplying that community with houses, but with education, training and employment pathways for better social and economic outcomes for our residents.
“After all, knowledge is power and the better we educate the community, the more people are working, the better the outcomes for that community and the entire ACT and capital region.”
SPARK programs work with people currently unemployed or not connected to education and training opportunities, tapping into an often overlooked employee source.
“We develop programs focused on training people who may not have been employed in recent times, or ever,” she says.
“We ask ourselves ‘what kinds of entry-level jobs can these people access?’ That might be the childcare sector, administration, the community services sector, disability work, horticulture, construction or hospitality.”
And if you find the prospect of studying a little confronting, don’t worry.
“We design courses for those not in the routine of studying at that level – we don’t just teach the content, we also help students develop the skills to absorb it.”
Emma says it’s important not to stop at education, but provide “wrap-around support” that removes barriers.
“We’ve had people almost drop out because they’re unable to access childcare or don’t have a licence. Or they don’t know how to create a resume or what to expect in interviews. Perhaps they need help applying for Centrelink payments, or they have car troubles. We find solutions.”
At the end of the SPARK journey, some programs have jobs attached, others don’t.
“Not everyone is ready for work straight away,” Emma says. “Further training, volunteering and work experience can be just as important to some as paid employment.”
She estimates there’s a 60 to 70 per cent employment rate among those who complete the program and are ready to work. And there’s no better time to up-skill.
Anyone living in the ACT aged 17 and over not working full time is eligible to undertake a SPARK training course. Visit the website for more details.