For volunteers at Community College Gippsland (CCG), helping out might just mean reconnecting with a great passion.
The education and training organization has recently opened up its long-standing volunteer program to include opportunities to contribute in new ways. From cooking in the café to helping in the garden, mentoring or demonstrating a trade skill, volunteers are encouraged to contribute to transforming students lives simply by doing more of what they love.
CEO of CCG, Sue Geals, said that giving back goes both ways.
“We love our volunteers – we are so grateful for what they bring to our organization. But it’s just as important to know that the experience we are providing is bringing them joy, purpose and social connection too,” said Ms Geals. “We love to empower our volunteers to contribute to things that they really enjoy.”
in an organization as diverse as CCG, the volunteering options are almost limitless.
“Volunteering is a fulfilling way to share your skills and experience with the world,” Ms Geals said. “If you have a skill set that could add value to our campus, we would love to hear about it!
“You can volunteer regularly, or just when there is a call for your specialist skills and a project that particularly interests you.”
Long-time CCG volunteer, Jocelyn Formby, says that volunteering at CCG allowed her to follow her passion of helping people learn while adjusting to retirement.
“I started working with mature-aged students, helping them improve their English, Maths and computer skills,” Mrs Formby said. “From the very beginning, my heart was filled with admiration for these students wanting to improve their skills at such a late stage of life. Seeing their excitement when they mastered a new skill was enjoyment in itself.”
For Mrs Formby, the experience has led to lasting friendships, immersion in new cultures and gratitude shown by students when they succeed.
“I have enjoyed helping students to learn and the friends that I have made,” she said. “CCG is a place where you are made to feel welcome and treated with respect by staff and students. It has always been a rewarding experience for me.”
The Friends of the CCG ‘Hands On Herbs’ program is a fresh take on a college-industry partnership and it’s already growing our horticulture student’s confidence and skills. In partnership with commercial grower Freshleaf, herbs are donated to the college, then grown and packaged by our students. The plants are then available for purchase, with all proceeds supporting students experiencing financial hardship.
CCG Horticulture Trainer, Tony Bundock, says the program draws together all parties in a common goal.
“Our students can get their hands dirty on a project that takes them on a growing journey, from caring for the small seedlings to harvesting a mature plant. Along the way, students observe plant growth and monitor for signs of pest and disease, ready to provide suitable solutions. They get to use the college’s excellent facilities, our commercial greenhouses, as they build their skills and gain valuable, practical experience.
“Knowing that funds raised from the sale of these herbs are ploughed back into our philanthropy program to help some of our more vulnerable students just makes the project even more worthwhile.”
How does our garden grow?
The plants are cultivated in the college’s Nutrient Film Technique, a growing system that passes a constant flow of sterilised, nutrient-rich water to the plant root. The college greenhouses provide the perfect growing environment but students still visually monitor for infestation and use ‘sticky traps’ to capture any pests. Herbs grown include basil, coriander, sage, chives and parsley.
“An important aspect of student learning is attention to detail. Plants are living things and they need to be able to ‘read’ the signs that a plant is showing in order to provide for its needs. This program is the perfect way to apply that technique. Instant and hands-on learning.”
Tony believes the most satisfying way to understand the benefits of the program is getting to eat the results!
“It’s rewarding to know that our community gets to sample our work. Who doesn’t love fresh, locally-grown herbs? My favourite is basil and I can’t go past a homemade pizza with that aromatic herb sprinkled on top.”
David McMillan (pictured) is Head Horticulturalist with Freshleaf, managing three Victorian facilities to produce high-quality fresh leafy greens all year round. Freshleaf has been operating for the past 12 years, starting at Clyde and growing to include farms at Devon Meadows, Officer and Wondecla in Far North Queensland. Initially supplying restaurants and the market with fresh leafy greens, the company now has a long-standing relationship with Coles.
“All of our products are grown hydroponically; some herbs are grown in low technology polytunnels, some are grown in high technology, fully automated glasshouses. Herbs have become very popular in the last five to ten years. Shows like MasterChef have really shown how versatile herbs are in everyday cooking. Basil and coriander are the top sellers.
“We cannot cultivate products as cheap as conventional field growers, but what we can offer is a consistent, high-quality product 12 months of the year,” David explains.
As with nurturing plants, nurturing talent from the very start of a student’s career, is about feeding the roots, seeding the ideas and ensuring the right conditions for growth.
“That’s what the community partnership with CCG is building. When Tony Bundock approached me, I was inspired by his vision and happy to help in any way. CCG and Freshleaf share a passion for developing the next generation of emerging growers. There is a shortage of skilled growers nationwide. As the population continues to grow, the demand for fresh, sustainably grown produce increases. With this partnership, CCG & Freshleaf can work together offering theory-based knowledge mixed with practical hands-on experience to young people in South East Victoria,” David says.
Completing the cycle of student-to-workplace, David is himself an alumnus of CCG, completing his Certificate III in Production Horticulture in 2009, and has some sage advice for the current crop of trainees.
“I was doing an apprenticeship at the time so I was eager to learn as much as I could. I remember having some great teachers, some that made a great impact on me very early on in my career. It’s important to love what you do, be passionate about everything you do. Work takes up a huge part of your life, so enjoy every day, and you will be successful.
Freshleaf thrives on innovation
We are always investing in new technologies to remain the leaders in the leafy greens industry. For example, we have just invested in a 4000m2 state-of-the-art greenhouse with a fully automated moving gully system. Using this technology lets us maximise the growing area in the greenhouse to 91% by not having any walkways in the greenhouse. The crop is planted at one end of the greenhouse and moves throughout its lifecycle towards the end of the greenhouse where the harvesting area is. This increases efficiency by 50% by having the crop come to you.
Got a taste for something fresh?
If this story has you salivating for tender, tasty produce, you can buy fresh herbs and plants at the CCG Plant Sale. To be held at the Warragul Campus on Saturday 7 May (10am – 2pm), there will be a range of herbs, as well as pot plants suitable for indoors, and shrubs that the students have produced during the course of their learning. Your purchase not only provides great value for money, but also contributes to the college’s philanthropic fund, used to assist students who may struggle with fee-paying and other expenses.
We’d love to see you there!
If this story has spiced up your interest in learning more about horticulture, contact us on 5622 6000 for more information.
Swing by our Warragul Campus on Saturday 7 May (10am – 2pm) for our special plant sale. Delicious ready-to-eat herbs AND potted plants to add life to your space.
Every purchase supports our students to thrive.
Student profile: Miyuki Sasaki, Certificate III Education Support
“I feel honoured to be a part of their lives.”
Having worked previously as a therapist and counsellor, and volunteering on Japanese school exchanges, Miyuki Sasaki took a break from employment to raise a family. When she was ready to return to the workforce, she looked for a career choice that would allow her to work during school hours as well as using her expertise.
“I chose the Education Support course as a way to build on the experiences I already had: interpersonal skills and emotional understanding,” Miyuki says. “Now I am working as an Education Support officer at Ellinbank Primary School and I have been able to put both my previous work experience and my new learning to good use in the classroom.”
Miyuki completed her Certificate III in Education Support with Community College Gippsland in 2021, originally attending in-person classes until pandemic restrictions forced learning online. Miyuki found the small group setting of the face-to-face classes boosted her confidence, laying the foundations for success in her own learning; a confidence that she would take into the classroom to assist the students.
“I had been away from study for many years so it was a daunting prospect to go back. But starting in the classroom really helped me. The smaller class size meant we had more time with the trainer. As a Japanese native, I was worried about the English literacy aspect but the trainer reassured me, and with her support I knew I could achieve my goals.
“When we moved to the online learning model, we found different ways to remain engaged. I completed the assignments and by the fourth term, I was ready for work placement.
“When I did the 110 hours of placement, I was able to use the information I had learned around policy and legislation in a practical setting. But actually being with the students was where the confidence I had gained came into play. Being able to connect with them socially and emotionally, developing relationships, was a key part of the placement,” Miyuki says.
After graduating, Miyuki found work in the job that she loves. As an industry where skilled graduates are in high demand, Miyuki was able to find a role that was just the right fit for her.
“I have been fortunate to find a position in a school where class sizes are small, so I can work directly with the classroom teacher to assist the children that need additional support,” Miyuki says. “I have developed emotional connections with the students in my care and it is very rewarding. I see it as a privilege to know these kids and understand their needs. Just the other day, one of my students told me: ‘you’re the best helper and I feel honoured to be a part of their lives.”
Employer’s perspective: Ellinbank Primary School
“Understanding emotional regulation would really give them the edge when applying for positions.”
Once studies have been completed and a student puts into practice what they’ve learned, what does an employer look for in an Education Support Officer? Catherine Clerks, Principal of Ellinbank Primary School where Miyuki works, explains.
“Education Support Officers must show initiative and be willing to learn from the teacher they are working with. They need to be responsive to the needs of the students and always put those needs first. We find many people go into the job thinking it is an easy way to earn a living and do not realise they have to fully engage with the students. Too many applicants are not literate enough to work in a classroom. The role is not about sitting around sharpening pencils and laminating.
“A good Education Support Officer will learn about understanding students who find school challenging, how to re-engage, how to speak quietly, how to distract, use supportive vocabulary and make accommodations to tasks when a student struggles,” Catherine says.
A key element is working with students on emotional regulation – the ability to influence the emotions they have in certain situations.
“Having had Education Support students on placement, and seen the tasks they are required to complete, I find they often lack the personal skills required to be an effective officer. Understanding emotional regulation would really give them the edge when applying for positions.
Catherine says that she knew Miyuki would be a good fit because she has a gentle soul, a good sense of humour and a desire to learn.
“We could see in her that her studies and life experience had shaped her as a person who will give anything a go and has the confidence to ask questions and engage with the students. In a short period of time, she has become a valued staff member who really cares for the students, demonstrating the attributes of a well-rounded Education Support Officer in her adaptability and her capacity to engage with the teacher and the students,” Catherine explains.
“Don’t think about making women fit the world — think about making the world fit women.”
In 2019-20, half of all workers in Australia were women yet not quite one-third held key management positions. But Community College Gippsland is bucking the national trend and leading by example with five of its six senior positions currently occupied by women and half of its Board.
While women make up 50.6% of the employees they comprise only:
32.5% of key management positions 28.1% of directors 18.3% of CEOs 14.6% of board chairs.
Source: Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency
We’ve talked with three of these trailblazers to find out what they bring to CCG. Read their stories to find out what skills they bring to their roles, what CCG does to support women in leadership and who inspires them.
Sue Geals, Chief Executive Officer
“See setbacks as learning opportunities.”
I joined CCG as a Vocational Trainer and through working in the organisation progressed to a manager and then CEO. While CCG promotes on merit, it strives for diversity, and considers that gender balance is best across all areas and levels. To succeed, the most important attributes a person can have are skill, talent, passion and commitment. However, the old saying is ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’, so we are providing a strong example of women who are successful leaders.
The support of my predecessor and the Board of the day afforded me the confidence to take on the role. Also, my father’s can-do attitude and belief in me gave me the self-assurance that I was capable and could do the things I set out to achieve.
My advice to other women is to have self-belief and to seek assistance when you need it. You don’t have to know it all before you start, but be willing to keep learning. See setbacks simply as learning opportunities.
Marianne Shearer, Chair of the Board
“CCG positively changes lives.”
I joined the board of Community College Gippsland six years ago, and have been the Chair for the past three years. What attracted me to CCG was the innovative education and hands-on learning approach that empowers people to grow, develops their confidence in skills and social inclusion. This particularly resonates with me due to the challenges of my multi-cultural background; I personally know the benefit of being given a second chance.
CCG is committed to diversity in gender, culture, lifestyle, and religion, and respecting and supporting all people. This commitment is highlighted when we recruit to any role (be it on the board, executive and other staff). Diversity and cultural training is also provided to all levels of the organisation.
Men and women in leadership roles bring many skills and attributes, however I frequently see women working collaboratively and in partnerships to drive opportunities and manage change. Women leaders often focus on elevating others, they are more likely to coach, mentor, and develop others. Seeing women in leadership roles encourages and motivates other women to try something new.
Some of the greatest challenges for women aspiring to move into senior roles actually come from within. We doubt our abilities, feel we don’t belong, and don’t advocate well for ourselves; and some workplace cultures magnify these insecurities when they discourage women who are seen to be more assertive.
A source of inspiration for me comes from well before women in leadership was a concept. Catherine Booth was known as the ‘Mother of the Salvation Army’. She was a strong voice on social issues and focussed on the downtrodden. She advocated for giving people a second chance and positively changing lives. Just as CCG positively changes lives.
My advice to others is to find and be uplifted by women leaders who encourage and elevate others; and be willing to continue to pass this on.
Katy Grandin, Principal
“We must recognise that ‘success’ looks different for women and celebrate it.”
I was drawn to this role as I have a passion for connecting and supporting young people who sit outside the box. These students are often ‘lost’ in the system. I attended one of the first true community schools for part of my education and this has impacted my choices. I believe education needs to be flexible and adapted to fit the young person, rather than the young person being required to fit the educational institute. CCG is a space where students are truly valued and seen for their individuality.
Women are a significant proportion of the population and their voices need to be heard. Education remains a sector with more women than men and yet upper leadership roles continue to be dominated by men. While this has improved, more progress is needed. It is important for young women to see others leading the way, and even more important, is for them to see women leading in their own way, not becoming more ‘masculine’ to achieve success.
The ability to continue their journey into leadership, despite breaks in active employment due to maternity leave, continues to be a challenge for women. Organisations need to be more family-friendly and CCG certainly promotes a ‘family first’ policy. Family responsibilities can be perceived as weak when in fact they are simply different priorities. We must recognise that ‘success’ looks different for women and celebrate it. We must also proactively encourage more women into leadership.
Throughout my life many women have influenced me, some crossing my path briefly, some life-long connections, but all have shaped me. My strength, resilience, authenticity and power of connection were all developed by experiencing the nurturing and encouragement of other women.
To other women, my advice is to be authentic to yourself, find your voice, don’t let others define you. We need more woman leaders to be seen for themselves and not redefining themselves to fit a ‘male’ model of leadership.
We have made the difficult decision to close our Gippsland Harness Training Centre (GHTC) and will not be providing equine training in the foreseeable future.
We would like to reassure our CCG community that we are supporting our wonderful students through this transition, as well as reaching out to the owners of our training horses, to ensure they have loving homes to go to.
With a long summer stretching ahead and the world opening back up, local students have readied themselves to chase their first job.
ECG College Pakenham students participated in an innovative Hospitality Job Camp program, designed to build employment skills quickly.
Executive Principal, Sue Geals, said that the hands-on program was all about delivering the skills sets that employers are looking for. “Our students were able to complete training in first aid, safe food handling, espresso coffee making and, for our older students, responsible service of alcohol,” Ms Geals said. “These skills help our students to build their resumes and hit the ground running on the job.”
For ECG College, an alternative senior secondary school that is focused on building skills for life, learning and work, the Job Camp was a perfect addition to the curriculum. “A lot of our students come to us because they need extra support to thrive,” Ms Geals said. “They may prefer a smaller classroom setting, self-paced learning or hands-on activities that are a better fit, particularly for our students with anxiety, autism or ADHD.
“Being able to offer this training in their environment really made it possible for our students to succeed. We are very grateful to the Cardinia Shire Council Community Wellbeing Support Grant for funding the program and making it possible.”
According to Ms Geals, the program was initially delayed due to Covid impacts, but in the end, the timing was ideal.
“It feels great to be able to set our students up ahead of the holiday season, and with businesses opening their doors to trade again, they finally have a chance to take that first leap into work.”
The program was so successful that it will be offered again in 2022.
Support in all aspects of life is necessary, whether on a personal, educational or professional level. Friends of CCG has been established for that very reason – to support our students in ways that matter, through a community that cares.
What is our CCG community? We are people who are bound not only by place or experience, but by shared values, the knowledge that education improves life for all, and the belief that our students end up with more than just a piece of paper when they graduate. They take away a sense of belonging that will stay with them as they take steps into their chosen careers.
The Friends of CCG newsletter keeps us connected to that part of our own story by celebrating and supporting all of the ways we transform our lives through learning.
Do you have time to spare and a desire to give back to the community? With a range of roles that include help in the classroom, on the Board, grounds maintenance and organising special events, our volunteers are invaluable to the College.
If you’re looking for an up during your downtime, volunteering is the way to go. As rewarding to you as it is generous to us, your skills, knowledge, patience and positivity are attributes we embrace.
Our students have made the decision to study, a commitment that will take their time and energy. The support volunteers provide is significant in a myriad of ways, some obvious, such as tidy grounds, classroom assistance or guiding the direction of the college. But much of the more meaningful impact is invisible. Your support may contribute to the work and personal success of a student long after they have left the college.
This newsletter highlights just how connected and supportive our campus is. But we can always do more to provide for our students. Your financial assistance is a tangible way to recognise the hard work our students put in when they commit to studying. Donations help with all sorts of costs that many students are unable to afford.