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For the Greater Good

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For the Greater Good

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There are two sectors which I care deeply about as a leadership expert: nursing and education.

Nursing is given a bum steer in my opinion. The practice is carpeted with dedicated, compassionate, intelligent (largely) women. They manage significant workloads, in complex environments. They take pulses, change nappies, clean wounds, and lift away and out of sight all those things the rest of us don’t want to see. They manage pre op, post op, in patients, and out patients. They hold your hand, they look warmly into your eyes, they make you feel safe, seen, heard.

AND in the most part, are treated with less respect, care and consideration than they deserve.

So, that’s for one body of skill and expertise I love and care about.

The greater part of this opinion piece, however, is about the TAFE sector – that miraculous public education medium that today serves literally tens of thousands of students and endless alliance partners. Behind the scenes, this sector operates courageously in a constantly changing political landscape where opinion on what they do vacillates from supportive to critical, with some suggesting the investment in TAFE is scandalously large and should be privately funded.

I don’t agree at all. I come from a long line of business owners and entrepreneurs. I know what business (whether publicly listed or privately owned) focuses on, and it is very rarely the greater good. It’s about short term profit – more and more so – at the expense of the long term.

That’s not what the TAFEs do.

They take the tough topics, the ones that don’t make money and they deliver them because they believe what they do counts. They cover a vast array of learning domains with intelligence, courage and insight. They manage their passion for helping people to increase their opportunities through education while battling (like the disability sector – another favourite), the challenge to reduce budgets, increase student hours, be adaptable, flexible and innovative while towing the incumbent party’s policy line.

They have all influence and little real power. (Or so it seems).

Mostly, I love regional TAFEs. I love them for the part they play in community, for the threads of care that arc out from the centre of skill and knowledge into the isolated parts of our community. I love the down to earth and sometimes tough teachers, and I love the earthy, intelligent and local leadership. I love the awareness and humble approach to the practice of leadership. I love the TAFE’s part in communities, the shared knowledge of history, of families, of trade coming into and out of the community.

There is something wonderful to me about TAFE, something untainted. I confess to being a learning addict (to some degree), so I am not gunning for TAFE at the expense of University, or online learning, or, indeed, for organisations like my own. I am just saying there is something honest about TAFE and I want to add my voice into this mix because I dearly hope that it retains its identity, integrity and contribution in the rush to merge and create ‘economies of scale’.

35 years of doing what I do has taught me that promises of efficiency frequently don’t deliver. According to the original expectations that emerged during due diligence processes, economies of scale don’t actually work in the 3 – 5 years post-merger. That’s true for corporations, let alone TAFEs or any other body.  Cultures clash, battles ensue over leadership, local knowledge is lost, intimate relationships with stakeholders are damaged and the heartbeat of community starts to slip.

And that’s where TAFEs have it over many other institutions.  At their best, they are at the centre of regional communities. And the further away from the CBDs you go, the truer this becomes.

I’m not saying that TAFEs don’t have things that need to change and evolve, to become more commercially savvy, perhaps leaner, but I sure struggle to find an equivalent in terms of contribution to community for the majority of folks.

Of course, there are always the nurses.

Just sayin’.


Author, Fabian Dattner, Founding Partner Dattner Group, Co Founder Homeward Bound