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Skilling a workforce - community development practices in Neighborhood Houses in Australia

conference contribution
posted on 2020-07-26, 00:00 authored by Trace OllisTrace Ollis, Cheryl RyanCheryl Ryan
Neighbourhood Houses and Centres are found across Australia, the majority of houses are in two states Victoria and New South Wales. Neighbourhood Houses provide local community-based adult education and social services. The focus of the houses is responsive to the dynamic nature of local community needs. The history of Neighbourhood Houses commenced in the 1960s and 1970s. Historically and currently, women are the majority participants in the houses. Neighbourhood Houses have a commitment to social justice processes and community development however, practices vary across the sector. Adult learning is central to the practices in Neighbourhood Houses. All of the houses across Australia run adult education courses of some kind. In Neighbourhood Houses, learning occurs incidentally and informally through the day-to-day activities and socialisation within the houses. Learning also occurs formally through pre-accredited and accredited training. Early practices in the houses were informed by feminism and the women's movement with a focus on anti-oppressive practice, advocacy and empowerment of women. Issues such as women’s work in the household (unpaid), paid work, domestic violence and childcare were drivers for these initial spaces of social inclusion for women. In Neighbourhood Houses, the understanding, theory and practice of community development varies. This practice has been further undermined by neoliberalism which emphases market-based solutions to community need, increasing reliance on self-help due to the dismantling of the welfare state, and the focus on not-for-profit organisations operating as a business. Neighbourhood Houses are impacted by policies and discourses of managerialism, raising tensions and contradictions with the philosophy and community development intent of the houses. Neighbourhood Houses in Victoria commenced a program of training the workforce with education and qualifications that aims to build the knowledge, skills and expertise in community development across the sector. The training responds to this context and to the diversity of qualifications of workers in Neighbourhood Houses, for example, qualifications in community development, human, social and community services work and business and administration. We draw on empirical data and claim the skilling of the workforce in community development aligns with the philosophy and practice of Neighbourhood Houses. The reliance of this largely ‘practice-based’ workforce presents challenges and limitations for learning. Whilst practice can represent specific daily occupational activities drawing on relevant conceptual, procedural and dispositional knowledge, it also needs to include philosophical and theoretical understandings of the profession. Practice is far more complex and nuanced involving contextual, social, symbolic and ritualistic dimensions. The project of skilling the Neighbourhood House workforce aims to engender a coherent and wholistic worker and sector performance in community development, shifting to a codified knowledge and practice akin to a profession in the field of community development.



Giessen, Germany

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EN Other conference paper

Title of proceedings

International conference on Researching Work and Learning 11 (RW11)


International conference on Researching Work and Learning 11 (RW11),


Researching Work & Learning, 2019

Place of publication

Giessen, Germany

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