As VERTO celebrates its 40th birthday, I've been reflecting on the story so far. For almost a decade, I've been fortunate to be at the helm of this incredible organisation.
So today, I want to recount some of the highlights in the VERTO journey, a journey that is deeply entwined with regional Australia.
A national footprint, a local outlook
VERTO started in 1983 as a community college in the Central West of NSW. And since then, we've achieved increasingly ambitious growth goals. Today, we have 132 nationwide locations delivering a vast array of employment, apprenticeship, training and community services to those who need us.
But what I am most proud of isn't the speed or success of our growth. It's the team's unwavering commitment to VERTO's roots.
Born in regional Australia, VERTO started with a deep understanding and care for the local community. And that has not changed.
From our headquarters in Bathurst to each of our offices and metro locations, VERTO's services are tailored to and delivered in a way that best suits the local community. This community-first approach has driven VERTO's success since the beginning and will hopefully continue to drive it for decades to come.
An evolving employment market
So much has changed in the Australian workforce during VERTO's lifetime. Much of it is for the better, but there have certainly been challenges too.
In my decade at VERTO, I have seen the immense employment barriers many Australians face. I have also witnessed the acceleration of inclusivity that is slowly but surely changing the landscape. The latter has been a real highlight of both my career and the broader VERTO story.
The significant change in attitudes toward employment for people with disability has been incredible to witness. And as the focus shifts to ability, the whole community benefits. We have a wealth of client stories that attest to the power of employment for individuals and the power of diverse hiring for employers.
It's also been incredibly pleasing to see increasing gender diversity in our once male-dominated trades. Increasing female participation has reshaped these industries for the better, with female tradies breaking new ground and breaking down barriers in one fell swoop. It hasn't been an easy journey, and many barriers still exist, but with the determination and tenacity of those leading the charge, I have no doubt that this is only the beginning.
In addition, the changing view on apprenticeships more broadly has been marvellous. Even just five or so years ago, apprenticeships were still considered by many as the poor cousin to university. Today, we are beginning to recognise the true economic and social value of our trades and the rewarding careers on offer.
We've also seen a remarkable demographic shift in the broader workforce. Four generations actively participate today, with individuals from more than 270 cultural backgrounds. While some misperceptions still abound, by and large, employers are embracing the profound life and work experience and different perspectives in our workforce. And it's shaping Australian culture too.
And lastly, while I can't say COVID-19 was a highlight, the response from the VERTO team certainly was.
The impact of the pandemic was felt ten-fold in already vulnerable communities. VERTO's Tenancy Advice and Advocacy Service was there to help people keep their homes. Our Apprenticeship Employment Services teams sought to help hundreds of people keep jobs or find new ones in unchartered territory. And our Training Services helped people with additional barriers to access and adapt to online learning. It was truly a whole-of-team response!
Consistent care in a changing world
Over time, VERTO evolved with the changing dynamics of the employment market. And one of our most significant roles has been connecting people and employers and advocating for our communities. It is life-changing work, and it takes team members with commitment, dedication and determination.
I'm proud of how our people have navigated challenges and continued to help individuals and communities thrive. With many of our team members based in regional areas, natural disasters have had personal impacts. These team members have maintained their commitment to their clients and communities through fires, floods and drought. Whatever is happening out there, the VERTO team supports those who need us.
Looking to the future
We haven't stopped setting ambitious growth goals! The next few years will see us expand our footprint while deepening our services so that every community can access employment, apprenticeship and training services.
And, of course, we will remain committed to the values we were built on every step of the way.
So, here's to another 40 years of positively impacting communities and transforming lives across Australia. I hope the person in my chair in another forty years is lucky enough to reflect on just as many highlights.
Happy birthday, VERTO!