CBWC Awards Feature
Skills Development a Winner
Learning and Development
Words by Stacey Carrick
Images by Every Moment Photography & Captured by Catherine
Colleen Holmes was thrilled to be named the winner of her category in the Cairns Business Women’s Club, Businesswoman of the Year Awards.
Colleen Holmes Learning and Development was the proud winner of the highly contested Small Business Owner of the Year award.
Colleen said she was shocked when she found out she had won her category.
“It was amazing!” she said.
“It was so great, and I was very, very lucky that a lot of our clients and people we’d worked with in the past and our current clients were with us on the evening.
“It was great to be involved and it was really super to know that we won. It’s been extraordinary.
“Some of the judges spoke to me later and they said that it was extremely inspiring for them to see that this kind of work was being carried out and to see the success stories that we had provided and they believed it was heartwarming to produce the business out of it.
“We’ve stretched a long way outside of Cairns. We’re working all over Australia and lots of different places now, but it was just amazing to know that our work was recognised and validated.
“Every single woman that was in my category had such fantastic businesses and fantastic motivation and drive, I felt very honoured to be included in that group.”
Colleen has been operating her business for four years, assisting hundreds of adult learners to develop their Language, Literacy, Numeracy and Digital (LLND) skills.
She works with businesses and organisations to help adults enhance their career prospects or return to work, with programs designed to fit each person’s individual needs.
The business provides online LLND resources that are designed to support employment services, Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) and people involved in ‘closing the gap’.
Colleen works with indigenous adults in regional and remote communities.
She also provides foundation skills training for new migrants, as well as other disadvantaged adults seeking to enhance their employment prospects.
Colleen Holmes Learning and Development will change its name to Skills Explorer in October, with a greater emphasis on literacy skills development and digital learning.
“We deliver targeted skills that support the reading, writing, numeracy, oral communication and digital competencies of adults,” Colleen said.
“Our experience spans a broad range of groups and learners. This includes upskilling existing employees, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, job seekers and non-English speaking immigrants.
“We want to do it online specifically so that people will be able to use computers and digital devices, because the people we work with and the people that we connect on Skills Explorer come from all sorts of backgrounds, such as disengaged youth, refugees, migrants, people who have struggles in school, early school leavers, and people who are working but have gaps in their literacy.”
Skills Explorer features more than 200 courses that can be individually tailored to the learner’s specific needs.
Learning pathways can even be contextualised to a variety of industries including hospitality, retail, construction, marine and office administration.
Colleen moved from Ireland to Australia in 2009 where she relished the idea of swapping grey skies for Far North Queensland sunshine.
“I too am a migrant, which gives another perspective,” she said.
“Then, when we moved to live in Cairns, I was working in a lot of remote, different places all over Australia that people would never get to. Very closed Aboriginal communities, the Torres Strait, the Central Desert, Tasmania, Western Australia, all over. So that’s when we started to think that really we should be doing something to help people who are struggling with their literacy.”
Colleen developed the platform and the content herself, which she then had to adapt due to Covid. Her son now assists her on the technical side while her husband works with her on a voluntary basis. The business continues to grow and more people will be employed.
“We believe we are not a ‘cookie cutter’ approach whereas a lot of other literacy supports certainly are,” she said. “Some digital providers say, ‘plug yourself in, off you go’, and you just tick and flick. That doesn’t happen with us. We guide and support and build the confidence of the individual learner as individual literacy needs.
“We’re there all along that journey, and thankfully the people who support our learners think that that’s what makes us special and different. That we really give full commitment.
“Skills Explorer is so very different to what is out there at the moment with other providers, because we make it as far away from school or education as possible.
“We also keep our pass rates at zero. Because as far as we’re concerned, everything above zero is a pass for that person. It’s not like when we were all going to university and we had to get 80 percent, 90 percent, pass rates in various assessments. It’s the person who’s struggling and if they get 10 percent this week and 20 percent the next week, well that’s amazing and it’s fantastic for them.”
Colleen believes her role is extremely rewarding.
“We’ve seen such great growth in the individuals and the people we work with,” she said. “Sometimes people are extremely stressed and worried about losing their jobs, and then to see them blossoming and thinking, I can do this, easy.
“I think just seeing the person at the other end and seeing what they have achieved, that is what I find rewarding.
“We have been very successful, thankfully, and each year we are doubling and doubling. So, something must be going right.”