From humble beginnings to industry leader

Published 26 October 2021

Pictured: Glen Pohlner, General Manager (Regional) and Darren Webster, Chief Executive Officer.
Photo and story courtesy of The Weekly Advertiser.

Skillinvest celebrate 35 years in business

The name ‘Skillinvest’ has become part of the statewide vocabulary when it comes to the employment and training industry.

But the name maintains a strong Wimmera feel and represents a profound example of the region’s potential growth and prosperity.

In reaching a 35-year anniversary on the back of expansive growth and development, especially in the past five years, the organisation has its sights firmly set on a bright and prosperous future.

Skillinvest, which started out as Wimmera and Grampians Group Training Company in 1986 with one employee John Ackland, has come a considerable way since its humble origins, when navigating a fledgling industry that matched training with employment needs occurred from the back of a ute.

October represents the month when it all started for Skillinvest and now with more than 160 staff, 350 apprentices and trainees and up to 100 labour-hire employees and almost 2000 students in training, the organisation has certainly grown.

The not-for-profit organisation has experienced a 60 percent increase in staff numbers during the past five years, and now has offices in Adelaide, Bairnsdale, Ballarat, Dandenong, Donald, Horsham, Longerenong College, Pakenham and Wangaratta.

In celebrating 35 years, Skillinvest chief executive Darren Webster reflected on what the organisation meant, not only to trainees, employees and clients, but also people in general.

“As a not-for-profit, values-based organisation everything we do is about giving back to our communities so that they can prosper and grow,” he said.

“We have developed strong business, government and community partnerships and assisted thousands of young people to find and retain meaningful employment. Many of our apprentices have gone on to own their own businesses and invest in their own apprentices. That is very satisfying.

“We are passionate and involved in the community. We sponsor community sport, with a particular focus on youth and women’s sport, and various community projects.”

Skillinvest is a long-time major sponsor of both Wimmera and Horsham District football and netball leagues, as well as the Stawell Gift and Blue Ribbon Foundation.

Skillinvest representatives also sit on the headspace Horsham consortium and Wimmera Development Association board, ensuring they are across the challenges that face the region’s young people and community.

“Our growth in the area of reconciliation and working with government to secure training and employment opportunities for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is something we take pride in and we have seen some really positive outcomes in this space,” Mr Webster said.

“Thirty-five years is a long time for any business, but especially for a not-for-profit in our industry – the fact that we are still thriving and growing is exciting.”

Mr Webster said there had been many changes to the business throughout the years, but a few things had remained constant.

“One is our commitment to provide opportunities for people in our communities – particularly young people, to be trained and/or employed. Many of the people we support might never have had the opportunity without businesses such as ours,” he said.

“Then there is the willingness of our very important partners and host businesses to invest in the development of young people by providing employment opportunities and valuable work experience.

“Finally, the quality, dedication and commitment from our staff. Our workforce has been integral to the longevity and success of Skillinvest and our organisation has employed literally thousands of people for the past 35 years. Each staff member has played their part in the success of a significant number of people and businesses across our communities.

“We started from humble beginnings in Horsham and now our reach is extensive across Victoria and interstate. However we like to think the regional values we’ve developed from our base have been instrumental to the development of our programs and projects over time.

“We provide flexible solutions for all parts of our business. If you have something that’s a bit different, give us a call and we will look at suitable options for both employment and training.”