What’s annoying me today: disengaged youth

kerrygrace-2014 Building your social enterprise, Inspiring your community, Leading change, Our Blog

I have a bee in my bonnet.

Apparently I’m rather annoying in this frame.  So I thought I’d share it with you.  Maybe there’s something you can do.

I’m annoyed.

REALLY annoyed that we bang on about a lack of opportunities for young people, in particular opportunities in employment.  The Brotherhood of St. Laurence’s report ‘The Teenage Dream Unravels‘ (March 2015) tells us ‘Nearly 160,000 Australians aged 15 to 19 were unemployed in January (2015)’.

I’m annoyed that there are career advisors in schools that have never had a job outside of the school system and they tell kids things like “don’t aim that high”, “you’ll never have the skills to do that” or “oh crap, sorry I forgot to tick that box” (don’t tell me it doesn’t happen because I’ve witnessed it AND, like I said, I’m annoyed).

I’m annoyed that in my community there are young people who are fourth generation unemployed, and they can tell me more about maximising my opportunities for parenting payments than the person on the Centrelink help line.  And that ‘the system’ they live within provides punishment (i.e. breaches) over incentives and therefore very little desire to do anything but maximise the benefits of ‘the system’.  What incentive do they really have to be the first one in their family to create a change?

I’m annoyed about stupid throw away comments about dole bludgers, lazy people and uneducated people.  It takes a lot of energy to be ‘on the dole‘ And most of the people I know that are unemployed have so many certificates they could plaster their walls.

I’m also annoyed about the fact that services / programs / people who get results are always time limited, the funding runs out, the boxes get ticked and any human that’s left in the wedge between ‘fixed’ and ‘not fixed’ gets left hanging there.


The thing that quite possibly annoys me the most about disengaged youth is that our systems are designed to perpetuate that.

Once a young person is fortunate enough to garnish the label ‘disengaged’ they become the prey of a plethora of service categories (they attract funding) – social services, education, employment, health, justice… The disengaged are the shiny ball bearing in the pinball machine of the welfare system and they get pinged around the bumpers, until, for whatever reason they fall through the flappers and either ‘get fixed’, get back into the system, or completely disengage and wait for another round.

That’s not to say the humans who work within the system don’t care about them, not at all.  In fact I personally know many, many people who go out of their way and job description to provide support that links up the missing gaps.

The thing that annoys me most is that so rarely do these systems line up in the holistic way, and with adequate time-frame to create real and actual change.  And another part of the reality is where the change is actually leading to.  You can create as many lovely courses, tick box forms and cups of tea as you like but what’s the point unless it actually leads to something?  Where ARE the employers in the mix?  Why AREN’T services attracting them to take part?

I’ll tell you where the employers are… They are waiting at the other end of the line for someone to sign a bit of paper.  It took me THREE MONTHS to sign up my school based trainee.  Tell me how many employers are going to wait around that long.

Just today I phoned about a new funding category which can provide mentoring and case management for a ‘disengaged’ young person.  I called the line to find out more.  At the other end of the call a very confused person, nice, but confused, confirmed that I’d be putting together case management so the young person could then go to a course.  “No”, I told the nice chap “the case management would support the young person while in the course and doing a traineeship” I explained “there’s no point in trying to engage someone if they have nothing better to look forward to”.

I’m not really sure if he got it in the end, but he did kindly point me to the website to find out more information.

It takes an enormous amount of skill, dedication, time and contacts to put together something that is holistic in nature and lasts long enough to actually create change.  And even if you engage the employer there’s still the ongoing need for the person who can navigate the darn ‘system’ for long enough to see the young person through to the other end.

So anyway, I know there are programs out there that work, and I’d really love to hear about them.  In the meantime bare with me while I experiment.  Here’s the opportunity:

A research project I undertook a few years ago showed an enormous amount of opportunity in the creative industries sector in my home base region.

So, here are the ingredients I intent to tie together – keep in mind we are located in one of the highest areas of unemployment in NSW:

* There are lots of little employers, like me that need multimedia / film / design work done and we mightn’t all know it but having a ‘yentor’ (a gen. y mentor) onboard can also save a whole lot of stress. (target, 12 employers)
* 6 x young people aged 16-17 who are interested in a school based traineeship
* A registered training org. that can deliver a Cert II in multimedia
* A youth friendly trainer
* A local social enterprise that’s working in IT and can also provide ‘wrap around’ support for young people
* A few high schools that are prepared to understand the concept


* Cost sharing across training and wrap around services
* Administration $ for the said social enterprise
* A signup and monitoring system that can work for 6 (not just 1) ‘disengaged’ young people
* Shared wisdom, thinking between the school, business and social services community
* A step towards a cultural change:  Being disengaged doesn’t = being broken

What’s different?

I’m not so immersed in my own grandeur to think this is a once off or new program, but I do know that what’s different here to other programs which target ‘disengaged’ youth is:

* It has a pathway to a job
* It links social, employment, education together towards a common goal for an individual
* The time span runs over two years
* Leadership is coming from the business community
* It’s about a ‘fluffy’ industry sector – (yes, film and multimedia are still seen as fluffy in these parts much to the amusement of my 13 year old son who has been making cash online via drawing since he was 11)
* It engages the business community

Actually, this post is a call to employers to stop waiting for services to ‘fix’ young people.  Get involved, take leadership, let’s create opportunities for young people together.

So, it’s out there now
I’ll keep you posted
Anger dissolved.