Imagine you’ve grown up in a world of intergenerational unemployment; where no-one in your family has ever held a job. Imagine a world where family life is marred by domestic violence, homelessness, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse. Imagine then how hard it would be to stay at school with no support, and then how much harder again it must be to find and retain a job. Can a career in agriculture be a way forward?
Action4Agriculture’s newest program Action4Youth supports young people from all backgrounds and experiences to thrive in a career in agriculture and those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds face challenges well beyond the technical aspects of a career. Today we speak with Marcus Watson from BackTrack to understand the challenges involved and learn how wraparound support is required if vulnerable young people are to successfully transition into the workplace.
BackTrack is a youth organisation with three jobs: keeping kids alive, out of jail and chasing their hopes and dreams. It achieves this through a unique combination of educational, training and diversionary activities, supported employment, residential accommodation and wraparound youth work.
Marcus believes one of the foundational roles of third-party organisations such as BackTrack is to transition young people to traineeships and jobs by teaching basic employability skills, those unwritten rules of the workplace that most employers assume people will know.
“For example, I grew up with the unwritten rule that if you turned up at 8 for an 8am start, then you were already late. On time means 7.45am. But these expectations aren’t something our young people are familiar with because they haven’t experienced a real-life workplace before and often come from families experiencing intergenerational unemployment.” Marcus says.
This means that a huge focus for BackTrack is developing a young person’s 21st century skills through immersing them in practical, hands-on training opportunities that give them a real insight into the workforce but also ensure that they are well-supported as they learn.
“Employability skills is a really big ball of string to untangle but it is one of those things that can de-rail an opportunity very quickly if it’s not done right. An employer will often let someone go based on the soft skills rather than the technical skills. We make sure that our young people can roll up their sleeves on genuine work projects, out in the paddock or the fabrication shed, and benefit from intensive coaching and support as they do it. This is how we tackle challenges that arise in real time and gradually build their confidence and awareness of employer expectations.”
As with any relationship, the one between employee and employer often revolves around conversation and communication and, again, BackTrack provides its young people with training.
“We help young people with conflict resolution, self-advocacy and negotiation, and if an employer still has concerns they should be able to reach out to a third-party (such as BackTrack) for the extra support and insight needed to continue the conversation with them. We are skilled and funded to facilitate this.”
Giving young people the frames of reference to understand and conquer 21st century skills in the workplace is a cornerstone of BackTrack’s work and ultimately means that their participants can transition into meaningful external employment when the time is right for them. With a unique understanding of the challenges faced by vulnerable young people, BackTrack can offer employees and employers alike the support they need to make these transitions as successful and sustainable as possible.