Supporting disadvantaged youth to successfully transition into the workplace – with BackTrack


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.

Values at work, and finding the role, industry and culture for YOU

As part of Action4Agriculture’s NCI funding ACTION4YOUTH provides 21st century skills training to our Young Farming Champion mentors, careers advisors, students (the next generation employees) and our prospective employers.

Annie Simpson from Modern People 

With a background combining psychology, business strategy, recruitment and human resources, Annie explained how our values underpin everything we do and, as values differ from person to person, how they determine individual attitudes and behaviours.

“We are constantly seeking harmony in how we believe and how we see things. Values are deeply important to the future of work, and the next generation of leaders,” Annie said

The workshop, included sessions on:

  • The power of Values and what matters most
  • Exploring leading Values frameworks in positive psychology
  • Understanding your own Values, and connecting them to your work and life
  • Values at work, and finding the role, industry and culture for YOU
  • Australia’s top values, and how our values changed through the COVID pandemic
  • 7 Traits of Change Readiness and how they show up
  • How to embrace change, and grow for the better

Annie believes understanding values is important for young people as they consider potential careers.

“People of all ages, but particularly our youth, are looking for clarity and direction. How can we look outside of social pressures, grades and qualifications to find purposeful and meaningful work? I think the workshop participants enjoyed understanding that something so deeply embedded within us can help guide us to the roles and industries that will give us fulfilment. This knowledge empowers them to know what to look for, to ask impactful questions of future employers, and to better understand their uniqueness in the world of work,” she said.

Though agriculture traditionally is thought of as a conformist industry, external influences beyond the control of the farmer and the boom-and-bust nature of the industry actually make agriculture a sector for those willing to take risks and be predictive in strategy.

“The industry requires a degree of change readiness and a tolerance for ambiguity. Values like self-direction, stimulation, and hedonism are suited to an industry like this and are often driven by personal goals and self-motivation.”

Yet agriculture’s diversity means there is a place for everyone.

“There are plenty of roles that exist to help and support others and the planet (self-transcendent values), roles that are complex, intelligent and outcomes driven (self-enhancement values), and more process-driven and governance focused roles (conservation values). Understanding your values gives you the insight and self-awareness to seek out these roles throughout the agriculture industry.”

The young people moving through the ACTION4YOUTH program have come from diverse education systems and backgrounds and training sessions such as Annie’s are critical to show that traditional pathways to careers are not the only way.

“We are each unique. Our values help us to define our own path to purposeful and fulfilling work and these workshops help us question where we are and where we are going and help us set goals for the future.”

Thanks to NCI funding ACTION4YOUTH can continue to provide participants and facilitators with training opportunities and support young people from all backgrounds and experiences to thrive in a career in agriculture.

Agriculture – supporting A Great Place to Work culture

In their recent paper The employer of choice or a sector without a workforce? Pratley et al listed 27 barriers and challenges agriculture needs to address including:  

Many employers over a long period of time, both on-farm and off-farm, have had an expectation that it is the government’s role to provide appropriately trained labour to their industries free of charge. That is flawed thinking: other sectors seem to engage at all levels of education.

They recommend greater industry investment in education.

At Action4Agriculture we have a secret weapon – our Young Farming Champions. Everyone who meets them wants to work in agriculture

As impressive as our Young Farming Champions are at raising AWARENESS in careers in agriculture, as  McDonald, N et al. (2022), point out in their paper Career development and agriculture: we don’t need a marketing campaign the challenge is to translate AWARENESS into

… initiatives that influence people‘s career explorations, decision-making, choices and actions. Generating public awareness and knowledge about agriculture is one thing but affecting individuals career decisions is an entirely different matter. To design effective interventions to attract and retain staff requires a thorough understanding of how individuals build their careers and the different factors that influence people‘s careers decisions, choices and actions and their job satisfaction and intentions to remain in a job or industry. We need to move beyond simply campaigning for a greater public awareness of an appreciation for the types of work in agriculture.

The Action4Agriculture team are super excited to be given the opportunity through National Careers Institute funding to see what steps are required to turn AWARENESS into ATTRACTION. Visit our website here 

And we all know ATTRACTION in one thing RETENTION is another.

This is where our SUPPORT package comes in for EVERYONE involved including careers advisors, students, mentors and employers

Supporting the students ( NextGen Employees ) and careers advisors will be Liv Pennie and team from Become Education 

Our Young Farming Champions will play a pivotal role in every phase and this week we are supporting them with a workshop with Annie Simpson from Modern People 

In this workshop Annie will explore

● The power of Values & what matters most

● Exploring leading Values frameworks in positive psychology

● Understanding your own Values, and connecting them to your work and life

● Values at work, and finding the role, industry and culture for YOU

● Australia’s topic values, and values through the COVID pandemic

● 7 Traits of Change Readiness & how they show up

● How to embrace change, and grow for the better

We look forward to sharing with you the package we have put together for employers.