Sydney Wayside Chapel innovative program called the Wingspan Project to tackle youth unemployment, by providing paid hospitality traineeships in their new social enterprise café, Heart Cafe in Bondi Beach.
While we hear stories of university graduates who are unable to secure full time employment, imagine what it is like for people who have suffered long-term disadvantage? These young people may have been homeless, suffered abuse, had limited access to education, or failed to gain the skills and connections required to thrive in mainstream employment.
As an employer, there are great benefits to hiring these disadvantaged young people. Retailers have the ability to mould the new hire into the type of employee they are seeking. By training young people from scratch, the new recruit can grow into the specific role, rather than adopting institutionalised learning taught by a particular school or university.
For retailers looking to gain customers from a younger demographic, hiring staff from the same group, can attract new customers. Investing time in mentoring young people generally pays off well, because they are grateful for the opportunity, and understand the employer’s needs. This enthusiasm has a positive flow on effect to customers who support businesses that ‘give back’.
Young people who have been given a chance are more willing to learn, build resilience, and think outside the box. Compared to people of the same age who may have had a more linear path with credentials, we often find they are more hardworking, and adept at facing personal and professional challenges.
So why don’t retailers support more disadvantaged young people into jobs?
Common barriers are employers being unfamiliar with this demographic and training programs, lack of work experience and education, negative stereotypes, or simply not seeing the benefits. Young people can unintentionally be screened out by the language in job postings. Some progressive employers now include language to target youth by using preferences such as “looking to build skills” or “no experience required.”
While Wayside Chapel makes a case why employers should recruit, hire, train, and support at-risk youth, it also recognises that employers need a set of supports and tools to help them deal with both anticipated and unanticipated challenges of employing disconnected youth.
The Wingspan Project is a social enterprise program, adopting a commercial business model with the addition of mentoring and life-skills training that aims to take young people who are “at risk” to “at promise”. By giving young people opportunities to learn practical skills and undertake training and paid employment in a commercial environment, it aims to break the cycle of unemployment. While retailers may feel they do not have the resources or expertise to employ marginalised youth, the Wingspan Project also provides end-to-end support for employers to build experience and confidence working with young people.
The three-phase employment initiative begins with an intensive six-month employment readiness program, followed by a 12-month paid traineeship in the Wayside Chapel’s Heart Café (or with another workplace partner) and the opportunity to gain a Cert II Hospitality TAFE qualification.
A person has a real job, real work, with real wages.
Once the traineeship is completed, the trainee is then supported to find mainstream employment. A case manager is assigned to both the employer and employee for up to one year to provide support and guidance when challenges arise. They also provide employers with step-by-step guidance for recruiting, hiring, training, and retaining these young people. Case managers maintain close relationships with employees throughout the hiring and training process and ongoing employment.
By hiring these young people at-risk, we hope to show the wider community that when young people are exposed to positive experiences, we can breakdown the social stigma associated with long-term joblessness and create brighter futures.
There is also potential to create lasting positive social change through a reduction in the costs associated with criminal justice, unemployment, welfare benefits and re-offending. It brings real hope to the lives of young people who have been denied opportunities and reconnects them with their community.