Giving kids a chance to gain career experience

The results of a Beacon Foundation pilot program to increase the “career confidence” of young Tasmanians were presented to a recent international conference. CEO Scott Harris says the paper – one of 30 presented – was well received and he feels very positive about the program’s future and its potential to help young people both here and interstate.

Beacon Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation that has worked with schools and business delivering career readiness programs and services across Australia for 35 years.

The organisation believes that all young people deserve the dignity and self-respect that comes from having meaningful employment, and do not think it is fair that many are not given that chance.

For some time we have wanted to build a career readiness program that would create much deeper industry connections and career exploration and experience opportunities for students.

Evidence clearly shows that students who participate in four or more industry engagements are 86 per cent more likely to engage in further education, training or employment after school (Mann 2012).

In addition, we knew from our own research that multiple, meaningful engagements is what students want and ultimately benefit from.

So, at the start of last year, Beacon committed to designing and developing a new program that would not only take account of its significant experience in this area, but also global literature and evidence post-COVID to develop a new offering to increase the career confidence of students.

The program was co-designed with a range of groups, including students which we regarded as most important. Input was also provided by parents, educators and industry representatives.

It was our view that such a program was critical because the capacity of educators in Australia had been significantly constrained in the post-COVID world – a by-product of this was students were missing out on career connection opportunities.

With all of this in mind, Beacon developed and then delivered a pilot program – funded by the Tasmanian Government – in Tasmania at Kingston and Kings Meadows High Schools for grade 10 students over two school terms (approximately 15-weeks).

The program was delivered through expert facilitation by Beacon and involved the presence of multiple industry volunteers over 12 sessions. It allowed students to understand more about themselves and how to apply that to a work context.

One of the key elements of the program was actual work experience for the students that they had to arrange themselves.

The students were required to research different careers and industries, identifying a role and/or business that they would like to have work experience with and start planning their pitch to secure that experience.

Finally, the students went out on the work experience placement they chose and coordinated themselves – for a couple of days to a full week or two, depending on the capacity of the student and the workplace.

Pleasingly, the program has been well received by students, educators, industry and parents – the feedback has been very positive. Though not surprised, I was very pleased to see firsthand the positivity and energy in the room, from both the students and industry mentors.

More broadly, delivering a Tasmanian paper at the international conference – OECD Disrupted Futures hosted in Paris but delivered online via Zoom – about the program and its successes was an achievement in itself.

To be seen as best practice internationally is a credit to the work of Beacon. It is also great recognition for our industry partners and volunteers, the schools involved and the students we work with.

The benefits from being invited to present are potentially significant – fundraising opportunities, new partnerships, expansion of the program to other jurisdictions, collaboration opportunities and input to other research. This in turn allows us to improve the outcomes for the participating students which is our main goal.

Looking back on the pilot program and the results achieved, I am convinced that we are on the right track, and I am excited about the impact it will have. 

But more importantly, I believe more than ever that all our young people deserve a greater commitment from all of us to provide meaningful career readiness opportunities for them – we cannot expect them to be able to do it on their own. 

The students I have had the opportunity to engage with have been extraordinary. All of them have the potential to be wonderful contributors to our society and to live the full and meaningful lives that they deserve.

Kate Gotowski (The Navigators Group) and Scott Harris (Beacon CEO)

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