The Community Centres SA Personal Support Program offers mentoring and individualised learning opportunities for people who are struggling to find work, have been out of the workforce for a long time, have never studied or have never had a job.
The program came about through submissions Community Centres SA and others made to the state government about people who were disengaged from work or study requiring a flexible, individualised approach to helping them overcome barriers to participation.
Community Centres SA is the peak body for more than 150 community and neighbourhood centres and affiliated organisations across South Australia.
Alison Harker, Deputy CEO at Community Centres SA says, ‘There are so many people falling through the gaps. For example, young people who’ve had really negative experiences of education and have been unemployed for more than a year are particularly vulnerable.’
Three Personal Support Project Officers will mentor participants one-on-one to discover their interests and aptitudes and enrol them in programs or in activities that will help build their confidence to interact more within their communities and then the workforce. ‘Employment is not the sole focus,’ Alison says. ‘In most cases, the first step will be helping people undertake an adult and community education program.’
Plans developed between Project Officers and the people they mentor will be highly individual because each person’s needs will be different, Alison says. ‘One person might have poor oral communication, another might have poor relationships skills or difficulties with literacy. It’s about developing different and individual success criteria for each person.’
Project Officers offer mentoring
The Project Officers need very diverse skills, Alison says. ‘They have to have great communication skills and be able to do an assessment in a very sensitive way. They need to win the trust and confidence of participants without encouraging dependence. It can be hard to get people to talk openly about problems they might have. They might feel ashamed or embarrassed and may have worked hard to hide problems they have with learning. By allowing the conversation to develop as a story, a person is likely to feel more confident and be more talkative and, as a result, their Project Officer can get a much better picture of what they might need to take the next step.’
The Project Officers have been selected for their accepting and positive approach to the work. ‘People need to feel they’re not being judged for what might be their inappropriate behaviour and that they will instead be applauded and praised for the changes and improvements they make. If these are people who’ve had intolerant teachers in the past or strong negative messages about their ability to learn, then someone who celebrates their success – no matter how small those improvements might seem to us – is likely to make a big change.’
Individual support and pathways
‘Participants are likely to be lacking in the Foundation Skills and might need individualised support to succeed,’ says Paul Mulroney, Workforce Development Manager at Community Centres SA.
‘We will help participants identify a pathway and then get them into an ACE program where they can build skills and resilience so that in future when they suffer setbacks like the loss of a job, they have the networks and the strategies and a better capacity to get help.’
News of the project has been welcomed by welfare and community groups.
‘They’re really excited about it,’ Alison says. ‘One of the things we are going to have to manage is a big demand for the service.’
‘The Department of State Development has been fantastic,’ Alison says. It’s really been a true partnership where we work on solutions together. It’s exciting and it’s evolving, to my knowledge nothing like this has been done before and the Department is extremely supportive. We want to develop a really good model that provides us with a way of working differently, of opening up new opportunities for study and work for people who are very disadvantaged.’
‘I feel like we’re writing history here,’ Alison says.
ALA’s recent policy paper ‘Disengaged Youth and ACE’ outlines how Adult Community Education (ACE) provides an avenue for re-engaging young people in education.