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Byron Youth Service Inc

Access to Emergency Services training quickly opened new education, training and employment pathways for 11 early school leavers in northern NSW. The Byron Youth Service offered the young people an intensive program of short courses in areas such as first aid and water safety. Local emergency service organisations provided specialist training and voluntary work experience for the students, some of whom have now gained paid employment as a result of the training.

Background

Byron Bay Council sponsors the Byron Youth Service to run projects and courses for a large number of transient and homeless young people living in the Byron Bay area. Many of these young people feel alienated by mainstream society and often have no interest in participating in mainstream activities or lifestyles. Some have drug problems, most are early school leavers and many have insecure housing arrangements.

The youth centre is responsible for developing activities that can be used in a range of different contexts and situations. The centre is always looking for different ways of encouraging closer links between their client group and the wider community. They believe that innovative, community-based projects provide a vehicle for addressing the underlying issues of low self-esteem and lack of motivation experienced by the young people.

Project Objectives

Through a series of short courses, the Byron Youth Service introduced a group of 17 to 24 year olds to training and work in the Emergency Services field. The project aimed to:

  • provide some accredited training in Emergency Services
  • develop the participants' communications skills through teamwork
  • increase their confidence and self-esteem.

Project Activities

The project began with 11 young people researching the volunteer emergency services operating in the shire. These included the State Emergency Services, Rural Fire Brigade, Surf Life Saving, Coastal Patrol, Local Council Pool operators and Rescue Helicopter Service. All services were keen to participate in the project as it provided them with an opportunity to gain new volunteers.

The emergency service agencies conducted the training and then offered the students voluntary work. From early in the project, participants experienced a great sense of achievement as they started passing each of the short courses. Once a few successes had been established, expectations of the team's ability rose.
The participants enjoyed what they were doing and achieved success in difficult conditions such as floods and constant rain.

Attendance at communication skills and job search tutorials was high and participation in group discussions and exercises more lively than previously experienced by the tutor. The coordinator felt this was due to a combination of the students' sense of achievement and good group dynamics.

Project Outcomes

TAFE or industry-recognised courses completed by one or more of the 11 students included:

  • First Aid Certificate
  • Pool Bronze Award
  • Resuscitation Certificate
  • Surf Life Saving Bronze Medallion
  • Ropes Instructor license

Eight people began training for their radio operator's license for the Coastal Patrol and worked one day a week inside the lighthouse for four months. All participants wear uniforms and all are now members of the Byron Surf Club, Rural Fire Bridge and the Coastal Patrol.

The students demonstrated a strong commitment to their voluntary work experience with local sports clubs and agencies. Some continued the voluntary work after the project finished, e.g. as pool attendants or as members of weekend surf patrols.

Others gained paid employment - one with a local adventure tour company, while another will go on to do a Sports and Recreation Traineeship and a job with a dive shop once he completes his Dive Master Certificate. Another student left the course to work on a boat. The radio, First Aid and MSB licenses directly contributed to his gaining the job.

Self-esteem increased markedly as the students passed each of the exams. They appeared more confident and all thought they had a greater choice of work or further study options. This was particularly impressive considering how marginalised the young people were at the beginning of the course.

Success Factors

The project was successful because it gave the young people a way of contributing to the broader community in a meaningful and valuable manner. When talking about the benefits of the project, most students mentioned the ability to give something back to the community.

The project allowed the clients to achieve a number of successes quickly and none of the group moved on until everyone had successfully completed each course. This strengthened the group dynamic, reinforced the support role of the group and contributed to the success of the project in a major way.

Possible Improvements

In future projects, the coordinator would develop individual learning agreements with each of the participants. These would identify the electives the individuals wanted to undertake, times of attendance and what they hoped to achieve. The coordinator thought the clients would find such agreements useful as a record of what they hoped to gain from the course and as an incentive to attend regularly.

A further improvement would be a camp at the beginning of the project to develop team cohesion. The teamwork component of the project became one of its most valuable aspects and future projects should highlight this from the beginning.

It would also be better to start the project at the beginning of spring so that the training could be put into practice relatively quickly as summer approached.

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