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Mamre Plains Ltd

An ambitious construction skills project offered 15-17 year-old boys in the outer western suburbs of Sydney the opportunity to overcome negative attitudes to education and training. The project started with a team-building camp, followed by practical outdoor activities, which allowed participants to learn by doing. Two of the group went on to further training as a result of the project.

Background

Mamre Plains Ltd offers a range of employment and vocational education and training activities in the outer western suburbs of Sydney. These focus on areas such as landscaping, clerical and office administration and job skills.

The Centre has found it difficult to recruit and maintain the involvement of young men in its HELP program, which runs for six hours a day over 20 weeks. Young men in the HELP target group have had little or no employment in their family for two or three generations. The absence of a work role model has led to a negative attitude towards work, exacerbated by low participation and success rates at school.

Staff believed the young men were turned off by the structure of the HELP program and what they regarded as an unnecessarily repetitive re-induction session each morning. Job-search programs run by TAFE have a similar structure and thus hold no interest for the target group.

Project Objectives

Mamre Plains designed a Strategic Pilot Project to attract young men from the above target group. Through the twelve-week project they aimed to:

  • improve participants' literacy and numeracy skills
  • develop building construction and team work skills
  • improve communication, conflict resolution, negotiation and problem solving skills
  • offer a relaxed and less structured learning environment
  • prepare participants for the work environment and develop their understanding of the need for forward planning in life.

Project Activities

From the very start, Mamre Plains worked at creating a non-classroom environment. Stage One was a four-day camp, followed by nine weeks of training in design, costings, and the construction of feeding enclosures for horses. The final two weeks were devoted to job search activities.

The project was advertised locally and through CentreLink as a construction/building course with an optional job-search component. Ten 15-17 young men were accepted into the project.

The Ropes/Challenge camp held at Lithgow involved adventure learning activities such as rock-climbing, abseiling and camping.
These activities and participants' responses to them, were discussed over the four days and built into discussions in later stages of the project.

Project Outcomes

There were mixed responses to the project. Three participants completed the project and successfully constructed an enclosure for horses on agistment. These three were very motivated and persisted with each phase of the project despite the negative attitudes of other participants, who eventually dropped out of the course.

Overall, participants enjoyed the camp, displaying a marked improvement in social teamwork skills. In this environment they had to become more interactive and help each other, thus increasing their level of inter-personal communication.

Of the three participants who finished the training, one enrolled in a roof tiling apprenticeship and another in an English for the Workplace course after having his literacy and numeracy levels re-assessed by Centrelink.

These tangible, positive outcomes would not have been achieved without the intensive approach of the Strategic Pilot Project.

Success Factors

The project succeeded with the three participants because they could identify tangible results. They gained considerable satisfaction from constructing the enclosure and could see for themselves what could be achieved, given the necessary skills and opportunity.

The emphasis on outdoor activities, with only a small amount of classroom work, suited the learning styles of the target group.

Possible Improvements

Mamre Plains will run the project again. With the benefit of hindsight, they will ensure that the project is not promoted as a Centrelink prerequisite and schedule the camp a little later in the project, so that staff have time to get to know participants.

They will also target 18-20 year-olds and seek referrals from a wider range of agencies and through personal contacts.

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