Young entrepreneur workshops build everyday heroes

We can be Heroes participants Esekia Aiiloilo and Bryce McEwan with program head Steve Williams.

Youth unemployment in Australia has been going up since the global financial crisis.

But gone are the days young people can step into a life-long job after finishing their education with a number of jobs disappearing because of technological advances and changes in business practices.

Marist Youth Care, with help from the Queensland government’s Advance Queensland strategy, has decided to help a number of savvy young people from disadvantaged backgrounds side-step this problem by offering workshops on building their own businesses.

Social Innovations Manager at Marist Youth Care Steve Williams says they developed the ‘We can be Heroes’ Program for young people interested in developing practical business skills.

“So we looked at what was on offer currently in Queensland around business education for young people and particularly people who are experiencing disadvantage in some way and we found that a lot of the business education was at quite a high level and we wanted to do something that was at a real practical level with people – something that people could immediately grasp and understand,” he said.

Since Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister there’s been a lot of talk about innovation, ‘agile’ thinking and entrepreneurship.

Mr Williams says Marist Youth Care wanted to develop a program to make those ideas accessible to those who could most benefit from it.

“For Marist Youth Care we’re really interested in working with people who don’t often get the opportunity to take part in that core stuff so wanted to work out how we can work with the government to really create diversity and access for these types of programs.”

Esekia Aiiloilo is one of those who have been able to take part in the program for the first time.

“My project is making clothes – sewing clothes and screen-printing clothes and selling them to my friends and stuff,” he said.

“In the future I want to expand it online.”

Learning on the job

He’s a budding fashion designer whose interest in spinning threads wasn’t really helped by his school’s business class.

“I did business for a year and it was just learning about data and how to store your files from getting washed away in flood, you know like in a ten-story building in the flood, for me it was really pointless I just wanted to go into practical areas like ‘this is what you need to learn for your business step-by-step’,”

“Yeah I walked away [from the program] learning how to be straight up – that business is business.”

It’s this thinking his fellow participant Bryce McEwan thinks should be taught more widely.

“It seems like a lot of them focus on, as Steve was saying, the high-end stuff which for a lot of people isn’t that good,” he said.

“It’s great if you have a huge multinational business but what happens if you’re a bloke who has a plumbing business who wants to fix the neighbourhood homes?”

“Those are the skills I do think need to be taught in schools.”

And it’s skills like those that will help Bryce get his business off the ground.

“My project is to start a business community linking for people with disabilities a lot of whom are in community housing and often times they don’t receive the chance to get out and what community linking does is it takes them out – it might take them to the movies or if they really enjoy going to cars sometimes you might take them to a monster car rally,”

“Just getting them out of the house and making sure they’re socialising a being part of the community.”

“I plan on sub-contracting to organisations to help people with disability’s lives much better.”

Skilling up as industries decline

An increasing number of NGOs  are looking to develop these skill as a number of industries shed jobs and many become obsolete.

“At Marist Youth Care we’ve really learned a lot from the work of the Foundation for Young Australians,” Mr Williams said.

“They’ve done lots and lots of research into the future of work for young people and I think a lot of people recognise that there’s a lot of sectors of employment that won’t be there in 10 years, maybe even another five years.”

“So what does that mean for young people? And not only what does it mean for young people, but what does it mean for young people who might come from a disadvantaged background who are already behind the eightball?”

“What we know from the Foundation for Young Australians’ research is that enterprising skillsets are the skillsets of the future.”

“So it’s not so much technical skillsets but it’s about agile thinking, it’s about communications skills, it’s about a lot of the things you can learn by running your own business and being engaged in that process so we’ve taken a lot of heart from that work that we’re going in the right direction.”

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