2021 Year In Review

We would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet and work throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past, present, and emerging and acknowledge that sovereignty has never been ceded.

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Executive Summary

Young people have bold and hopeful visions for a more equitable and sustainable future for us all, but are often shut out of the rooms where decisions are made on their behalf.

However, we know that many organisations are looking for better ways to engage young people, particularly those with diverse lived and technical expertise, but often aren’t sure where to start.

In 2021 we focused on our employment and training model for the young people we work with, as we piloted our YLab Immersion Program, a twelve month structured learning and employment program for eight YLab Associates. Through this program we were able to offer increased job security, a cohort experience and more focused technical training. We have learnt a lot from this model and are looking forward to iterating on what it should look like in the future.

This year we also connected passionate, creative and insightful young people with over 44 organisations who wanted to co-design solutions with young people. One of these solutions saw us partner with Learning Creates Australia to hire and train 19 young people aged 15-18 in high schools. These young people were trained and supported to deliver co-design activities in their own school communities to design new education and learning models.

We also worked with different parts of the Victorian State Government to ensure young people were empowered, informed and included on matters relating to COVID-19. These projects saw us build the leadership capacity of young people to be community advocates and leaders, and provide accurate and relevant vaccination information to young people across the state.

2021 was the final year in YLab’s 2019–21 Strategy.

We have spent the last few months connecting with our community, partners and thought leaders to understand how we grow our impact in our next three year strategy. Some themes emerging suggest that YLab could play a significant role in not just building young people’s capability to engage with institutions, but also build institutions' capacity to set the right conditions to work with young people more meaningfully. The new strategy will also likely see YLab narrow its focus to ensure we can deliver the greatest impact possible, with young people.

We’d like to acknowledge and thank the clients we’ve worked with in 2021, for your commitment to building solutions not just for, but with young people and your belief in young people as genuine partners in co-design.

Finally, we’d like to thank and celebrate the incredible young people who have contributed their skills, resilience and care to YLab over the past twelve months. YLab exists to deliver on young people’s visions for the future, and we are grateful for all who have contributed theirs.

Brigid Canny
YLab Executive Director
Living and working on unceded Wurundjeri Land

Close up photo of Brigid smiling at the camera. She has long blonde hair and is wearing a bright blue top with pale and dark blue sleeves. She is pictured outdoors and there is blurred greenery in the background.

2021 Impact


The portion of Associates and broader team members aged 30 and under.


The portion of Associates aged 15–18.


The average age of our Associates.


The number of projects we undertook in 2021.


The number of young people employed as YLab Associates.


The percentage of Associates with a First Nations background.

Top 3 systems we worked in

Illustrated icon of growing flower to represent learning.

Learning — 28.4%

Policy & decision making — 19.4%

Illustrated icon of person with a light bulb for a head, indicating that they've had an idea.

Health & wellbeing — 16.4%

Our Co-design Projects

Systems Change is a long-term commitment with partners

At YLab, our ultimate goal is to make ourselves redundant. Through each project we undertake, it is our aim that we strengthen connections between young people and our partners, supporting our partners to implement ongoing changes in their sector and embed young people beyond YLab’s engagement.

In 2021, we saw our partners across sectors continue to recognise the importance of embedding young people into the design of services which impact them. Across 57 projects, partners gained direct access to young people’s experiences, insights and knowledge. 67% of these partners are repeat clients. Below are some examples of these projects.

“YLab puts diverse young minds at the centre of its work and our communities helping to shift the prism of possibilities to inspire change.”

— The Huddle: Meet Me in the Middle Project

The Huddle approached YLab to co-design and prototype social impact initiatives with the Melbourne Youth Alliance — a group of African Australian young people formed by the City of Melbourne. These initiatives explored the challenges in four key areas: education, career, identity and inclusion. YLab designed and facilitated three workshops to understand the needs, challenges and aspirations of eight young people from the Melbourne Youth Alliance. The outcomes of these informed the development of recommendations for the Huddle.

Illustrated icon depicting the co-design process with circles symbolising people and arrows indicating sharing of lived experience.

“First Nations communities don't interact with our democratic system because we don't see how it benefits us to engage with it. The government has historically been so extractive which creates distrust. But this program showed how First Nations young people can use democracy to the advantage of our communities.”

— Deadly Democracy Project

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) approached YLab to deliver a series of engagements with the intention of increasing voter engagement amongst First Nations communities. Through this partnership, we built a two day workshop that combined the intention of empowering young First Nations leaders with how to implement their leadership within the democratic system. The outcome was an online campaign designed by and for young First Nations voters to be empowered meaningfully vote in upcoming elections.

“We brought young people living with disability, and young people from multicultural communities into the room, and explored the challenges and barriers they had in regards to vaccinations, in regards to COVID, and unpacked all those fears and concerns that had emerged throughout the last year and a half, and then how that was influencing their reaction to the vaccination.”

— COVID-19 Vaccination Toolkit Project, Department of Health

In partnership with the Victorian Government Department of Health, we created the COVID-19 Vaccination Toolkit to provide more accessible and effective resources about COVID-19 vaccinations. Co-designed with young people with disabilities and from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, the toolkit has reached more than 20,000 young people across the country so far.

Illustration of two people's side profiles with hands outstretched, waving at each other. The person on the left is wearing a yellow shirt and blue cap with brunette hair. The person on the right has a green and white checked shirt with curly dark hair. They are both wearing masks.

Illustration from the toolkit by Nina Sepahpour.

Meaningful Employment

Meaningful employment for young people

2021 saw YLab pilot two key initiatives to strengthen our employment and training offering for young people.

  1. While traditionally we have employed Associates aged 18-30 years, in 2021 we trialled our first Under 18’s Associate program, capturing the insights of Gen Z and employing 19 young people still in Secondary School.
  2. We pivoted our approach to focus on creating more stable work for young people. This was done through shifting eight young people into part-time roles through the YLab Immersion program. Traditionally we have operated a large-scale gig workforce model, but we heard from our Associates they were seeking more stability and a consistent learning experience.

We also continued with our existing Flexible Associate pool where we continued to employ 33 flexible Associates on a casual basis. This pool provided flexible work opportunities for young people with diverse lived experiences to be actively engaged in shifting and changing systems, enabling them to marry project work with their study, other employment, and life.

FYA’s New Work Order shows that young people are now expected to have 18 jobs and six careers throughout their life. Through investing in upskilling Associates with transferable skills and allowing them to choose areas of professional development to focus and grow in, we prepare them for the future of work, and are more equipped to work in systems change, and understand what a good workplace is.

“I've done many great things [in 2021] it’s hard to choose just one. The best would have to be an all encompassing answer: Being part of the YIP team and all the wonderful experiences that have come with that.”

— YIP Associate

“The community at YLab is a true strength, working in systems change, and with people who have a vision of a better future is the most rewarding gift a workplace can give.”

— YLab Associate

“YLab is a uniquely free space to personally express myself and to professionally jam with people.”

— YLab Associate

Innovating the employment experience: YLab Immersion Program

The YLab Immersion program (YIP) was initially co-designed by YLab Associates in 2019 as a way to invest more deeply in career development and to offer more secure work to young people in YLab’s existing cohort. We hired eight Immersion Associates (two of which are First Nations identified roles) who worked part-time to learn new skills and gain meaningful experiences in co-design and facilitation amongst other FYA and YLab specific capabilities.

YIP Associates at the YIP Closing Ceremony

The program consisted of:

  • Three days of part-time work, with time for project work, and one dedicated day for self directed learning.
  • A focus on training and coaching delivered by the team across YLab and FYA.

YLab Immersion Associates (or ‘YIPpers!’) supported the co-design and delivery across 57 different national and international projects.

Some of the key projects they worked on included:

  • Deadly Democracy First Nations project with the Australian Electoral Commission which sought to increase civic literacy and democratic engagement for First Nations young people
  • Young people’s leadership through COVID-19 with the Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Miracle Foundation
  • Employment skills and pathway design with projects like The Huddle with Melbourne Youth Alliance
  • Tarneit and Melton Revitalisation projects which invited young people to engage in meaningful employment design in Melbourne’s West

See some of our case studies explored further in our Videos!

  1. Lorraine, Learning Creates Australia | Amplifying Student Voice
  2. Reana, Wyndham Tech School | Data for Good Hackathon
  3. Lucinda, Department of Health | COVID-19 Toolkit
  4. Kelsey, Australian Electoral Commission | Deadly Democracy
  5. Fetle, NOUS | The School Program Evaluation Project
  6. Gbonmi, Plan International | Research and Advocacy Project

“I had the opportunity to be on a range of projects, and was supported in stepping up and leading as frequently as I put my hand up for. The level of trust, and confidence YLab has placed in me has given me the opportunity to grow and develop my communication, planning, and designing skills”

— YIP Associate

Innovating the employment experience: Learning Creates Australia — Community Associates

In 2021, we continued our partnership with Learning Creates Australia to recruit, train and embed a cohort of young people between the ages of 15–21 years to co-design solutions and test prototypes to education challenges, in their own schools.

We gained three key learnings for working with a younger cohort of Under 18s:

  1. Make space for self-guidance: Avoid creating another form of school where everyone is expected to produce the same type of work. Ensure everyone has the same training opportunities however allow them to excel in their own way.
  2. We are humans first: Relationship and team building was key to the experience for the Associates. Unstructured hangout time was particularly helpful for building trust, relationships, and rapport.
  3. Feedback is critical: A conversation of feedback between facilitators and Community Associates allowed us to learn from each other, and focus on continuous improvement.

We have opted for tailored and responsive training, where instead of overwhelming Associates with all information at the beginning, we stagger interactive, and engaging training across the year.

Piloting the Under 18 employment model, came with its various challenges and complexities, but it undoubtedly proved that it’s worthwhile for the impact it has on stale beliefs about the role young people have in the design of the future. Better outcomes emerge when you design with, not for young people.

Screenshot of Zoom meeting with 15 people. Everyone is in different locations and the group are waving at the camera.

Learning Creates Community Associates in their weekly check ins.

Lorraine is standing in the road on a street lined with autumnal trees with yellow and orange leaves. She is wearing a beige houndstooth jacket, printed orange scarf and black top and jeans. Her dark hair is in thin braids.

“[When hiring] We learned that everyone could participate. We essentially asked, “Hey, look out for the unusual suspects,” because what we cared about was lived experience, and everything else we could train. It was great that we were able to actually prove that. Everyone can be part of this when given the right tools.”

— Lorraine, YLab Senior Associate on hiring Community Associates

“Training was tailored to [us] and done in a really supportive environment… there was no such thing as a dumb question”

— Community Associate

Connect With Us

We're really excited to keep co-designing systems and services with your people and young people in 2022 and beyond. Get in touch with us.

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