Employment Can Be More Than Just a Job

What if we dreamed big and designed employment to bring out young people's passion, skills, and ideas - increasing their connection to community, professional networks and enabling continuous learning opportunities in the process? Driven by a purposeful ‘why’, employment-focused social enterprises can have the power to address unemployment challenges by doing things differently.

Things were not great before. Then COVID-19 happened. 

In 2020, we saw how the disruption of COVID19 exacerbated issues in the employment sector, especially for young people. In Australia, youth unemployment came to a 23 year-high of 16.4%, and combined youth un and underemployment was estimated to have reached 60%. And while in 2021, youth unemployment has decreased to 10.6%, this is still almost double the general unemployment rate. We need employment models that support young people - especially those who experience socioeconomic injustice and face additional barriers - into a better future of work.

In 2016, YLab set out to answer the question: 'How might we design a flexible workforce model so that young people have the skills, networks, and power to navigate, thrive and shape systems?'  This saw the development of a new workforce model that recruited over 70 young people aged 18-30 based on their diverse lived experiences and disciplines, and trained them in consulting, co-design and skills for the future of work. These young people are employed on a casual basis as Associates, and deliver client work as part of the YLab team. Five years on we are still experimenting with our model and what's possible.

Our latest 2020 Year In Review shares the story of our impacts on young people, institutions, and systems more broadly.  

Statistics of our 2020 engagement with young people.

Flexible work done differently

Our goal: to shift power to young people to shape the systems around them through equipping them with skills and networks. This demands more than steady employment and providing opportunities to influence change. When shifting power to young people experiencing injustice, we must respond to the structural barriers young people experience, and support them through their journey.

We seek to do this by:

We’ve also learned that for many of our Associates to thrive in their work, stability is a key ingredient.

As a social enterprise we have been able to invest in experimenting with and improving our programs and training opportunities. In 2020, we began co-designing a part-time employment program aimed at increasing stability. The YLab Immersion Program (YIP) is currently in its first year with a cohort of eight associates selected from across Australia. This program operates alongside the continued casual employment of 40+ associates with diverse lived experiences. Justin* is one of the eight associates in the YIP program, and has shared some insight to what human-centred employment can feel like.

The Model in Practice

My name is Justin* and I am a YLab Associate working part-time as a co-design consultant as part of the YLab Immersion Program. This new employment model sees eight Immersion Associates hired with consistent hours of work for one year, with a focus on delivering client work, and dedicated learning and training time.

I got involved in YLab by chance in 2019. As a long-term unemployed transgender person living with disability, I had very little work experience or marketable skills. I first got involved in a twelve month co-design project, where we helped support Orygen in building a new model of youth mental health care that will provide a comprehensive, seamless and integrated clinical service system across the full spectrum of needs. 

My first year with YLab helped me identify unknown strengths, including deep listening and accessibility design, and gain confidence in ‘learning while doing’. When I started, I knew nothing about co-design, and at the completion of the project, I had worked directly with practitioners and co-created a guide book for mental health care service users which was trialled in Headspace centres. From building the guide book to working on YLab’s model, I have gained so many valuable skills along the way, and I was continually surprised by my competence when given the opportunity and support to work in a way that’s best for me.

Working with YLab over the previous two years has had a significant impact on my life. Like most disabled young people I know, I was living in deep poverty, unable to get support through the complex Disability Pension process. Having no interaction with the outside world except with punitive health and social service systems, my physical and mental condition declined further and I could not see any better future beyond my unstable present.

Since gaining part-time employment, I have been able to live by myself and have a lasting sense of purpose and competence in my daily life. I sincerely enjoy my work collaborating and learning from young people across Australia and improving the systems we live within. I hope the YLab Immersion Program pilot will support a greater investment in paid development for diverse young people in Australia and acknowledge the role we can play in building the future.

*Name has been changed

What’s next

In March 2021, Justin and seven other YLab Associates became the first group at YLab to be employed part-time in the new YLab Immersion Program (YIP). The year-long program aims to set them up with a platform of relevant skills and nurtured relationships to enter the wider workforce in their chosen directions. 

YIP aims to provide greater work stability, investment in capabilities, and a progression pathway for Associates who want it. YIPs are able to form longer-lasting relationships with clients, and see projects through for a longer period of time, and at a deeper scale. Associates now have options for how they engage with YLab employment - whether that’s working on projects on a casual basis or applying to join the team as a part-time YIP Associate. 

How you can support the future of flexible work.

There’s no doubt that young people are leading change and shifting the conversation here in Australia and globally. Though with youth unemployment still double the general unemployment rate, and young people continuously hired in unstable work, we need to see institutional support backing young people. Imagine what could be possible if we addressed systemic barriers, and shifted power to young people? If we continue to actively engage, employ, and support young people to create the change they need to see?

We have backed young people by creating the YIP program and are already seeing the benefits of providing stable employment for eight Associates - but to respond to the youth under and unemployment crisis in Australia, we need to employ more than eight young people in programs of this nature. To secure the future for more young people we need bold partners willing to back new social impact models - we need your support in centring young people’s voices, and providing the opportunities for them to be in the room.

There are so many young people with diverse, interesting, and valuable lived experiences across Australia, seeking opportunities to be involved. We know this because we were overwhelmingly flooded with applications to be part of our projects in 2020

In 2021 and beyond, we want to see more young people from diverse backgrounds and experiences shaping systems with us. We want to particularly champion the visions of First Nations mob, and those under 18.  We want to package up the YIP approach for other organisations that wish to engage young people in meaningful learning and work opportunities.

The need has never been greater for young people to be co-designing solutions to our greatest challenges. YLab is well placed to support meaningful collaboration between young people and organisations that are committed to the future, and we’re ready to be part of the collective effort to rewrite the future for thousands of young people. 

Who is with us?

Reach out via hello@ylab.global. Learn more about YLab here.