The Geelong Region Local Learning and Employment Network (GRLLEN) joined the national Ticket to Work initiative in 2013, by establishing its own stakeholder network, originally called the Ticket to Work Geelong network, now known as the Geelong Inclusion Network (GIN), and the group hasn’t looked back. Indeed, the GIN has demonstrated commitment, agility and progressive approaches which embrace and advance Ticket to Work’s mission, vision and values. And no more was this evident than during COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria.
Through a conversation with Wayne Elliott, CEO of GRLLEN, much was shared about the place-based network, its values and innovative practices.
GIN is an advancing collaborative partnership comprised of 90 members, who all share a desire to improve and enhance opportunities for young people with disability to achieve sustainable employment outcomes both during and after the schooling years. Comprised of representatives from schools, employment services, Gordon Institute of TAFE, Deakin University, state and federal government departments, City of Greater Geelong, youth services and industry, the GIN collaborate to identify and execute programs and projects aligned with its values and objectives.
GIN has facilitated and promoted career development, Australian School-based Apprenticeship and Traineeship (SbAT) employment for students with disability, and the ‘Passport to Employment’ program over many years. And more recently it’s successfully piloted Ticket to Work’s ‘Jobs After School’ pilot; enabling young people with disability to gain employment outside school hours, something mainstream peers have participated in for decades. “Over the years we’ve had many hundreds of young people participate in employment activities, whilst still in the structure of school, and/or moved into open employment in our region, which thrills the network to no end as they can actually see the meaningful contributions they make,” explained Wayne.
Pleasingly, despite a significant reduction in career and employment opportunities during COVID restrictions, local young people and employer engagement is back on the rise. This year many 100s of local young people have been taking part in career development activities such as SbAT training and employment, career immersions, industry talks, work experience, Supported Workplace Learning, accessing resources, and/or working in their very first paid job after school hours. These activities all support young people to build their career aspirations and assist in building future career opportunities.
GIN has always embraced technology to provide support, resources and guidance for all stakeholders, such as the two GRLLEN managed The Experience for work and Geelong Careers websites. More recently, driven by an inability to hold face-to- face meetings due to COVID impacts, the network has now adopted a hybrid approach which involves an opportunity to meet in person or via online meeting platforms. And it’s with great pride that a closed Facebook Group for GIN members has just been launched.
The Facebook Group is now enabling the GIN members to immediately share information, journal articles, data, news, event details, grant opportunities, government submissions, videos, and deliver webinars. It means network members are no longer sending a multitude of emails and instead use this platform to securely share and store material of relevance ‘on demand’”, revealed Wayne.
While the GRLLEN coordinates GIN it doesn’t view itself as the ‘owner’ of it. “GIN is comprised of passionate and dedicated members who share a common view, offer various opportunities for knowledge acquisition and transfer, identify gaps, and embrace creative visions to maintain its ongoing sustainability. Rather, we’re the arms-length facilitator of this partnership and GRLLEN team feel it’s a joy to collaborate with cross sector representatives dedicating their precious time to achieve a common goal. But, as the intermediary, we take that role very seriously and always ensure a duty of care and ethical approach for all members,” stated Wayne.
The overarching values and drivers of the GIN are multi-faceted and relate to the key beneficiaries of its outcomes. Firstly, the young people with disability. Secondly, the employers who engage young people in their industries. Thirdly, the partnership members who want to collectively effect social change. After over a decade of the GIN operating, it’s garnered that when a scaffolded approach to employment engagement is taken by schools, family members, employers and support organisations a catalyst for young peoples’ success is more likely. “Capture and truly understand young people’s career interests and then source aligned workplace experiences or paid jobs which suit them. After that successfully occurs, we’re then able to witness their pursuit passions lead to increased levels of confidence, resilience and long-term employment outcomes,” stated Wayne.
Broadening and supporting employer, and wider workforce, capability and knowledge is vital to generate sustainable career and employment opportunities for young people. “The GIN works together, particularly employment subject matter experts within it, to raise awareness of the benefits of supporting young people with disability. Through member organisations providing person-centred preparation, training and guidance throughout the journey businesses are more equipped for onboarding and long-term workplace relationships with young people,” described Wayne. The GIN recognises it’s an evolving voluntary ‘Community of Practice’ with diverse members genuinely committed to sharing knowledge, undertaking tasks and participating in research. But they’re naturally pressured by other work and life commitments. “At GRLLEN we’re only too aware that being part of the GIN can lead to additional pressures, so we try to make participation as seamless and easy as possible, both because each member matters and it contributes to network sustainability. Our new closed Facebook Group and hybrid meetings are some ways of creating dynamic and huddled spaces for members to collaborate, while also mitigating burdens and hindrance,” explained Wayne.
The GRLLEN’s Board of Management and staff are powerful advocates when it comes to improving the lives of young people with disability. “The entire organisation backs the GIN and Ticket to Work practices and policies because we all gain personal meaning and the sense of having purpose in our local community,” shared Wayne. This year there will be a reinvigoration of face-to-face meetings in an effort to reconnect the network again in person and its core ambition of supporting local Geelong students with disability, through a coordinated approach to opportunities to build their exposure to career development opportunities.
Wayne concluded the conversation by recognising the impact that Ticket to Work is having in the Greater Geelong region. “Ticket to Work’s model, initiatives, effort to stamp out stigma, and national advocacy are central for the GIN, and we enjoy collaborating with its incredible team. Ticket to Work really is leading the way in terms of increasing employment for young people with disability, and we feel fortunate to be part of their Australia-wide push for policy reform in that space,” remarked Wayne.