Kickstarting the Illawarra – Part One

It’s not often you find a collaborative approach to a Government initiative, when self interest of industry, educators, government is put aside so the focus can be on the outcome.

In this case the outcome was to find 500 young people apprenticeships in the Illawarra region of NSW, where unemployment among 15-19 year olds was at an all time high of 30%.Project KickStart urges employers to take advantage of the Federal Government’s financial incentives to take on apprentices. The current Government invested $100 million in the KickStart program which commenced last summer. The Apprentice KickStart program more than triples the first year bonus paid to employers who take on traditional trade apprentices. Its overall success nationally has resulted in further funding and an extension of the program to November 2010.In Illawarra the regions business community responded to the inspired promotion driven by local member for Throsby, Jennie George, the Illawarra Business Chamber and importantly local Fairfax newspaper, the Illawarra Mercury.

On January 20, the Mercury ran a supplement, a career lift out under the campaign title of “Give a Kid a Go”. That was the message to employers. The supplement was a result of a campaign encouraging young people to send in their photograph and a brief description of themselves showcasing their skills and enthusiasm to prospective employers. Over 120 responded. The Illawarra Business Chamber’s Ian Nicholls, acting as Project Officer for the campaign, worked with The Mercury to promote the scheme to employers – collectively they helped to match the needs of the employer with the aspirations of the young. The result has been outstanding.  Over 540 apprentices signed up with employers, and Illawarra's youth jobless rate has halved. The fall was greatest in the 15-19 year olds – the age targeted by KickStart. SkillsOne spent several days in July interviewing and filming employers, apprentices, the parents of the apprentices, the Business Chamber, Jennie George MP, Illawarra TAFE Institute Di Murray and the editor of the Mercury.

One thing was abundantly clear – the energy and commitment by everyone to work together, be involved and get a result was central to Project KickStart’s success. Encouragingly it is not just about the numbers, of course it’s important the jobless rate has fallen and that 540 young people have commenced a career. But, behind every one of these numbers is a story. Jessica, now working as an apprentice hairdresser, wants to develop her skills and open up her own business one day. Her mother acknowledges the “Happy Jess” is back. She is motivated, confident in herself, with money in her pocket. Employers too have benefited, as one employer said, “it’s not just about the money (incentive), this kid is making a real contribution to my business.”

Another company, Landform Gardens, took on Jayke as an apprentice landscape gardener with his Kembla Grange-based business. Luke Everington, the employer, said he had not looked back since taking on Jayke – not only was the recruitment process hassle-free, Jayke has demonstrated himself to be a promising employee.These stories and many more were run several times a week in The Mercury, maintaining the focus and highlighting the successes. The stories kept Ian Nicholls' (Illawarra Business Chamber) phone ringing which with enquiries from potential apprentices, parents and employers.TAFE too has benefited with an increased number of enquiries about courses and general interest in the Trades.

After the phenomenal success of the first Project KickStart, a second campaign is underway following the Government’s decision to extend the project by injecting a further $80 million. Whatever target Illawarra set in this new phase, you would not bet against them exceeding it.

VJ Rodney Meier