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No degree needed: traineeships for ageing workforce

Erma Ranieri
Erma Ranieri

With the nation’s highest unemployment, and a staggering number of young people without work, the South Australian government is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to creating employment opportunities. An additional 200 public service traineeships have been opened for young people, many from generations of disadvantaged and long-term unemployed.

It’s called Jobs4Youth and the program is about to start its second year. The program has already had a profound impact on the lives of the young trainees, according to the commissioner for public sector employment, Erma Ranieri, but there’s a silver lining for agencies too.

“They’re more IT savvy and they’re really bright, so I’m excited what our pipeline for leaders will be in the future,” Ranieri told The Mandarin.

“It became quite a rich program for young people, many of whom generations of their family haven’t had full time work, and actually found something they could get confidence in doing in the public service.”

The first intake involved 188 young people who would never have been eligible for existing government graduate programs because they lack tertiary education. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t work they could do, and that agencies needed, particularly in administration. Ranieri says it took some getting used to for some, coming into work every day, and off-site mentoring from senior public servants played a role in building confidence to keep going.

Agencies identified likely vacancies in administration roles, and they were allocated a number of trainees based on their projected attrition rates as the goal was to keep as many as they could. Some 90% of the initial intake will offered ongoing work in the SA public sector. A quarter were classified long-term unemployed at the time they joined the program. An additional quarter were from indigenous backgrounds, and six had a declared disability.

“All of them seem to have gained a lot out of the experience,” Ranieri said. “I think it’s an important program that governments should run even if these people went off and got other jobs. This is my personal view … even if we didn’t have the jobs, I feel there’s a level of responsibility for the largest employer to at least provide a great grounding for young people to understand the world of work. We have a variety of regulatory functions and social services where they can experience the richness of that, and then they can become our alumni.”

The trainee’s mentors didn’t necessarily come from the agency which took the young person. In fact, most volunteered because they had themselves been touched by one of the earlier generation of trainee programs, had a positive experience and wanted to give something back.

South Australia jumped to the highest unemployment rate in the nation in the January jobs figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, but the detailed breakdown of young people in the state shows an even more concerning 17% unemployment.

The state’s public sector workforce figures, out last month, paint another picture: an increasingly older demographic where those 50 years or older vastly outnumber those coming in. The fear of valuable skills and knowledge walking out the door is realistic, Ranieri says, but the nature of work opportunities and what retirement looks like will change too as some workers — particularly women — choose to stay due to lack of superannuation planning or a desire to stay active. There needs to be a hybrid of approaches, she says.

“People will start to walk out the door and we need a plan to bring in the next lot … I feel a desperate need to bring in young people and impart that knowledge. Bring in graduates so we’ve got them working with some of the people that perhaps indicated they want to retire at a particular age so we’ve got that knowledge not walking out the door,” she said.

[pullquote] “I’m going to give back and I’m going to run a traineeship program because I believed in it so much.” [/pullquote]

“We’d be kidding ourselves if this current generation will say: ‘I’m going to work in the public service for 30 years’. I think it’s terrific to give them experience and expect that half, or a proportion, of these will go off and find other things, I assume interstate or overseas, but I want them to say: ‘I really loved working in South Australia; I loved working in the public sector; I’ve done what I needed to do and I’m going to go back there and I’m going to give back and I’m going to run a traineeship program because I believed in it so much’.

“We need to have an alumni whose heart is here in the public sector, and my hope is they come back and help us out. We can do that in South Australia. It’s a nice size; it’s a great city.”

Previous trainee programs have dropped off in part due to lack of resources, Ranieri says, but it’s now a priority, both for the Office of the Public Sector and for the government. She added: “I would want to see some sort of program continue on for a long time because I think it’s about renewal and the 188 have got new ideas and fresh perspectives on how we might do things differently.

“Having 200 people feeling like they’ve changed their lives, move out of home, become independent; that’s success. You’ve changed a group of people’s lives then we’re doing something right and we need to keep doing that. Even if they don’t have ongoing employment with us, we’ve now given them more skills to go out there and be confident in themselves and be confident in another job.”

More at The Mandarin: Erma Ranieri on changing Sth Australia 90 days at a time

Author Bio

Harley Dennett

Harley Dennett is editor at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's held communications roles in the New South Wales public sector and Defence, and been a staff reporter for newspapers in Sydney and Washington DC.