Investing in our kids now will deliver massive benefits in the long term

Since we began in 1988, Beacon has been working hard every day to help Tasmania’s young people have a brighter future.  A future where when they finish school, they have both emotional and technical skills and confidence to be an active participant in their community. Now more than ever we need to provide young people with capacity to become more actively engaged in the well-being of our communities.

Post-COVID we do not want to go back to the world we have come from.  We want to see brighter futures for all, but most importantly for our young people. They need a seat at the table in our state affairs and they need it now.  Young people need to be supported in a career that they are passionate about with strong connections to local businesses and employers.  In the wake of the COVID pandemic, our work is now more important than ever.

In 2017, Beacon received funding from the Paul Ramsay Foundation and the Tasmanian Government to do something unique.  With that funding, we began working in six communities across the state to bring together local schools, the community, and businesses to work with young people, help them work out what they wanted to do once they left school and then connect them with those people in their community that could help turn that dream into a reality.

We have called this project ‘Collective Ed’ and so far, it’s having a real impact.  Its focus is on community capacity building, with local people owning local issues and providing the best possible support to young people. In simple terms it’s a whole village raising a child, but the child has an integral voice in the village.

Last week, we held a conference in Hobart to discuss what we’ve learnt so far with Collective Ed, what works, what we can do better and how we can all work together to get the very best for future generations.  Importantly this is ‘warts and all’ with no politics and complete honesty about what works and what doesn’t.

Aptly, we called the conference, ‘Beyond the School Gate’, because while the focus is on kids at school, what we’re trying to do is help young Tasmanians find their way once they leave school.

One of our guest speakers was leading social entrepreneur, Jan Owen.  Jan is a passionate advocate for bringing communities together to get the best possible outcomes, an ethos that we wholeheartedly support.

Jan quoted a staggering piece of research prepared by the Victoria University called the Mitchell Report.  The Report found that “students who leave before finishing year 12 or the equivalent cost taxpayers about $24,000 annually, nearly $1 million over a working lifetime for each individual”.

Just let that sink in.  $1 million over a lifetime.

We can’t reduce everything to its dollar value.  We’re talking about people here, not numbers.  But the point remains, if we don’t provide young Tasmanians with the support they need now, the long-term impacts are going to be significant both at a personal level for the kids as well as for the rest of the community.

We need to invest now to create healthy, successful communities or spend considerably more over decades to come to deal with the consequences.

What we are finding with the Collective Ed project is that for a fraction of that $1 million cost, Beacon, with the support of schools, communities and businesses can help young Tasmanians avoid becoming disengaged and to put them on a pathway to reaching their potential.

We have had great success helping young people work out what they’re passionate about, what sparks them, what makes them want to get out of bed in the morning and giving them the support and opportunities to reach their goals.

But it is not without its challenges.

Research by the Foundation for Young Australians indicates that young people in school today who go on to work will likely need to navigate 17 different jobs spanning five different industries in their lifetime.  What we need to be doing now is to give young Tasmanians a broad set of skills and the confidence to tackle the changing jobs market.

This is a fundamental shift in how we think about our careers and how we provide career education.  Many jobs are related and require similar skills.  Rather than choosing an occupation with an unbroken path to seniority, a young person could think about developing a set of skills that opens doors to a group of potential jobs. Rather than asking a young person, what is your ‘dream job’, it may be more useful to ask what is your group of dream jobs.

We can’t afford to have young Tasmanians leave school without the right skills and knowledge to get the best start in life possible.  That’s why programs like Collective Ed are vital.

The Tasmanian Government clearly recognises this, and we are grateful for their support of Collective Ed.  In any system innovation is fundamental and we are delighted that the Government has invested in this way off the back of other policies, like extending high schools to year 12.

The Tasmanian Government is also embarking on creating a new strategy to support children and young people and this has the potential to be a game changer for future generations.  If the Tasmanian Government can learn from examples like Collective Ed, be bold enough to invest up front in our children and young people in well-targeted ways and continue to grow the economy then we are set to give our kids the chance to be the best they can be.

The challenge is that there are no easy solutions or silver bullets.  We must remain nimble and focused on the task at hand.

That’s the other strong point of the Collective Ed project.  It is flexible and tailored to each individual person and community.  We develop a response that suits the young person, where they’re at on their journey and how to help them get where they want to go, rather than trying to force the square pegs into round holes.  By building community capacity we are building something that is quickly adaptable to suit the circumstances of each young person.

Why are we investing so much time, money, and effort into this?  Because our young people are worth it, and they need us now.

Scott Harris is the Chief Executive of the Beacon Foundation