Our young people need us – and we need them – more than ever

Tasmania’s Premier Peter Gutwein recently stated that COVID19 presents “the greatest threat our State and our Country have faced in generations”.

Quite rightly, the focus of our governments over the last few weeks has been on responding to the immediate threat that this virus presents to the health of our community, and on ensuring that we do everything we can flatten the curve. I particularly congratulate Premier Gutwein for the great example he has set for our State: he has provided clear and determined leadership and has helped galvanise us as Tasmanians during this significant time of adversity.

As we all work together to combat the short-term threat of this virus, however, we must also remember the longer-term threat that this pandemic, and our response to it, could pose to the futures of Tasmania’s young people.

Having helped connect young people to education and employment for over 30 years, the Beacon Foundation is particularly aware of the risks that these perilous circumstances present to our youth.

Thousands of students have already begun learning from home. This has required parents to become overnight learning supervisors and placed massive pressure on schools and teachers to deliver remote learning, while still teaching some students on-campus. If we do not find ways to clearly guide learners through this unprecedented disruption, we risk thousands of students disengaging from education.

While this pandemic has already had a devasting impact on many in our community and resulted in enormous changes that all of us continue to come to terms with, it will also radically reshape the already rapidly changing future careers of our children. If we do not help prepare young people for this future, we risk creating a lost generation.

It is clear that now, more than ever, our young people need all of us – particularly industry and organisations like Beacon – to step up and work with them to make their futures as bright and secure as possible.

This is a challenge that the Beacon Foundation is taking on, and that we want others to take on with us. Drawing on our successful track record of working with over 10,000 Australian young people through online careers guidance, we are already working on ways to ramp up our online programs for school students.

Our Beacon team is at its best when it is working with like-minded partners to innovate and respond quickly to the emerging needs of young people. Our current approach is a great example of that. We are currently working on with several collaborative partners to produce a suite of online resources that will be launched at the beginning of Term 2.

It is clear, though, that this is just the beginning – there is still so much more that will need to be done to ensure we do not leave our young people behind. We will need brave hearts and bold thinking, and we stand ready to partner with schools, governments, businesses, and other not-for-profits – as well as our hundreds of online mentors and volunteers – to do this work. Indeed, we believe that with the right partners in place, young learners could lead us in generating the ideas we need to respond to and recover from the impact of COVID19.

We also know the burden of these challenges will fall particularly heavily on young people experiencing disadvantage. In 2016, over 6,500 Tasmanian households with children stated that they did not have access to the internet. How do we support students in these families to engage in remote learning? On any given night, over 400 young Tasmanians will be experiencing homelessness. At such a challenging time, how do we meet the significant, complex needs of these young people, including supporting them to remain engaged in education?

Beacon’s Collective ed. initiative, which began in 2016, has already been working with six Tasmanian school communities – in Ulverstone, Deloraine, George Town, Jordan River, Clarence Plains and Sorell – to understand and address these types of important questions. Using a collective impact approach, we are empowering our partner communities to take control over decisions about what happens in their local areas, including how resources are used to support young people. We’ve helped to establish Community Leadership Tables made up of students, teachers, parents, schools, businesses and local organisations, and we are supporting these groups to start identifying and breaking down the complex, systemic barriers that are preventing many young people from thriving.

Our major Collective ed. partners – the Tasmanian Government and the Paul Ramsay Foundation – showed great courage in enabling this radical new approach to education and to community-based decision-making. We believe that this powerful approach is going to be more critical than ever in supporting communities to respond to and recover from this crisis.
As challenges emerge for our partner communities in the coming weeks and months, our Collective ed. teams will be supporting our six partner communities – particularly the young leaders within them – to identify and coordinate collaborative efforts in each local area. We would also welcome the opportunity to help other Tasmanian communities to use collective impact and systems change approaches as well. In listening to and collaborating with young people on these decisions, we are likely to find our most powerful and successful solutions.

This is a hugely challenging time for our government, and there are many immediate threats that they need to focus on. When they can, however, I implore our leaders to consider how to ensure young people can thrive during and after this crisis, and how Tasmania’s not-for-profit sector can be called on to help.

For our communities and ourselves as families and individuals, our focus has been on how to keep ourselves safe and healthy. In times like this – as we were often reminded not so long ago, when commercial flight was taken for granted – we must fit our own oxygen mask first, before assisting others. Once we have done what we can to protect ourselves and our families, however, we must begin considering how we can help those around us. There is only so much that the authorities can do on our behalf: the rest will come down to the solidarity and commitment we have towards each other.

Social distancing has limited the ways we can reach out to others, but there is still so much we can do together to support each other and to make a difference. Keep focussed on staying safe and well, but when you can: consider what you can do to ensure a bright future for our young people, and what role you can play to empower young people to build that future. If you want to be an online careers mentor; if you want to find a way to use your resources to support young people; if you want to support our communities to take locally-led action in responding to this crisis – reach out to us. We’re here to help.

Scott Harris is the CEO of the Beacon Foundation