Pipeline of Indigenous Talent Leads to Social Enterprise Success
17 June 2015 at 11:03 am
A painting social enterprise in Western Sydney is working to improve employment outcomes for young Indigenous people off the back of a delicately cultivated relationship with a corporate partner, writes Nadia Boyce in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
When national youth services provider Marist Youth Care wanted to improve its employment and training services for its young clients late last year, it sought corporate support from the very beginning, putting forward a carefully crafted business proposition and the offer to provide a pipeline of indigenous talent.
From that the organisation’s social enterprise, MYC Painting Services, was born. The organisation provides painting skills training and employment specifically for Indigenous jobseekers aged under 21 years.
Western Sydney has the largest percentage of Aboriginal youth unemployment in Australia, while nationally, the unemployment rate for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is 18 per cent, three times the national unemployment rate of 6.1 per cent (August 2014).
MYC Painting is a step towards the goal of getting those unemployed young people to become job ready, to be reliable, and to understand the expectations of employers.
Pro Bono Australia News spoke with Adam Makepeace, Senior Manager of Employment and Training Services at Marist Youth Care, about the benefits of corporate support and the teething issues the organisation is experiencing as it looks to scale.
Solving A Corporate Conundrum
It is Makepeace himself who is responsible for the pivotal corporate partnership that enabled the founding of MYC Painting. He is enthusiastic as he explains how an entire program was created out of the relationship and the resulting business solution that he worked to develop.
“[MYC Painting has] come about based on a relationship that I’ve built with a company called Programmed Facility Management (PFM). They’re a publicly listed construction company who receive funding from the NSW Government to provide maintenance services to Government housing,” he says.
“Through a whole bunch of different discussions, we identified that Programmed were very keen to increase the diversity of their workforce through the hiring of Indigenous job seekers.
“We also identified that there was an opportunity to provide support to programs where they were struggling to source contractors to do some of the smaller jobs – that most contractors don’t want to do. Things like small painting, patching and repairing jobs.
“So, they were looking to increase diversity but were struggling to get contractors in that space. We had a discussion where I proposed that by outsourcing those jobs to a social enterprise, one that only hired Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander job seekers who were skilled in painting and decorating, they might be able to kill two birds with one stone.
“We established an operating model where the main purpose was to establish a pipeline of Indigenous talent, so when an Indigenous job seeker came through our enterprise and Programmed Facility Management [needed] a new staff member in the trades area, they would have an opportunity to transition one of our staff members into being a full time employee there.”
Makepeace says success in securing the partnership came down to one simple factor – and that was his organisation’s ability to offer value and a genuine solution to Programmed Facility Management.
“I think what created the opportunity was seeing that there was a gap – and being able to provide a business solution to Programmed Facility Management,” he explains.
“They had two issues that they were working with, two objectives – creating a pipeline of indigenous talent and second, the small jobs they couldn’t with others. The art to winning that business was being to provide and find a creative and actually contribute to PFM seeing that themselves.
“Although there were two identified issues, it really took some creative thinking from MYC to come up with a model and a solution to those issues and provide that on a platter to PFM. They didn’t have to worry about whether we could actually come in and satisfy their needs. [We were] able to create mutual benefit because we could also create employment outcomes for the communities who needed them.”
MYC Painting secured an agreement with PFM in December 2014, which sees the firm pay the organisation a monthly retainer that covers the cost of a supervisor and two first year apprentices. Since January this year, MYC Painting has been working on Government housing projects, but the first major contract didn’t come until May, when Blacktown Council hired the organisation to paint nine toilet blocks in Western Sydney’s public parks.
“The core of the enterprise doesn’t have too much risk because we’ve got a commitment from Programmed Facilities Management, that as long as they are funded there will be ongoing work for the crew,” Makepeace says.
“It’s fairly stable, but that being said, our goal is to grow the enterprise, because the larger the enterprise, the more apprenticeships we can offer.”
The Trouble With Scale
Makepeace has managed the Employment and Training division at welfare Not for Profit Marist Youth Care for the past three years. MYC Painting has the potential to contribute immensely to alleviating unemployment amongst his young clients, he says, but the organisation must first overcome the obstacles resulting from its small size.
“The idea behind creating [MYC Painting] was that Marist’s mission is to create independence for the young people we work with, which is very difficult to gain without employment. [Through the program] it was almost like we were providing an end goal for all of our clients so they could take that final step towards a lifetime of independence,” Makepeace says.
“We’re not in this space in a transactional capacity, we’re here to achieve quality ongoing sustainable employment.
“They come into our program, they get assigned an Indigenous case worker who supports and mentors them. They stay with us for between 10 and 20 weeks to become job ready and then we look to transition them into a long term role.
“Currently we have engaged with five Aboriginal job seekers in that short time, and we’re on track to engage with about 10 per year at our current site. With growth we’re looking to increase that substantially.
“To date the the five job seekers who have engaged with our program have generally been early school leavers, experienced literacy and numeracy barriers, they will quite often be without a licence and without a car and that is extremely difficult for someone looking to get into a trade.
“They’ll usually be long-term unemployed and in many cases come from a family where unemployment is entrenched, they’ll have very limited understanding of what an employer expects from a work ethic, a reliability, and punctuality perspective, and in many cases there are often mental health, homelessness or family stability issues – and there may be other factors such as drug and alcohol issues.”
It is the need to supervise MYC Painting’s young apprentices at all times that has created problems around flexibility and staffing for Marist Youth Care.
“The one area that has been a challenge has been that without scale, we have great reliance on our painting manager…Usually we only have one painting manager and two apprentices,” Makepeace explains.
“Without scale, we cannot have any flexibility. For example, if we had two jobs at the same time, we could only go to one because the two apprentices require constant supervision. If the painting manager took leave, we’re without support, if he was sick, or went on holidays, we’re really stuck.
“With additional scale and additional work, it will allow us to create more employment opportunities which allows us to be more agile, split crews, and be flexible to deliver an increased amount of work.”
Pitching the Pipeline
Now established, MYC’s focus in the coming months will be to grow and extend its offer of indigenous talent to more corporations and local councils.
“We are looking at other opportunities in the community housing space, we are looking at strata work, we are looking at new builds and residential work, and we are also looking at corporate de-fits,” Makepeace says.
“We’re currently in conversation with a few people in those areas, but as you know, these deals take a while to pull off.
“I think our focus now, or our focus for the first six months, has been about consolidation, about delivering the services we’re committed to delivering in a quality way to our corporate partners and ensuring that they were satisfied with what we’re delivering.
“What we’re delivering has to be of a commercial standard or the enterprise won’t work. So that’s where our focus has been around consolidation.
“It now has to move into a growth space and what we need to be doing, starting with the new financial year, is developing a growth strategy. That includes a bunch of different promotional activities, it includes business development, and finding new corporate partners that may be able to able to contribute to the enterprise and create more social impact.
“It includes marketing the program, not just to corporates, but also to the community to ensure that we are creating a pipeline of Indigenous talent for our own enterprise which then can be transferred to our corporate partners.”
Makepeace also flags the possibility of MYC Painting diversifying its client base further and seeking work from the general public.
“There are plans in the next couple of months to look into a website, so we can start to get residential work from everyday clients. It’s very important that we can negotiate ongoing work with corporate and non-profit partners to ensure we can provide job security for all our apprentices and our staff,” he says.
“The experience has been a good one. I have launched and managed other social enterprises that have not been as successful as this one. The process has been successful so far and a lot of that credit should be given to Programmed Facility Management, who’ve been extremely collaborative. We’ve pulled together and done some great work to develop it.
“I see MYC painting services as a real opportunity to create a legacy in our community.
“I really see that.”