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Improving Employment Outcomes for African-Australian Youth

16 April 2018 at 8:22 am
Luke Michael
Zam Zam Aden is the referral and placement officer at Melbourne Employment Forum, which aims to achieve improved employment outcomes for African-Australians. She is this week’s Changemaker.

Luke Michael | 16 April 2018 at 8:22 am


Improving Employment Outcomes for African-Australian Youth
16 April 2018 at 8:22 am

Zam Zam Aden is the referral and placement officer at Melbourne Employment Forum, which aims to achieve improved employment outcomes for African-Australians. She is this week’s Changemaker.     

Aden began working at MEF two years ago, after previously working in the community health and banking sectors.

MEF is a community-led initiative that builds on partnerships within the African-Australian community and with government and business to improve pathways that lead to employment outcomes for African-Australians.

As referral and placement officer, Aden builds relationships with employers and assists job seekers with specific needs including internships, volunteer positions and employment opportunities.

In this week’s Changemaker, Aden explains some of the challenges African-Australians face in finding work, describes why stakeholder collaboration is vital and discusses why she becomes personally invested in the success of her clients.

How did you become involved in the not-for-profit sector?   

I’ve been working in the not-for-profit sector for the last two years now, and prior to that I was working in the community health sector and the banking sector. I became interested in the community sector through volunteering for different organisations, particularly in community engagement projects. So that’s how I became involved with it.      

Zam Zam Aden.

Why was MEF formed and how does the organisation help African-Australians to find employment?

Melbourne Employment Forum is a relatively new entity, operating in the bounds of the City of Melbourne. It is a community-led initiative aimed to build on partnerships within the African-Australian community, government and business to achieve better employment outcomes for African-Australians.

We’ve been running for two years now, funded by the City of Melbourne. It started with different African community organisations coming together, recognising there was high unemployment within the African-Australian youth that live in the Flemington-Kensington area mainly. But we do work with other African-Australians that live within the City of Melbourne region.

What are some of the challenges that African-Australians face when trying to find work?

The main thing is that most young [African-Australians] really don’t have an understanding of the labour market and the barriers that are out there. So you have two groups, the first group might be facing a lot of vocational barriers because English is not their first language and they have difficulties with that.

But there’s also another group of young people where they’ve grown up here and went to university and graduated, but they’re not getting work. Employers will be like “you don’t have enough experience so you won’t be able to get this job”, so I help them find internships or volunteer roles so they can have those references and build their network so they’re able to find that work.

But I would say the main barriers are a lack of experience and there is also no network for African-Australians. In schools, Anglo-Australians often have a very positive experience in finding part-time work like at Woolworths and so forth, but it’s different for an African-Australian youth. They don’t have that same positive experience in work. So they start looking for work later on, after they finish school or university but young people in the African-Australian community just don’t have that network. So it’s a challenge for them in finding jobs.

What does a typical day look like for you at MEF?

A typical day could involve assisting job seekers with their specific needs, which include but are not limited to such things as internships, volunteer positions and employment opportunities. Some of the day I probably would facilitate the workshops that we hold for our graduates. And other times I spend time meeting employers or training providers and if I’m meeting with employers it would be for post-placement support. That’s pretty much what I do on a typical day.

What are MEF’s goals looking ahead to the future?

African-Australians actually have one of the lowest participation rates in the workplace. So I think our main goal going forward would be improving the employability skills of our clients through structured training and giving them access to opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

MEF works with a diverse range of community leaders, job service providers and not for profits. How important is this collaboration to the success of the organisation?

It’s very important. Having that kind of relationship with different stakeholders is very important in improving the social and economic position of our community. We play a small role, but I think operating more in the years to come will have a huge impact in our community.

One of the things I noticed is that getting that internship or part-time job for a job seeker has a huge impact on not only the job seeker but their whole family. And it’s incredible what a small organisation with limited resources can actually do for a really marginalised community.

It’s important to have those partnerships and the MEF is one of those initiatives that provides that pathway and builds the engagement in the community. We’re very disengaged currently, and I believe grassroots initiatives like MEF are a powerful tool in building social cohesion and empowering disengaged communities.

Given you work with job seekers every day and help them find employment, do you become personally invested in their success?  

Yeah I do. What I notice with most of my job seekers is that the majority of the time they would be registered with other training providers and by the time they come to us they are very disheartened about their failure in finding work.

When they come to me I tell them I know what they’re going through because I’ve experienced difficulty in finding work and faced discrimination. So I do become invested in them because I want them to succeed and it motivates me for them to reach good outcomes as well.

It’s one of my passions to see young people doing really well. I really do think they play a key role in our community and you only need one young person to do well and to inspire other young people and that’s why we also ran a mentoring program as well. And we get other young people that have done well and have careers to come in and talk to one of our other job seekers that are struggling to find work.

And it’s really amazing for them to see someone else that looks like them do well. It’s more of a motivator. So we do have a lot of other ways of motivating them, but most of our youth go through a lot compared to other young Australians. So you do become invested in them and I do really want them to do well and when they do it’s really rewarding.

What do you like to do in your spare time away from work?

I like to exercise and go for walks in the park. I love nature and art is my passion as well.

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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