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Employment social enterprises are helping young people, but struggle without support


21 October 2020 at 6:19 pm
Maggie Coggan
A new guide looks at how social enterprises can help reduce inequity among young people


Maggie Coggan | 21 October 2020 at 6:19 pm


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Employment social enterprises are helping young people, but struggle without support
21 October 2020 at 6:19 pm

A new guide looks at how social enterprises can help reduce inequity among young people

Effective employment social enterprises can address social and health inequities among young people, but they are facing significant barriers to growth, new research shows. 

With youth unemployment in Australia rising from 11.5 per cent to 16.1 per cent in May, a new guide from the Centre of Social Impact (CSI) points to social enterprises as a way to improve employment pathways for young people, reducing barriers to economic participation and effectively building the skills and capability of young people. 

The findings were compiled over three years from case studies at four employment-focused social enterprises in New South Wales and Victoria, focusing on how social enterprises can be designed and operated to address health inequities among young people who experience disadvantage.

Effective social enterprises were found to increase technical and life skills of young people, improve their sense of agency and self-worth, improve their mental health and well-being, and positively influence healthier behaviours such as healthy eating, and reduced smoking and drug use. 

A young person interviewed for the report said that even if the work for a social enterprise wasn’t paid, they could see other benefits. 

“Having a meaning in your life, rather than just waking up and playing games every day. It’s pretty hard to knock you down if you’re like busy every day and just doing something all the time,” the young person said. 

A guide for social enterprises 

The guide also provides advice for social enterprises on how they can better support health equity for young people in their organisations. 

Suggestions include catering to diverse learning styles such as hands-on forms of learning; creating an empathetic environment in which barriers to learning can be addressed; offering a blend of education programs through work to increase confidence and self worth; and ensuring the workplace is respectful and inclusive.   

And since the research had been released, two of the case study organisations had made changes to their internal practices to increase social impact. 

“So we’re pleased to see that,” chief researcher and director of CSI Swinburne, Professor Jo Barraket, told Pro Bono News. 

Social enterprises miss out 

But she said that despite all of this, social enterprises were still not recognised in the employment services system, making it hard for them to grow. 

“So even though they do fantastic work, the capacity to scale that work is limited by public policy arrangements and the fact that they are not recognised in the service system,” Barraket said. 

She said that mainstream employment support services primarily focused on behavioural and individual responsibility for health, rather than its structural causes, and that had to change. 

“But now, more than ever, we’re going to need to activate the economy. There needs to be job creation as well as employment and active labour market programs,” she said. 

She said she hoped the guide would also be picked up by policy makers at both a state and federal level. 

“They really need to consider social enterprises as models that could really help us build back better post-COVID,” she said. 

A full copy of the guide can be found here. 


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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