The charity sector is challenging business leaders to join a national campaign aimed at encouraging young people to embrace education and the opportunities it presents.
Each year, 86,000 kids don’t finish school, and many more are underperforming. The evidence tells us that if you don’t complete year 12 your prospects of employment are substantially reduced, and you face a greater chance of bouts of homelessness, poverty, and ill-health. There are always going to be students who leave school for various reasons, but the simple fact is the figure is too high.
If we’re going to encourage our next generation to get a decent education and to dream big, we all need to start playing our part – and that includes businesses.
Our call comes as part of the charity sector’s It Takes a Village campaign – aimed at encouraging everyone, not just parents and teachers, to recognise the role we can all play in encouraging our kids to stay in education and to dream big. The campaign is an initiative of Community Council for Australia, in partnership with the Origin Foundation.
Industry-school partnerships have important, even life-changing impacts, and we need to see more of them. Take the example of Mariam Ajang, a Brisbane student for whom education and a business internship have made a big difference.
Fleeing civil war in South Sudan, Mariam Ajang arrived from a Kenyan refugee camp with her mother and five older brothers when she was just two years old.
Mariam remembers little about her birthplace, Kakuma, a UNHCR refugee camp in north-western Kenya. It houses more than 180,000 refugees from more than 20 different countries, including South Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. But she remembers the early days in Brisbane as awe-inspiring and difficult.
Throughout her early years at school Mariam found that although she had plenty of ideas in her head, she lacked the language to express them. “I felt dumb and out of place” she reveals and was worried others would laugh if she mispronounced words. By grade 1 she was determined to break down the language barrier and started taking home books each day and constantly reading and writing.
It paid off. Today she’s a Year 12 student at St James College, a small independent school in central Brisbane. 31% of its students come from a non-English speaking background, and 6% are Indigenous. The school offers fully funded scholarships to migrant and refugee students, has strong community values and encourages all students to “give back” through its volunteering program with local charities.
St James College is also supported by the Beacon Foundation – an Origin Foundation volunteer partner.
Together with her class, Mariam visited Origin in early 2018, as part of a Beacon Foundation initiative to familiarise students with industry and workplaces. The visit inspired her to apply for a school-based traineeship a few months later with Origin’s Workplace Services team in Brisbane, in partnership with Beacon. It meant Mariam could continue with her studies while gaining valuable work experience one day per week and obtain a Certificate III in Business.
Mariam said the moment she told her mother she’d secured the internship, Sarah knew she’d done the right thing by her children. “This has opened another pathway for me. It’s helping me develop new skills and showed me there’s more than one way to reach my goals.”
In the months that she undertook her placement, her manager Kayla Nemaia saw her confidence grow.
“Mariam really came out of her shell”, Kayla says. “I saw this in the way she answered phone calls, transferred them and easily engaged in conversation with visitors and staff. She has such great energy and was a great fit with the team, taking on any small admin task with a smile and a “can do” attitude.”
It seems that confidence is translating to the classroom, too. Mariam has been appointed female School Captain at St James for 2019.
Traineeships like Mariam’s don’t just benefit students. Kayla reports that “having Mariam at the reception desk and the team sharing their knowledge with her has also been a great way for us to take on a mentoring role, which we’ve really enjoyed.”
Mariam plans to go on to university but at this stage is unsure what to study, given she has so many interests. She figures “if I work hard now I’ll be rewarded with the option of choice – and this motivates me”.
Mariam Ajang and her Origin Manager, Kayla Nemaia
Of course there are many fantastic examples of businesses playing an important role in mentoring and encouraging our next generations through work experience and by building bridges between business and schools with mentoring and job readiness programs, however much more needs to be done.
They say "it takes a village to raise a child", and that is the point of our campaign, aimed at mobilising the community to support Australia’s young people and encourage them to embrace education and the opportunities it brings.