How Teaching Kids About Film Can Break The Cycle Of Disadvantage

Youthworx is all about unlocking creativity, and potential.

30/09/2016 7:16 AM AEST | Updated 30/09/2016 9:29 AM AEST
Youthworx began as a pilot project but has since expanded to be a social enterprise that employs graduates of its own film training courses.

A Melbourne-based company that helps marginalised youth to unlock their creativity and find jobs by teaching them film and radio production is one of several social enterprises competing for valuable funding to upscale.

Youthworx began seven years ago as a pilot project partially funded by the Salvation Army through the Youth Development Australia initiative to teach young people who were deemed 'at risk' skills in radio production with community station SYN FM.

But, under the leadership of Jon Staley, it quickly evolved into much more than the initial short workshop-style courses from the project's brief. Through a partnership with NMIT Melbourne, now Melbourne Polytechnic, Youthworx introduced six-monthly Certificates 1, 2 and 3 in Creative Industries -- Media to "buy time" with young people.

"For me it's not enough for a kid to come in and have a one-off experience and say that was great but then in all reality most of the time they go back to their life and there's not that much capacity to change the way they can engage with the world," he told The Huffington Post Australia.

Youthworx founder Jon Staley, right, says the organisation is ready to scale up to help a greater number of marginalised young people.

And, to even further increase engagement levels, Staley created a business -- Youthworx Productions -- that hires graduates. This social enterprise is self-funded via commissioned content pieces and currently employs between five and six young people.

Staley says Yourthworx teaches students aged 15-25 who are referred by variety of organisations. They may be homeless or at risk of being homeless, be on welfare or have left school early and are struggling to get a job and break the cycle of poverty.

Staley says creativity is often overlooked when dealing with kids who are disadvantaged -- but it's a powerful tool that can change lives.

"I think sometimes particularly for kids who have been in this space, often the support services are based around survival skills or they are focused around giving them the most basic skills like coffee making or hairdressing," he said.

"These are fantastic skills to get, but I think they forget that people need to engage creatively and sometimes it's the creative engagement that actually makes you care and makes you want to get out of bed and on the bus and get involved.

"And that's what we are trying to do -- to tap into their capacity."

Staley says the studio environment -- Youthworx is based in an old factory in Brunswick -- helps young people who had trouble learning at school.

"It's a studio learning environment rather than a classroom and I think that has been really important in levelled the playing field and made it a really creative and collaborative space.

"I wanted to created an environment where a young person who was disengaged from learning could come in and, in a safe space with the best possible resources, start to get as creative as possible and get totally immersed in production."

Staley says many students have completed all three Youthworx certificates, others have been inspired to enrol in other TAFE or university courses, some are working full time within the industry and some are employed by Youthworx Productions.

How Youthworx helps young people

Former student Amelia Mazis says Youthworx helped her through a difficult time.

"I was an early school leaver who had no real plans and it was honestly just something to do," she told HuffPost Australia. "The course was created as an engagement tool for young people who had trouble with traditional schooling, which is criteria that I fit into perfectly.

"The experience was one that I will never forget. The course supported me through one of the hardest times in my life and it was a pleasure and extremely beneficial for me to be a part of it.

Amelia Mazis says she left school early and Youthworx gave her a sense of achievement, and a job.

Amelia did all three certificate courses and has been employed with Youthworx Productions for two years creating films for clients and also helping in the classroom.

"The course taught me lots of things, but the main lesson I learned from it was that I can still be a part of society even if I don't fit into mainstream schooling," she said.

How funding can make a difference

Staley wants to employ many more but, as the business essentially runs on the smell of an oily rag, he realised he needed some guidance. A grant from the City of Melbourne allowed him to participate in the Two Feet program run by The Difference Incubator, a six-month intensive course designed to help social enterprises develop a profitable and sustainable business model.

TDi CEO Bessi Graham says there are a lot of ways for businesses whose purpose is solely about doing good to make money -- and it's actually imperative for them to do so and not rely on grants.

"I think social enterprise are the way of the future for small business and they are a game changer, but only if they can actually build a commercial model into the business," she told HuffPost Australia.

TDi CEO Bessi Graham says there's plenty of investment money out there for social enterprises.

"For me there is an ethical obligation in that case to say if there could be a commercial model you should not sit in a grant reliance space."

Through the course startups learn to develop the intent of their business, marketing, how to test their products, how to measure the social outcomes they are trying to achieve and what Graham calls "investment 101" -- financial modelling, value proposition to customers and how to pitch to investors.

Up to 40 startups will complete the program across the three cities with the top two chosen by their peers and TDi in each state. Those four will then have the chance to pitch to an expert panel, including a judge from The Huffington Post Australia.

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