The Youth Employment Program (YEP) is a partnership between PSI affiliate the Community and Public Sector Union – State Public Service Federation (CPSU – SPSF) and the state government of Victoria, Australia. The union co-designed it as an immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic, part of the State government’s economic stimulus package and also aimed at making the Victorian Public Service (VPS) more reflective of the state’s diverse population.
Governments must take more of a role in pursuing employment programs that work in partnership with unions, providing relevant training and on the job experience
YEP offers a practical, scalable example of a union working closely with government to build a more just post-pandemic future. Key architect of the program, CPSU- SPSF Victorian State Secretary Karen Batt, says governments must “take more of a role in pursuing employment programs that work in partnership with unions, providing relevant training and on the job experience.”
Public services should reflect the communities they serve
The YEP scheme currently employs over 350 people between the ages of 17 to 29 in both regional Victoria and Melbourne across a diverse array of roles. Examples of positions taken by YEP participants include Youth Inclusion Officer in the Education, Inclusion and Youth Engagement team for the Victorian Electoral Commission, and Project & Communications Officer in the Office for Youth, part of Fairer Victoria. These are roles that allow young workers to gain practical, hands-on experience in working in the public service to build a more just, equitable society.
As part of their contracts, young workers undertake a unit of accredited training in public sector administration and are provided with career transition support in the final two months of their contract, allowing them to complete their placement with experience, a qualification, and often a clear pathway in the public service.
It is important that there are clear and diverse career paths to ensure training and development opportunities for all
The program also aims to make the public service more diverse at a time when young people, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities, women and First Nations people have been disproportionately disadvantaged by job losses. Accordingly, departments were encouraged to create positions available to applicants from diverse backgrounds.
“It is important that there are clear and diverse career paths to ensure training and development opportunities for all, said Ms. Batt, “the VPS should reflect the community it serves.”
For a fair, equitable and future-focused recovery
To drive the program's success, the union has also employed two Support Officers, Madeline Hince and Ryan Armstrong, to work closely with YEP participants, including organising and facilitating virtual and in-person networking and social events, and providing opportunities for young workers to build networks, support each other, and develop professionally together. At a time when lockdowns and restrictions have increased isolation and disengagement, this additional level of support and connection with the union has seen a growing number of participants join the union as members
The union’s Support Officers also liaise between the young workers and program management team at Jobs Victoria to relay young worker insights and feedback. This feedback makes clear the life-changing effect the program has had, with one young worker reflecting:
“I didn't have a job for 8 months, my 2-year window for graduate job was running out and I have multiple disabilities. I was 1 month away from losing my apartment and was giving up on the prospect of having a professional career. This program pulled me out of poverty, thank you.”
There is much talk of ‘building back better’, all too often focused on strengthening the recovery of the private sector.
There is much talk of ‘building back better’, all too often focused on strengthening the recovery of the private sector. The YEP scheme offers a practical alternative in which good, well paid and supported public service jobs are created for those most in need of society’s support.
“Governments play a critical leadership role in economic recovery to ensure that populations return to work in a meaningful and purposeful way,” reflected Ms. Batt. “Unions stand ready to work with them to ensure that the recovery is fair, equitable and future-focused.”