The role of local networks in developing social capital and empowering young people: a case study
In Victoria, a system of local learning and employment networks is developing social capital and empowering young people at the grassroots level.
Social capital refers to the benefits that formal or informal social networks provide to their members. It has been described as 'connections among individuals - social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.' (Putnam 2000, p.19). An empowerment perspective tells us that outcomes for young people can only truly be improved when the young people themselves are given knowledge, skills and other resources to pursue their education and careers.
This article describes the role of the Maribyrnong and Moonee Valley Local Learning and Employment Network (M & MV LLEN), situated in Melbourne's inner north western suburbs, in establishing social capital. The M & MV LLEN is currently facilitating a range of projects, bringing together local education providers, industry, government organisations, community organisations and individuals, in order to overcome practices that limit the education, employment and training opportunities of 15 to 19 year-olds.
Victoria's education and training system went through extreme turbulence in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A new post compulsory qualification, known as the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE), was introduced, and the State's technical schools were closed. Vocational education and training was integrated into the secondary school curriculum, and supplemented through the Vocational Education and Training (VET) program in schools.
Over the same period, a recession saw employment opportunities, especially for young people, diminish sharply.
In August 2000, the Kirby Report recommended '[t]he Government should aim to develop and nurture a state-wide pattern of local planning networks consisting of relevant education and training providers, industry and other agencies' (DEET, 2000, p.11). The networks were to 'develop collaborative approaches towards planning and improved delivery of post compulsory education and training programs and services', and 'investigate and trial key elements of regional coordination and delivery of programs as outlined in [the] report'.
In response, the Victorian Government established local planning networks (LLENs), in all local government areas across the State, to improve retention rates and provide genuine opportunities for young people in education, employment and training. The establishment of the networks was further supported in the framework of the Growing Victoria Together strategy, that 'explicitly recognises the important role of active and inclusive social, cultural and volunteer networks in building cohesive communities' (ABS 2002, p.2).
Maribyrnong and Moonee Valley Local Learning and Employment Network
The Maribyrnong and Moonee Valley Local Learning and Employment Network was incorporated in May 2001, as part of the State Government's initiative to create local solutions in local communities.
While the regions of Maribyrnong and Moonee Valley reflect very different demographics, there are similar concerns raised in both areas regarding the education, training and employment outcomes for young people.
In the city of Maribyrnong, there are pockets of extreme socio-economic disadvantage. One important aspect emerging from this is the high proportion of young people from non-English speaking backgrounds. Fifty-two percent of residents speak a language other than English at home, with 30% speaking little or no English. (ABS, 2001).
There are 10 government schools and five Catholic secondary schools in the region, as well as 2 TAFEs and 1 university.
The M & MV LLEN has played a crucial role in addressing the needs of young people in the region, and is currently facilitating a range of projects.
In June 2002, the M & MV LLEN implemented a structured mentoring program, using volunteers from the local community to assist young people at risk of not completing their secondary schooling. The program provides young people with the resources they need to make informed decisions, and alerts them to issues such as the changing labour market, the rising age for articulation into apprenticeships and the changing skills needed in the workforce.
Mentors are volunteers who are recruited and trained. Current mentors include local community members, parents from the school community, university students, self-employed people and members of the corporate sector who have time release for the program.
The program encourages young people, through the provision of positive adult role models, to take control of their futures by building self-esteem, improving their networks, increasing their knowledge of the options available, developing personal support, and increasing familiarity with further education providers and local industry.
The program expanded to three schools in 2003, and 6 schools in 2004.
Accreditation of Informal Learning (Community Learning Project)
Some skills and learning gained through community participation are valued by employers, but are not always recognised in formal education settings. This project provided a model for schools to recognise and credit learning as it occurs in the community. It also developed a framework for the delivery and assessment of the personal development component of the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL). A key outcome from this project is the development of a range of mechanisms which engage young people at risk of leaving school in their community, and the recognition that such connection is a key protective factor. Young people are encouraged to reflect on the skills they learn in informal community settings, and are able to document these for later reference in job applications and school accreditation.
Culturally Specific Community Building
Through the Horn of Africa Project, the M & MV LLEN is addressing the difficulties and barriers faced by young migrants and refugees, particularly in relation to their participation and outcomes in education, employment and training. The project seeks to bring together representatives of the community, and those from the education and training sectors who are involved with these students, to share information and respond to the special needs of this group. The project has drawn on a wide range of expertise across different sectors and agencies, and has resulted in a number of recommendations being made that M & MV LLEN is now systematically addressing.
Pathways and Transition
To assist young people to understand the system they are entering, the Victorian Government has provided funding to develop pathway plans for young people in all government schools. Managed Individual Pathways (MIPs) are a tool that allows young people to explore how they might achieve their goals.
The M & MV LLEN has established a network of schools so that they can share their approaches and discuss issues regarding the implementation of MIPs. It is now evident that information gained through MIPs has increased schools' awareness of the different learning styles of young people, and the need to provide a range of programs, recognising that the delivery of compartmentalised knowledge is not always appropriate.
The M & MV LLEN has also set up a VCAL support network that has provided a regular forum for schools within the LLEN to exchange ideas and initiatives. In addition, the M & MV LLEN is also piloting its Mentoring Program with a school VCAL group as part of the Personal Development strand. Feedback from the VCAL coordinators indicates a turn around in approaches to learning, for both individuals and schools.
Through the School Based New Apprenticeship program, links are being made between training organisations, employers, schools, parents, youth workers and young people.
Local planning networks have an immensely important role in developing social capital and empowering young people. Anecdotal evidence and data suggest that social capital is fundamental in improving education, employment and training outcomes, and, just as importantly, education, employment and training improve social capital. It is vital that the system of local coordination and collaboration continues to be utilised, to increase and improve participation and outcomes for all young people in employment, education, and training.
This article is abridged version of a paper presented at the 'Connections that Count' conference at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, 2003.
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Subject HeadingsVET (Vocational Education and Training)