A growing number of Sunshine Coast residents are looking to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable and at-risk young people, with TAFE enrolments surging in the field of youth work.
After spending most of his working life as a manual labourer, Kristian Pike started studying a Certificate IV in Youth Work in 2021.
His eyes were opened to the world of social services and their incredible work when he met his partner and her daughters at a women’s refuge that neighboured where he lived.
With the young girls traumatised from a past experience of domestic violence, Mr Pike — a father-of-two himself — found himself regularly interacting with child and youth mental health agencies in an effort to support their recovery.
“I found myself particularly inspired by a child and youth mental health worker who used to come and essentially mentor my partner’s eldest daughter — she made such a huge difference in this child’s life, and I thought, ‘I’d love to do that,” Mr Pike said.
He applied to volunteer with the Integrated Family and Youth Service and started looking at study options that would give him the knowledge and skills that would be most helpful to young, at-risk individuals.
His search led him to enrol in the Certificate IV in Youth Work online, which he was able to access at a heavily-discounted rate under the State and Federal Government’s joint JobTrainer funding.
“The funding helped me immensely — I don’t know if I would have been as likely to do the course if it wasn’t subsidised as I had been a full-time carer and I would have had to have taken a loan out to study otherwise,” Mr Pike said.
The number of enrolments for a Certificate IV in Youth Work, at TAFE Queensland’s Mooloolaba campus, increased by 156 percent in the 2021/2022 financial year.
The boost comes after the Department of Education, Skills and Employment projected a 16.4 percent rise in employment opportunities for social and welfare professionals from 2020 to 2025.
Demand for welfare support workers on the Sunshine Coast has nearly doubled during the past five years, with the National Skills Commission reporting that the region experienced a 25 percent growth in the last year alone.
TAFE Queensland Faculty Director for Community Services, Health and Sport (East Coast region) Craig Wright said the figures reflect the impacts the pandemic has had on the community.
“For the most vulnerable members of our community, the effects of COVID-19 have been far-reaching, extending beyond the obvious physical health concerns to impact mental health, family dynamics and even housing,” Mr Wright said.
“This pandemic has created a pressure cooker situation – a strain that although felt by the majority of us at some point or another, has been much more intense for our at-risk youth.
“That’s why it’s so important for us to have skilled youth workers in the community supporting our youth, helping them to feel less isolated and empowering them to take charge of their lives.”
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Although he is not due to graduate until July, Mr Pike secured paid work in the industry, and has been working with an agency for the past four months in a residential carer role that he said changed his life.
“I get to be there to help these amazing young people achieve their goals, no matter how big or small — whether it’s gaining part-time work or simply sewing a button on a shirt,” he said.
“And many of them have come from difficult or traumatic backgrounds, so seeing them smile is the most rewarding thing.”
While not everyone has what it takes to be a youth worker, Mr Pike said they do have the power to make a difference in the lives of at-risk young people, not just by supporting youth organisations like Headspace, but by showing compassion.
“I think the saying, ‘A society will be judged by how it treats its weakest members’ is true,” he said.
“It doesn’t take much to be nice to people and show them some understanding, because you don’t know their background and what they’ve had to overcome.”
To find out more about the Certificate IV in Youth Work, visit TAFE Queensland or call 1300 308 233.