July 15, 2019

Posted by:

By Gina Chinnery


Across the globe, young people are more likely to face unemployment, job uncertainty and poorly paid work than their older counterparts. Today is World Youth Skills Day, and this year’s theme is ‘Learning to learn for life and work’. Gina Chinnery, National Vocational Services Manager, Orygen discusses how two new vocational support programs help young people with mental ill-health learn the skills they need for work.

Youth is a critical period for educational achievement, learning vocational skills, and early employment experience and training. Youth is also the time when the majority of mental health problems arise, with 75% of all serious mental health conditions starting before the age of 25. Unsurprisingly, mental ill-health is a major driver of youth disengagement from work and study. A study examining the prevalence of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) who were seeking help for mental health problems found one in five young people were not in any form of education, employment or training.

Individual Placement and Support (IPS) is the most evidence-based and effective form of employment support for people experiencing serious mental illness. Twenty-five randomised controlled trials (RCTs) have shown a significant advantage for the IPS model, including a trial of IPS undertaken with a youth cohort at Orygen, Australia’s leading youth mental health research centre.

The Australian Government in 2015 funded an initial three-year trial of IPS in 14 headspace centres across Australia. In 2019 the government allocated an additional $17 million to extend and expand IPS services to a further 10 headspace centres, taking the number of IPS headspace sites to 24.

Although the IPS model is highly successful, the youth employment landscape in Australia continues to change and evolve. The Foundation for Young Australians New Work Order report outlines some of these changes, including: an increased demand for applicants with strong enterprising or ‘soft’ skills; an increase in the use of automation in many entry-level work settings; a marked decrease of young Australians in full-time work, with increases in insecure and casual employment arrangements; and, a greater need for young people to develop career management skills to enable effective economic participation throughout their working life.

Given the new challenges experienced by young people to gaining and maintaining work in Australia – even more so for young people experiencing mental ill-health, – there is scope to not only enhance the IPS model but also introduce new approaches, using peer work and technology, to improve employment outcomes for young people.

Orygen is currently trialling two new approaches to enhance and expand vocational supports for young people with mental ill health:

1. Embedding youth vocational peer workers into IPS teams.

2. Introducing a moderated online career platform – Youth Online Training and Employment System (YOTES) – into local headspace centres.

Orygen’s Jobs Victoria IPS employment program has introduced youth vocational peer workers to work collaboratively with vocational specialists and clinicians who are supporting young people looking for work. Peer support can be defined as social, emotional or practical support that is mutually offered and reciprocal. In an employment context, peer support can involve discussions about disclosing mental health to employers, practising interview or work-based communication skills, or developing strategies to maintain good mental health when balancing work and study.

YOTES is currently being trialled in four headspace centres in Victoria, Australia. YOTES is designed to assist any young person with mental ill-health who wants support to explore their career, education and employment opportunities in a safe online space. The system provides users with access to a team of online career specialists and peer workers. It supports young people to build career confidence and ‘soft’ skills, while encouraging social interactions with other young people experiencing similar challenges.

A YOTES can reach large numbers of young people, including those in regional or remote areas, and its content is easily adaptable to meet the needs of a local community. This means it can support socially isolated young people, young people that are working part-time and studying, or young people who are underemployed and seeking ongoing expert career support.

It can be difficult enough for young people to navigate the challenges of education, work and the transitions between them. Young people experiencing mental ill-health face even greater challenges. Vocational peer work and the YOTES platform hold considerable potential to increase the capacity of mental health services to deliver vocational support to young people with mental ill-health.