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About the Virtual Peer-Learning Employment Storytelling Project

Addressing youth unemployment is a priority[i] because employment is so intimately related to other pressing societal issues: poverty, hunger, delinquency, safety and societal health. Mentoring organisations have identified that the dearth of mentors leaves an overwhelming and ever increasing support gap to assist at-risk youth. How else may we support disaffected youth in believing that they indeed can be productive?

Gaining one’s first job can be challenging but for marginalized youth (such as refugees, migrants or youth from vulnerable families) it can become insurmountable. Technology, however, can facilitate workforce entry, particularly because youth is so engaged in consuming and sharing new media. Our Virtual Mentoring Model is powerful because youth best learn from peers they can identify with and who have overcome difficulties similar to theirs. These positive peers are not in the limelight, which is why it is important to identify them and interview them, however, when their narratives are shared, they provide an authentic and powerful inspiration for at-risk youth. The audience identifies with these role models and start challenging years of disengagement with empowerment (“I can do this too”). The NZ Human Right Commission showcased our previous research in this domain because it showed high uptake across ethnicities and socio-economic background.[ii]

Outcome and impact: We will design an online series featuring stories with unusual, innovative employment or self-employment solutions for youth to access directly - thus overcoming barriers/reluctance to access services[iii]. This online series will collate 5 stories featuring ideas that some youth may be exposed to for the first time. Our established wide network of community organisations will, as in the past, promote the online material to at-risk youth, their youth workers and other community organisations. This activity is designed to bring disengaged youth closer to the professional services dedicated to helping them intensively. This is an early intervention (top rather than bottom of the cliff) because of the significant value of productivity and engagement[iv].

We are versed in evaluation and success measurement - impact is central to all our activities. Our past projects have been taken up widely [> 1500 youth engaged in internet activity; > 1500 in social media/Facebook participation; Online programme expected to reach 1000 young learners soon; General reach YouTube channel >22.000 views]. We have collected past evidence that at-risk youth used and shared virtual peer mentoring video material on different topics via mobile devices/internet. Impact users’ interviews will detail how stories inspired them into action and how this action, in turn, made a difference to them and people around them.

[i] “Youth rate of unemployment has risen noticeably higher than the rate for all unemployed people over the last five years. The 2007-08 recession is continuing to have a huge impact on available employment options for young people” and ”The number of young people (18-24) receiving the unemployment benefit increased during the 2007-08 recession. The increase was greater in this age group than in any other age group” (Cox, A. & Black, R. (2012) Employment and Skills Shortages: Opportunities for Young People in the Waikato, Poverty Action Waikato - Our Workforce: Our Youth. p.13)

[ii] Janson, A. (2012) Engaging multicultural at-risk youth in transition to tertiary education and the workplace. New Zealand Race Relation Report to the UN Convention for Human Rights, Race Relations Commission (Diversity Research), Wellington.

[iii] A Waikato study (IndieFilm; personal communication) confirmed global results that the use of social networks is very high amongst youth across socio-economic backgrounds, that a high proportion have shared video on a social network and that the vast majority used smartphones in order to access the internet and share content with their friends online. Our aim is to take advantage of this extensive use of technology in order to promote these messages.

[iv] One example of documented impact is about disseminating multi-media stories to young Maori audiences. A TPK study showed that amongst the 15-24 year old Maori audiences who use the multimedia capability of their mobile phones, 72% take videos and 69% watch videos or listen to audio content. Hence disseminating audio-visual interviews with aspirational content is a likely way to reach and influence this audience. The media report that these numbers have increased.