Working it Out

Those struggling to enter the workforce, particularly young people and people with a disability, often haven’t got the support they’ve needed during Australia’s long economic boom. Fortunately, Inner West employers, educational institutions and youth workers are now working on an innovative solution to avoid local jobseekers falling through the cracks. 

Monica Babbage is confident, friendly and especially accommodating. After meeting me once, when I vaguely explained I was going to be writing a story on the course she was partaking in, she agreed to be interviewed, photographed and even act as Ciao’s cover person for this edition. It wasn’t like we were talking about something trivial like her favourite café or a new watch, we were talking about something quite personal – her employment, or, indeed, lack of it.

You see, despite embodying pretty much every adjective thrown around in job listings these days, Monica, at the age of 18, has been looking for a job for nearly two years.

“I have wanted to work ever since I moved to Sydney. I moved down here to get a better education because there wasn’t much in Gloucester for Dyslexia, and there weren’t many jobs. I was 15 when I did that, ” Monica told me.

“Was that a big decision?” I asked her.

“Yes, yes it was.”

Living in Marrickville away from her home town and the support of her parents, Monica also faces the challenge of Dyslexia, a learning disability that describes a difference in the brain’s ability to interpret graphic symbols (particularly important in reading and writing), that does not reflect Monica’s intelligence.

These differences make job training via wrote learning, and the emerging trend of submitting job applications online, particularly tedious for Monica – not to mention the tedium of employee prejudice.

“I have got a bit knocked down sometimes from people because of my disability but now I am much more confident,” she said.

“I have spoken to a lot of young people and it is hard to get a job. They don’t have disabilities and it’s still hard. You can’t just walk in and have a conversation or hand in your resume and get a job these days. I know its not just me struggling, it is everyone.”

This feeling of struggle has definitely been cemented in numbers; youth unemployment in Australia is at its highest in 12 years: 6 per cent nationally and 6.6 per cent in Sydney’s inner west. In the mid-north coast of NSW, the region of Monica’s hometown of Gloucester, the rate is more than double: 13.3 per cent of youth are unemployed.

For young people with a disability, the current climate is also particularly challenging. Only 62% of young people with a disability are fully engaged in study or work.

Thankfully, however, a small group of Inner West businesses and services are taking notice.

In response to stories like Monica’s, the Marrickville Youth Resources Centre has been piloting a free hospitality course funded by the Clubs Grants and the ANZ Staff Foundation to help local young people bolster their chances of landing a career.

The youth centre collaborated with a team of local businesses and not-for-profits including Canterbury Hurlstone Park School of Hospitality, Lentil as Anything and Dressed for Success,  to provide 18 students with a practical, employment- ready package.

The students received accredited training in hygiene, barista, customer service, workshops on resume writing, job interviews, presentation, time management and dealing with conflict at work. They also received their RSA and RCG, and a week’s worth of interview appropriate clothing.

Director of the Marrickville Youth Resources Centre and youth worker, Dana Warrington, says she organised the course due to experiences she was hearing about at the centre.

“Young people were talking about looking for jobs but also the obstacles to not getting trained,” she said.

“Employees are more and more looking for people who are experienced and know what they are doing, which is a double edged sword for young people who are out of school and just don’t have that experience. We knew we had to develop a course that would give them the skills and confidence to get in to those roles, not just a certificate but a whole package,” Dana explained.

Increasingly, customer-service roles are requiring formal training or accreditation like the RSA, RCG and certificates in retail services. While this assures a more consistent skill-set for employees, it poses extra challenges for entry-level job seekers who are already at risk.

“Some of the young people who took this course come from families with engrained and inter-generational disadvantage, and also people just learn differently. Some of them have not finished their schooling, so they are a bit behind in their numeracy and literacy. It was important to give them alternatives to finishing written parts of the assessments, and the CHP School of Hospitality was really good at doing that,” Dana said.

Marla and Pangarli, who both completed the course with Monica, said that the RSA and RCG accreditation was its biggest draw card.

Marla, who has been working since the legal age of thirteen, would love one day to be a teacher. Pangarli, who currently works as a mechanic, hopes his new accreditation will assist his search for a career that makes the most of his people skills, and is less physically intensive.

Manager of the CHP School of Hospitality, Kate Griffiths, says that communities working together to create opportunities for disengaged youth is very important.

“We wanted to bring them into a warm and welcoming environment and give them the practical skills to find employment. Working together is important to giving people in the area job opportunities and we had high success rates, so if they don’t get employments here (at the Canterbury Hurlstone Park RSL) then they are definitely prepared to find work in the local area,” she said.

Dana says that they are hoping to run the course twice next year, and will be accrediting each workshop through Petersham TAFE. However, more help from the community is needed.

“We want to get more local businesses involved and hopefully link them up to give participants works experience and paid work trials. This will give them more of a chance and open some more doors  – with further cuts to education and training for young people, we are expecting over time there will be even more of a barrier to work,” Dana said.

Having completed the course, Monica Babbage feels more certain about her career prospects and is currently in the interview process for a job at the Canterbury Hurlstone Park RSL.

To other young people looking for work Monica says, “Never give up.”

“Don’t be scared you won’t be able to do it and if a employee knocks you back, get back up and be confident because, in the end, that’s what they are looking for,” she said.

Marrickville Youth Resources Centre is a generalist youth service for people under the age of 24 years. It provides a recreational space for young people, as well as casework services and events.

Visit their website at:

Currently looking for a job?

Pay a visit to the Inner West Skills Centre, which is a non-for-profit community based resource centre that specialises in helping youth and people with a disability find work and undergo training. Head to: or their centre: Suite 5, Level 2, 1-17 Elsie Street, Burwood.

The Metro Migrant Resource Centre in Ashfield provides employment services to people newly migrated to Australia who are living in Canterbury Bankstown, Inner Sydney and Inner Western Sydney districts. Call them on 9798 1701 or visit the centre at Suite 1, 260 Liverpool Road, Ashfield.

Dress for Success is an international charity and job support agency with a branch in Sydney’s inner west which provides work attire for women free of charge. They provide advice on what to wear to interviews and also host a range of workshops on job-seeking skills such as resume writing and interview technique. You can visit their showroom from Monday to Friday call 1800 77 3456 for more information.