A STRONG focus on community partnerships is helping to turn around the region’s poor record when it comes to youth disengagement from education, employment and training, according to data released by the Northern Mallee Local Learning and Employment Network (NMLLEN).

Data released at the recent NMLLEN Annual General Meeting showed the first turnaround in a decade on critical measures of engagement of young people, with NMLLEN chair, Fiona Harley, PICTURED, praising educators, employers and the community in Mildura and Robinvale for their “combined efforts in implementing innovative programs to turn around young lives.”

The Mallee has struggled with growing disengagement rates for some time, with those rates among the highest in the State. Data from the 2011 Census showed that 8.8 percent of 15 to 19-year-olds, and 22 percent of young people aged between 20 to 24 calling the Mallee home, were not in education, training and employment.

However, Ms Harley told those in attendance at the recent AGM that data from the latest Census in 2016 showed the trend was being reversed. The figures show a one percentage point reduction in the number of disengaged 15 to 19-year-olds, and a two percentage point reduction in the 20 to 24 age group.

Ms Harley said the data was a measure of success for the region’s innovative Flexible Learning Option (FLO) programs.

“These are vital complementary projects that aim to keep vulnerable young people engaged while they are at school, or to reconnect disengaged young people back into school, training or employment,” she said.

“FLO in Schools works with vulnerable young people while they are still at school, and since 2012 there have been 586 students involved, with an average of 84 percent still engaged in education or training in the following year.”

FLO Connect is an education setting that assists and supports those aged between 12 and 18 who are not in school, training or work, to transition back into one of those streams.

“Since commencing in 2014, 225 young people have joined FLO Connect with an average of 77 percent involved in education, training or employment in the following year,” Ms Harley said.

She said the programs have a combined total reach of 811 students, and were starting to provide long-term evidence of the impact that effective interventions could have.

“The board’s grateful for the innovation, passion and collaborative efforts of the schools involved – Mildura Senior College, Red Cliffs, Irymple and Chaffey Secondary Colleges and Merbein P-10,” she said.

“We also wish to acknowledge and thank Red Cliffs Secondary College and Mildura Rural City Council as the key drivers of the FLO Connect program.

“Our combined efforts mean these young people have increased capacity to gain meaningful employment or follow vocational education pathways – which is a life-long outcome.”

In addition, the NMLLEN’s Navigator Pilot Project was working in partnership with the Department of Education and Training, Mildura Rural City Council, FLO Connect and Murray Mallee LLEN.

“The Navigator program involves early intervention and intensive case management support for young people in schools aged 12 to 17 whose attendance is less than 30 percent,” Ms Harley said. “The aim of the program is to re-engage Navigator clients back into school when ready to do so.

“Since the program began in 2016, of the 141 referrals to the program,114 have received case management support, and 61 have returned to education.”

Ms Harley said continued partnerships between government, community-based organisations, industry and community was the key to continuing to improve the region’s outcomes.

“In a nutshell, we should be very proud of what is being achieved,” she said.

“Our interventions are working, but much remains to be done if we are to realise our aspiration for every young person in our community to be involved in education, training or employment.”