Maritime program throws lifeline to troubled youth

Monday, 14 July 2014
“School held absolutely no interest for me and I just could not see the point of bothering to turn up.”
For 15-year-old Michael, from Melville, high school was little more than an environment where his confidence was routinely sapped and his self-esteem undermined.
Illiteracy, unstable home lives, substance abuse, health issues and personal turmoil are just some of the catalysts for students to retreat from school life.
When Michael’s regular absenteeism and non-existent grades came to the attention of the Department of Education, he was introduced to Challenger Institute of Technology in Fremantle.
For more than a decade the Maritime Youth Program (MYP), conducted at Challenger and funded by the Education Department, has been throwing a career lifeline to struggling high school-age students like Michael.
Students who complete the six-week MYP course attain a Certificate I in Fishing Operations and a Recreational Skippers Ticket.
The Education Department’s Participation Unit identifies students who might benefit from the MYP. Sometimes the schools alert the unit to students who require intervention. Other students, including those who have moved to new suburbs and not engaged with their new local school, are identified when they turn up at youth centres, charities or other support agencies.
Challenger marine and logistics lecturer Andrew Ings has orchestrated and witnessed the difference the course can make to the lives of the teenagers who stick it out.
“We've had young people who have barely attended high school turn their lives around completely,” he said.
“Some have gone on to pre-apprenticeships at major shipbuilding companies in Henderson, others have found work on fishing boats and with boat refurbishment firms, or they’ve found employment on the Rottnest Express and in other maritime and marine industries,” Mr Ings said.
Some students go on to complete the Certificate II in Fishing Operations or other maritime courses at Challenger.
For these successful students, careers as deckhands in the resources and fishing sectors can await, while a handful have gone on to obtain integrated ratings and master class certificates that allow them to skipper large commercial vessels.
The collaboration between Challenger and the Department of Education provides an opportunity to tailor individual pathway plans for each of the young people to follow after the course.
Education Department engagement and transitions manager Joel Woods said the students’ difficult backgrounds sometimes elicited respect for the daunting obstacles they had overcome and dealt with in their lives. For others, a lack of confidence had created a cycle of academic failure that needed to be broken.
“Education Department and Challenger representatives meet regularly to discuss the course, what is working, what can be improved and to ensure that the expected outcomes from the funding are being achieved,” Mr Woods said.
“The Maritime Youth Program is unique in WA and provides an opportunity for our at-risk and disengaged young people to access a course that would usually be out of reach.
“With funding availability and Challenger's support, we hope to continue with this important program,” he said.
During a lesson on a Challenger training boat in Fremantle Harbour, Michael summed up how the course changed lives.
“For the first time in my life, I feel like I am achieving something. The guys doing the course are now my mates and we’re not embarrassed in front of each other if we get something wrong – it’s going alright for once.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Challenger lecturer Andrew Ings provides guidance to a Maritime Youth Program student.
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