Career support for young people in ADF families

As far as I’m aware, there are no specific programs for the children of ADF members. And I think that should change. (see note 2)

Research shows that effective career development begins in primary school and should be available to people throughout their lives. Career development is essential for people to make good choices about education, training and work and to manage the career transitions they will experience throughout life. When you consider how turbulent the labour market currently is as a result of technological disruption and the effects of the pandemic it becomes clear why there is a growing need for quality career development support. Young people are discovering who they are, what they like, and who they may become in a rapidly changing labour market at a time when youth (15-24) unemployment is twice that of adults and is only just coming down from one of the highest rates in years.

So why career support specifically for the young people in ADF families?

  1. We make career choices in the context of the circumstances surrounding us. And for young people in ADF families that can mean relocations around the country and the world. Understanding how these experiences shape and influence them is important for their self understanding, and their understanding of where they fit in the world.
  2. Relocation affects young people’s careers in many of the same ways it affects partners. It can mean a change of school, a change of education system, job changes, unemployment – career disruptions that influence opportunities and outcomes.
  3. The skills and attributes that young people gain being part of an ADF family can be valuable to their education and work. Career development can help them capitalize on these strengths.

Here are some examples of where specialized support for young people in ADF families could help above and beyond what is available to them via their schools and other programs:

a. Shayne is a young person who is considering a school-based apprenticeship. They are 16 years old and keen to combine learning a trade with completing their Year 12 certificate. They secure an apprenticeship with a great employer and commence their trade quals via their local public school. They are a year into it when mum or dad get posting orders. Who will help them understand their options, and navigate the choices they need to make?

b. Take a family where mum or dad is a serving ADF member, the other parent has a great job they love, and the young person is thriving in the local school and enjoying their casual job in which they are doing really well and catching the manager’s attention for the value they are adding and their leadership potential. Then the ADF parent gets posted. And the whole family is deciding whether to move, or remain in location. The top 2 reasons ADF families go “MWDU” (Married with dependents, unaccompanied) and live apart from one another are children’s education, and partner employment. If MWDU isn’t a career development issue I don’t know what is! This family needs holistic support around career decision making, finances, lifestyle, and wellbeing. Can the system currently provide them with what they need?

c. Charlie is 15. They don’t know what they want to do after school but they are building important career skills in their new casual job. It wasn’t easy getting the job but luckily they had lived in the area for a while and had some good insights into the local labour market via school, friends, and their parents friends from the local sporting club. But now the family is moving to a country town where they don’t know anyone and unemployment is pretty high. Charlie is worried they won’t be able to find a new casual job that fits with school hours. They’ve heard it is a “who you know” job market. Who will help Charlie understand the new labour market, how people find and apply for jobs there, and help them with their job application?

d. Blaze is 17 and has almost completed Year 11 at school. They have spent a lot of time deciding on what subjects to study in Year 11 and 12 and are on the path toward their preferred occupation which requires a university degree. They are working a casual job and building skills and savings. Then mum or dad gets exciting news – a posting overseas! But that means a whole new school system. Will the subjects be the same? What happens after school? Can they go to university in that country? And if they can will the course they want to do be available? And the posting won’t be for as long as it will take them finish school and university. But, the experience of living overseas is the opportunity of a lifetime! Imagine the skills they could develop living in another country! Who will help Blaze understand their options, work through the pros and cons, and help them make a good decision?

e. Jaymie’s family have lived in the same posting location for the past 5 years. Jaymie has done all their high school here and now they are ready to embark on their first “real” job. They’ve secured a traineeship with one of the major consultancy firms in the city. As a traineeship it doesn’t pay that much so Jaymie is relying on living at home while they complete it. Mum is on board with that plan and everything is going well. But then Jaymie’s mum finds out she’s being medically discharged from the ADF. And she’s not sure that she can afford to buy a house in their current location. A move interstate seems the most likely option. But Jaymie’s mum doesn’t know what type of work she wants to do, or can get, in the civilian workplace so there is a lot of upheaval happening. Who is going to support Jaymie to navigate their major school to work career transition at the same time as their mum is navigating her own major transition from the ADF to the civilian workforce?

There are fantastic careers advisors in schools but the reality is in most education systems they are not funded well enough to support each and every student in a meaningful way. So many young people are experiencing challenging circumstances and the system triages them to try and help where help is most needed. It’s far from ideal. These examples have only touched on older teens, but education challenges are faced by ADF children and young people of all ages.

What can we do to help?

  1. Recognize that young people already have enough upheaval to deal with in today’s world and that young people in the ADF may be facing some unique challenges on top of that.
  2. Respond to these needs by providing access to high quality, tailored career development support for young people in ADF families. Make it available at key decision points, but build it into the system by making it a regular part of education and of ADF family support. There’s a current program of Defence School Mentors. Imagine if we had the same but as well as Defence Mentors we had qualified and experienced career professionals in schools who understand the unique needs of young people in ADF families.
  3. Careers professionals in Defence Member and Family Support (or funding to individuals and families) that can provide holistic support to families and tailored support to young people who don’t have access to careers advisors in schools.
  4. Continue to advocate for standardized school starting ages across the country, and for systems that minimize disruption when moving from state to state.
  5. An online DMFS job board where local employers can advertise casual jobs, traineeships, and apprenticeships.

Note 1: this article has focused on the young people in families with a current serving member, but those in veteran families would also benefit from dedicated career support services.

Note 2: this article is addressing the need for specialized support specifically for young people in ADF families provided by or funded by the government. Some non-profit groups do provide services to ADF family young people as an extension of the services they provide to veterans.

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