Olivia lives with the rare Kleefstra Syndrome.

Repairing the lives of vulnerable young people Analysis

Repairing the lives of vulnerable young people

Australia’s first smash repair social enterprise, Mission Australia’s Synergy Auto Repairs is offering positive long-term outcomes for vulnerable young people. Jo Fildes tells how.

Synergy Auto Repairs offers customers a full suite of smash repair services, while providing a flexible accredited training program and support for young people aged 16 to 20 with a history of motor vehicle related offences. Based in North Melbourne since June 2014, Synergy harnesses participants’ interest in cars, helping them build a career in this field while providing wrap-around supports.

We were pleased, but not surprised, that a new independent report, the Synergy Automotove Repairs Program: Process Evaluation Report,  found participants experienced strong improvements in overall wellbeing, social stability and a willingness to work and stay away from negative influences during their time at Synergy.

Synergy is all about young people creating a pathway to independence, breaking the cycle of crime, and providing a fulfilling alternative to corrections and detention. Given that our Synergy trainees are vulnerable and often have complex needs, it was extremely encouraging to see the report showed that almost three quarters of them are now in further full-time work or education. It’s about providing skills for life as much as it is skills for the smash repairs workshop and it is very encouraging to see we are achieving those results.

The cost of detention for young people can be as high as $440,000 per person per year but despite that, there is a very high likelihood of people reoffending, as they return to the community without new skills or support. The cost of detention is very high and not necessarily effective. Not only does Synergy come at a fraction of the cost, it presents opportunities for young people to break the cycle of negative behavior and positively contribute in the community.

Our participants have told us that the workshop environment provides an incentive to be constructive and that they truly value Synergy for the transformation it has had on their lives. They find it to be a supportive environment, with the work experience allowing skills beyond panel beating to be gained, such as time management, self-confidence and communication skills.

Synergy is a great example of why we need more innovative social enterprises formed by shared values partnerships between community, public and private organisations, so we can address social issues while creating positive business and community outcomes. Cross-sector collaboration and corporate social responsibility is proving an effective way to progress young people along pathways to work. This particular program is made possible thanks to a cross-sector collaborative approach between Mission Australia, the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council, Kangan TAFE and Suncorp Insurance (social service, industry and government).

Of course, to maintain a sustainable social enterprise, careful recruitment of program staff is also integral. Those who run the program must have the ability to teach and guide vulnerable youth, as well as an awareness and sensitivity to issues that marginalised young people bring to such a program.

We hope Synergy would be a prototype of sorts for more diversionary programs and tailored client-centered solutions. This evaluation report shows that we are well and truly on the right track.

Jo Fildes is Head of Research and Evaluation at Mission Australia.

Banner and feature image: Flickr – Gerry Balding (CC)