Creating meaning in education for indigenous students

Image credit: Shoreline, 2021.

Reggie Morey, a young indigenous woman from Mandingalbay Yidinji, never liked school. But her relationship with learning – and her outlook on the future – changed shortly after starting her traineeship through Shoreline.

"I went from someone who didn’t know what she was doing, didn’t want to go to school, who just didn’t have her life together to someone who now wants to go to school and work every day," Morey said.

Shoreline is a non-profit organisation working to drive positive change and self-determination in Indigenous young people. In part, it exists to help improve some disheartening statistics - 31% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in Queensland remain unemployed after leaving school.1 With school attendance rates at 86.8% in inner regional areas and 64.6% in very remote areas, the prospects for meaningful employment for these students are limited.

“Kids were not engaging with their education and there were few programs trying to keep them at school with an obvious connection to local employment – so we created one,” says Jason Ryan, Managing Director at Shoreline.

Shoreline offers two-year paid traineeships to students in Year 11 and 12 and connects them with secondary and tertiary education, as well as mentors and industry placements.

“When we link education to clear career paths, with actual jobs at the end, students can visualise a way forward. They can start to see what they're coming to school for,” Ryan says.

Shoreline (formerly known as the Junior Indigenous Marine and Environment cadets program) started as a community initiative in the Northern Territory’s Tiwi Islands in 2009. It supported Tiwi students schooled away from home during the week at the local Tiwi College. Over the years, it developed relationships with education and business providers in Cairns, Queensland and now has a number of partnerships with different organisations around Australia.

Shoreline has supported 300 students so far both in its current form and former incarnation in the Tiwi Islands.1 It serves as a vital link between schools, tertiary institutions and local businesses, fostering a career-focused network.


Building an appetite for learning

There’s clearly a lot of interest in the program. When it started in Cairns in 2018, Shoreline enrolled three trainees. By 2020, there were 20 and in 2021 it will support 30 students, with a growing waitlist.1

Through Shoreline’s key Queensland education partner, SchoolTech, students can complete their Queensland Certificate of Education and two vocational qualifications while at high school. At the same time, students also complete industry traineeships – with wages covered by Shoreline – through marine-based local businesses. At the end of their traineeship, pending vacancies with local businesses, students are offered meaningful employment.

“Prior to our program in Cairns, only 4% of SchoolTech’s traineeships were Indigenous students. It’s now at 44%. And in 2020 every single Shoreline graduate was employed full-time in their chosen field,” Ryan says.1

The impact of the program has also been recognised through the industry. Shoreline has won several awards, including the 2020 Excellence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education in Far North Queensland award, and both Business Liaison Association and Vocational Education Trainee of the Year 2020 awards.


Commitment matters

Ryan says accountability and the dedication of partners play a significant part of the program’s success. This includes funding from the Macquarie Group Foundation, which is a current supporter of Shoreline and also funded an earlier community initiative at the Tiwi College.

“Macquarie has been with us through the ups and downs. To know that they will back us gives us confidence in making important decisions,” Ryan says.

Shoreline’s ability to take on new trainees depends on funding, as the cost of each trainee’s participation in the program is currently around $7,000.  Macquarie’s support helped with the decision of taking on 18 new trainees in 2020 in Cairns.1

Ryan describes the commitment and engagement of the young people enrolled in Shoreline’s program as “phenomenal”. “It also means local businesses now realise that these trainees not only add a cultural point of difference, but also a real commercial value to their organisations,” he adds.

This was evident in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, when a lot of programs were put on hold. Thanks to the dedication of some businesses, Shoreline was able to keep students engaged.

“One of the businesses ran extra vessels so that our trainees could keep going. The business realised that if they broke their link in the chain of this ecosystem, it would take years to catch up and fill these roles.”

Additional funding from Macquarie in response to COVID-19 meant Shoreline could also continue supporting and paying their trainees through extremely uncertain times.

“As a result, all of these trainees graduated, and now have jobs. Had we missed a couple of weeks, it would be a completely different story for our young people.”

Find out more about Shoreline.

  1. Data included in this article supplied by Shoreline in 2021.