In August 2013 I accepted a short-term contract to manage an environmental compliance project in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Given the four connecting flights, I was expecting a regional outpost that would be disconnected from the rest of the world when I arrived in the dusty city of Lae. Instead, what I found was a busy hub of industrial activity. The company I would be based at for the coming months was located in the middle of the city on the old runway of what was previously Lae Airfield. Originally constructed by an Australian gold syndicate in the 1920s to assist export operations, the Airfield and surrounding area has continued to grow as a location for foreign owned corporations.
Early in my tenure I noted that the local youth appeared largely disconnected from employment opportunities with foreign owned companies operating in Lae. When I was tasked with assembling a team of staff myself, I was taken aback by the lack of local young applicants. Of those that did apply, most lacked the necessary soft skills to undertake the roles on an ongoing basis. I was disappointed with this outcome but I can now appreciate that it gave me a firsthand insight into the challenges of global youth unemployment which equates to more than 70 million youth globally, not including those categorised as ‘Working Poor’ by the United Nations.
In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been so surprised, as I also lacked the soft skills needed to accelerate professionally when I graduated high school and later university. Fortunately, I live in a country with low unemployment and a number of work opportunities that indirectly encourage soft skill development. Through these opportunities I have found great mentors in the workplace which have fast tracked my development of soft skills such as cognitive flexibility, decision-making and self-motivation.
After completing my contract in Lae and returning to Australia, I felt compelled to research the prevalence of this disconnect for local youth in low-income countries and the role of soft skills which have traditionally been considered difficult to learn. I found a growing body of research indicating that soft skills are actually more easily acquired than technical skills. 15 to 24 year olds are considered the most flexible age bracket for acquiring these skills, particularly in structured group settings. In comparison to technical skills, soft skills are also a stronger indicator of key life outcomes, such as health, social and employment options for youth. In short, soft skills equal empowerment for global youth, and I couldn’t be more excited by these findings.
In May 2017, I came across an advertisement on LinkedIn for the inaugural World Vision Optus Futuremakers Challenge. Through my research, I had already constructed a concept and this made the process of applying reasonably straight forward as I had a clear understanding of how I wanted to make an impact. This process has led to the creation of tillr, a social enterprise for the empowerment of global youth from low-income countries through an online virtual internship program.
The benefits of tillr are two-fold: empowering vulnerable youth as well as providing Australian professionals with the opportunity to mentor them through an online platform and smartphone mentoring application during tillr’s highly structured two-week internship program. Interns are identified through our partnerships with educational institutions in low-income countries and youth that complete a tillr internship will advance to become part of the tillr alumni, a global network of youth that continue their soft skill development beyond the internship with the assistance of tillr staff and volunteers. The goal of tillr is to see youth thrive beyond the program in key areas of their lives, such as through advanced education, employment and positive social outcomes.
Given most professional mentors are sourced in an organisational environment, youth in low-income countries typically lack the opportunity due to widespread youth unemployment. This was highlighted by the World Economic Forum’s recent report titled ‘The Future of Jobs’, which identified 10 skills in highest demand by 2020, the majority of which are soft skills. These skills will empower youth to reach positive labour and social outcomes in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will cause widespread disruption to labour markets.
The objective for tillr is to play a very specific and important role in youth empowerment. Through our relationship with World Vision we are very fortunate to have the support of a host of experts and by winning the World Vision Challenge, tillr is far more advanced in development than it would have been. We are currently running our first crowd funding campaign and although the monetary value of this is important to running pilot programs across South East Asia in 2018, we are also looking to connect with as many people as possible through our Facebook page and start a constructive dialogue around the design of tillr. We are an open startup that is driven to make a tangible impact through partnerships and collaboration so if you have a question or an idea please contact us.
You can support tillr pilot its program across South East Asia through its crowdfunding page:
Join the Facebook page to be part of the tillr journey: