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Kristian joins growing number of youth workers

Kristian Pike is among a growing number of Sunshine Coast locals looking to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable and at-risk young people.

The number of Certificate IV in Youth Work (CHC40413) enrolments at TAFE Queensland’s Mooloolaba campus has increased by a whopping 156 per cent in the 2021/2022 financial year.

The boost in enrolments comes after the Department of Education, Skills and Employment projected a 16.4 per cent rise in employment opportunities for social and welfare professionals over the five years from 2020 to 2025.

Demand for welfare support workers on the Sunshine Coast specifically has nearly doubled over the last five years, with the National Skills Commission reporting the region experienced a 25 per cent growth in the last year alone.

TAFE Queensland Faculty Director for Community Services, Health and Sport (East Coast region) Craig Wright said the figures reflect the numerous impacts the pandemic has had on the community.

“For the most vulnerable members of our community, the effects of COVID-19 have been far reaching, extending beyond the obvious physical health concerns to impact mental health, family dynamics and even housing,” Mr Wright said.

“This pandemic has created a pressure cooker situation — a strain that although felt by the majority of us at some point or another, has been much more intense for our at-risk youth."

“That’s why it’s so important for us to have skilled youth workers in the community supporting our youth, helping them to feel less isolated and empowering them to take charge of their lives.”

Kristian Pike is among the booming number of locals who began studying a Certificate IV in Youth Work (CHC40413) in 2021, with the 50 year old initially keen to volunteer after spending the better part of a decade as a fulltime carer for his partner and their children.

“Because I’d been a stay-at-home carer so long, I wanted to give back to the community, and it just snowballed from there. I didn’t know that there were jobs out there like this, where I essentially get to help support at-risk young people in finding their confidence and happiness,” Kristian said.

After spending the majority of his working life as a manual labourer, Kristian's eyes were opened to the world of social services and their incredible work when he met his partner and her daughters at a women’s refuge in the neighboured where he lived.

With the young girls traumatised from a past experience of domestic violence, Kristian — a father-of-two himself — found himself regularly interacting with child and youth mental health agencies in an effort to support their recovery.

“I was fascinated by the work they were doing, and they seemed to find helping us really rewarding. I found myself particularly inspired by a child and youth mental health worker who used to come and essentially mentor my partner’s eldest daughter – she made such a huge difference in this child’s life, and I thought, 'I’d love to do that',” Kristian said.

With this in mind, Kristian applied to volunteer with family and youth services provider IFYS Ltd, and after gaining his Blue Card and Yellow Card, he began looking at study options that would give him the knowledge and skills that would be most helpful to young, at-risk individuals. His search led him to enrol in the Certificate IV in Youth Work (CHC40413) online, which he was able to access at a heavily discounted rate under the State and Federal Government’s joint JobTrainer funding.

“The funding helped me immensely – I don’t know if I would have been as likely to do the course if it wasn’t subsidised as I had been a fulltime carer, and I would've had to take a loan out to study otherwise,” Kristian said.

“Being a mature-aged student, I’m not the most up-to-date with technology and computers, so that has been a bit of a challenge, but TAFE Queensland has been great. The teachers have been really supportive, and I’m able to go in and talk to their student support services if I need help.”

Although he's not due to graduate until July 2022, Kristian has already secured paid work in the industry, and has been working with an agency for the last four months in a residential carer role that he says has changed his life.

“I've had the best experiences and regularly come home and rave about my day to my family,” Kristian said.

“I get to be there to help these amazing young people achieve their goals, no matter how big or small — whether it’s gaining part-time work or simply sewing a button on a shirt. And many of them have come from difficult or traumatic backgrounds, so seeing them smile is the most rewarding thing."

“I’m six-foot-three and I walk around with tears in my eyes all day with pride. I just love this job so much – I feel like it's what I’m meant to do.”

Kristian works mostly with young men, often with a disability or a traumatic background, who need help to socially engage and live the most fulfilling version of their lives. It’s a role that's often overlooked, but that Kristian says is currently in high demand on the Sunshine Coast.

“I started out doing it for my vocational placement, but the agency I work with called me and asked if I’d like fulltime work, so now I have regular clients,” Kristian said.

“With the pandemic, there have been a lot of added stressors on families that are already struggling, and while young people often pick up on that stress, they also tend to fly under the radar. That’s where I come in and help them escape for a bit.”

While not everyone has what it takes to be a youth worker, Kristian said they do have the power to make a difference in the lives of at-risk young people, not only by supporting youth organisations like Headspace, but by simply showing compassion.

“I think the saying, ‘A society will be judged by how it treats its weakest members’ is true. I don’t care who you are, these kids deserve to be out enjoying the sunshine at the beach or having fun at the movies as much as anyone else,” he said.

“It doesn’t take much to be nice to people and show them some understanding, because you don’t know their background and what they’ve had to overcome.”