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Youthworx is a successful model of a practical, community-based, cross-sector response to the problem of youth marginalisation and social exclusion. It combines professional expertise, networks and material resources across social service delivery agencies (Salvation Army and Youth Development Australia (YDA)), youth-run community media (SYN Media), an educational provider (North Melbourne Institute of Technology TAFE (NMIT)) and research organisations (the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI), at the Swinburne Institute for Social Research (SISR)). Media training and production is used to build capacity to re-engage with learning, education and employment. After some years in development between 2008, when Youthworx effectively began operations, and 2013, the program has provided open access multimedia workshops, accredited training and, more recently, paid traineeships for more than 400 youth disconnected from formal learning, with experience of homelessness, juvenile justice or alcohol and drug abuse. Participants broadcast and distribute their works through SYN Media, local festivals and screenings, as well as online. They also make commissioned creative products for external clients and not-for-profit organisations.

Research undertaken by Swinburne University’s SISR between 2005 and 2013 explored impact of Youthworx on these young people and the broader lessons for debates on social innovation, community media and creative economies, informal learning, opportunity and enterprise. The integrated R&D is a unique element of Youthworx, allowing documentation, analysis and capacity-building. It combined longitudinal on-site research, a comparative study of best practices across parallel international youth media initiatives, and mobilisation of established academic and industry networks.

Although our findings to date have appeared in a range of publications, this document offers the first comprehensive report on the project. It discusses the development of Youthworx and the results of the 2008-13 period. The presented findings draw on a qualitative fieldwork at Youthworx and semistructured follow-up interviews with a group of Youthworx graduates who participated in the program between 2009-2011. In combination, this material is used to document and explore the specific institutional structure and cultural context in which Youthworx’s media training and production took place, the ways in which young people experienced, engaged with and valued the project, as well as the project’s social outcomes.

The longitudinal account of Youthworx presented here integrates and summarises multiple voices, including industry partners, service organisations, practitioners, researchers and, importantly, young people themselves. It reflects arguments developed across the team, including material previously published.

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