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Annual Report 2023

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Piper Rodd



Maree Roberts

Deputy Chair


David Turnbull

Board Member


Catherine Armstrong

Board Member


Reana Cazar

Board Member

Chair and CEO Report

Chair's Report

Piper Rodd – Chair Future Connect

Chair’s Report

This past year has been an eventful one for Future Connect and the Local Learning and Employment Network (LLEN) as a whole, and, as usual, I welcome this opportunity to address the Future Connect community and provide an update on the year’s accomplishments and challenges. The theme, perhaps of this address, is the growing diversity and independence of Future Connect as we look to expand not only the range of activities we engage in and the services we provide but extend the revenue sources to fund them.

In 2022 the state government Department of Education and Training announced a review into the LLEN. This was timely given the network had recently celebrated twenty years of continuous operation, serving communities across Victoria. The review was to examine the role, scope, the outcomes, and ongoing sustainability of the network’s work in the communities they serve. However, the findings of the review to date have been largely inconclusive, leaving open many questions about what exactly the future of the network might look like. As we all recently learned, the state budget is being considered a crisis. This means funding for many community-based programs and public services will be deemed expendable and inessential according to dominant economic orthodoxies that fail to account for the human dimensions and value of so much that makes our communities survive and thrive. Our experience of this review has reinforced our commitment at Future Connect of ensuring our continued viability and vitality as part of the communities of Melton and Brimbank. This will be achieved by our continued proactive work to source funding streams and undertake projects beyond the singular remit of government contracts.

Understanding and connecting with community is at the heart of everything Future Connect does as it continues to work together with residents to fill gaps in equitable service provision for all young people. As you likely know better than those who report such stats, Melton is the fastest growing community in all of Australia. While this presents logistical challenges in meeting the needs of young people spread across the diverse and ever-expanding suburbs, Future Connect is well-positioned to be agile and responsive, anticipating growth pockets likely to have young people keen for engagement with work, training and education opportunities not otherwise afforded by large organisations and bureaucracies ill-equipped to adapt to local needs. Expanding upon the successful initiative of YouthGrounds and exploring franchising these training cafes in burgeoning areas is but one example of this sort of developmental agility.

The accomplishments of Deirdre and her team of dedicated workers – Najib, Ava, Alice, Megan, Trinity and Lea – are many and have been well highlighted elsewhere in this report. So, what I wish to note instead is the often silent and unremarked upon – though far from unremarkable – achievement of running a business in today’s society in which all members of the organisation regardless of position or hierarchy genuinely work respectfully, collectively and collaboratively for a shared cause and common objective. I want to thank and congratulate Deirdre and her team for all they’ve achieved this past year and, on behalf of the board, express our ongoing commitment and appreciation for the opportunity and privilege of playing a part in supporting this great work.

Chief Executive Officer's Report


CEO Report

In many ways despite 2023 being notable for piloting new projects it was, in fact, a year of consolidation. Much of the work that went into the development of initiatives such as YouthGrounds and Realise Your Potential, Industry tours and work placement opportunities were the result of several years works from the Staff and Board of Future Connect, and the many partners and young people who contributed their expertise.

We refreshed our strategic plan and it was valuable to have input from our stakeholders who generously contributed to this process. You can see the plan here:

During this process, we heard about the value of our co-design work to our stakeholders. This is both heartening and challenging! Embedding co-design, which embodies our principles of transparency, collaboration, impact, future focus and inclusion, has meant that we need to be prepared to trial initiatives. Piloting new ideas holds inherent risks of failure and we have learnt to accept and embrace this precarious part of the process. I acknowledge the trust that requires from workshop participants, our staff and the board!

In 2023, we conducted a VET Experience Day where year 10s got a chance to develop their understanding of the different VET options at AGA and VU. Particular thanks to Kelly Radecki and Suzana Parashis for their support on this and, of course, to AGA and Victoria University. We were also very happy to support the production of the VET Cluster Handbooks and the Western Edge Cluster (WEC) awards evening.

The Brimbank Careers Exploration Day continues to be an annual highlight. We welcomed over 1900 students and 47 exhibitors. Lea Lucas, our Office Manager, organises this event brilliantly each year and the feedback is always hugely positive.

We continue to work closely with our Advisory Groups and last year introduced a Women In Non-Traditional Roles group with generous and amazing members. The SBAT Advisory Group provided great advice for the SBAT Advisory Group and Najib Warsame was instrumental in the success of the SBAT Breakfast.

Najib and Alice Ames also worked on the many events; including guest speakers, industry immersions and work readiness preparation programs and practice interviews. Again, the feedback has been very positive. We continue to reflect on these events and consider ways to gain more value from both the experiences and the relationships.

Megan Cooke was focused on work placements, both SWL and Work Experience and provided many great opportunities for students. It was clear in 2023, that the aftermath of COVID is still impacting students and their work readiness. Najib worked on projects with some students who needed additional support to be prepared for work placements. Megan was also working on a personal project and was on maternity leave in the latter part of the year. It’s amazing to see what she achieved in 9 months!

Najib was able to step into the gap and assist with work placements, ensuring we surpassed our School to Work contract.

Tina Chronis, our Consultant Accountant and Rhonda Williams, Bookkeeper continue to offer incredible support to us and I thank them for the seamless processes they keep running in the background.

A year highlight was the pilot of YouthGrounds in 2023. This again was the culmination of several years’ work, originally sparked by the Board and involving so many people. Of course, the success of the Youth Grounds pilot involved all the Future Connect staff but was particularly driven by Alice and Ava Ter, with the support of the WestAs Advisory Group. We are lucky to have great members in this group who provide insight and suggestions. We are particularly grateful to Melton City Council who provided the site for the café at Kurunjang Community Hub as well as their support for the training program and their ongoing enthusiasm for all things YouthGrounds!

Alice continued her work on Realise Your Potential with the first in the series of videos co-designed by neurodivergent young people. This was supported by Brimbank Council and launched in November 2023. The resume writing video was produced by Ahalya Sattiraju from Clingy Cat Creative and was very positively received.

We welcomed Trinity Lu to our team as the Barista Manager. She is an experienced barista and trainer and has brought drive and enthusiasm as well as considerable skill. She has worked well with the Melton City Council staff and enjoyed the involvement of the gardening group who have been incredibly supportive of the students, who are, of course, the most important people in all of this. It has been amazing to see the Hub being increasingly used and valued by the community.

It was particularly heartening to see the evaluation and the impact of the program for the participants and I refer you to the report on this here:

Overall, as I reflect on 2023, I am heartened by the support offered by our stakeholders and community to the young people of the west and, by extension, to us at Future Connect.


Brimbank Careers Exploration Day

Brimbank Careers Exploration Day

Now in its 14th year, Future Connect once again hosted the Brimbank Careers Exploration Day which was held on 10 May 2023 at the beautiful Lakeside Banquet & Convention Centre in Taylors Lakes. 

We attracted a record number of students, just under 2,000! Brimbank Secondary School students, from Years 9 to 11, from eleven schools visited the event and were able to ask questions and discuss their career pathway journeys with representatives from 47 organisations ranging from the tertiary sector, job providers, registered training organisations, group training organisations, employers and other sectors. 

Students were bussed in from their various schools, given a show bag to collect materials (showbags were generously provided by Victoria and La Trobe Universities) and were given time to visit the exhibitors in both the Ballroom and the Victoria Room.  It was a great event and a great opportunity, but don’t just take it from us! When we asked students what was the highlight of the 2023 Careers Exploration Day they responded with “Exploring and talking to people who helped me with what I wanted to do as a career” and “Being able to broaden my understanding of potential careers pathways”. 

Our thanks to Victoria University/Victoria University Polytechnic, NECA and AFL Sports Ready who participated in interactive activities with the students. 

Our sincere thanks also are extended to our 2023 event partners listed below. 

Aspire Partners: AGA, Brimbank City Council, Federation University, Victoria University/Victoria University Polytechnic 

Believe Partners:   G Force Employment & Recruitment, and Swinburne Institute of Technology 

African Homework Club

African Homework Club

In 2023, the African Homework Club continued its mission to provide vital educational support to young individuals of Ethiopian descent in our community. Future Connect, through a collaboration with guest speaker Eddy Feng from Acadmax offered an informative and empowering session for young people. Acadmax is a tutoring service aiming to improve education quality by enabling and empowering young people on their academic journey.  

The session on Tuesday, November 14, 2023, facilitated meaningful connections between students, their academic ambitions, and the African Homework Club’s dedicated Homework Coordinator, Ezana Getachew. With an emphasis on encouraging students to invest in their schooling, Eddy's insights spanned various career paths, from engineering to healthcare, inspiring young minds to pursue their dreams with diligence and determination. 

Eddy’s engaging session focused on study habits, career journeys, and the academic paths that lead individuals to their desired universities. Tailored to students in grades 6 to 8, Eddy's message resonated deeply, emphasising the importance of academic pursuits, and cultivating study habits aligned with career aspirations. 




2023 was a busy but fulfilling year for YouthGrounds. We were thrilled to welcome Trinity Lu as our barista manager in September. In October, we launched our inaugural YouthGrounds Training Program and introduced our social enterprise café, YouthGrounds as a pop-up concept. The response was overwhelming, with 27 Expressions of Interest and 12 young people enrolled in the program. By year’s end, 10 young people completed the training program, marking a significant milestone in our journey, as shown in the visual journey map above.

We extend our gratitude to the Department of Industry, Science, and Resources, Melbourne Airport, ISPT Super Property, and Taylors Hill Village for their generous funding of our pilot training program. Additionally, we would like to thank Melton City Council for providing essential resources and support toward the pilot and their ongoing commitment to YouthGrounds Café and the training program in 2024.

A special thanks goes to Cherry Mouth for supplying the coffee beans and technical support. Learn more about their products and work here. 

We also appreciate Tracy Noronja and Sarah Brooks from Hungry Jacks, Briana Ganesharajah from West Justice, Steve Hall from Beealigned Coaching, David Turnbull from the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, Meghan Llanora, Tom Hogan from TC Hogan Barbel Club, and all other volunteers involved in the training program pilot for their valuable contributions.



Careers Practitioners' Network (CPN)

Careers Practitioners' Network (CPN)

The Brimbank/Melton Careers Practitioners’ Network met several times in 2023.  All meetings were well attended, we welcomed new members to the network and meetings were very productive.

At the first meeting of the year, chaired by Cathy Armstrong, Careers Practitioner from St Albans Secondary College and Megan Cooke, Work Placement Officer at Future Connect provided a demonstration on the use of the SWL Portal.  School representatives were encouraged to speak about the successes and challenges they had experienced over the preceding twelve months.

The May meeting was well attended with numerous University representatives attending providing updates on their current offerings. They also responded to the many questions from the careers practitioners and gave a highly interactive presentation.

At the July meeting, careers practitioners’ were able to hear from representatives from the Victorian Department of Education (My Careers Insight Program), Arrive and Thrive (a careers education social enterprise), Djerrriwarrh Community College (an alternative education provider) and Women On Site (a program funded by the Victorian Trades Hall Council to support Victorian women toward apprenticeships or traineeships in historically male dominated industries).

The Careers Practitioners’ Network continues to provide school staff and education providers with great support and an opportunity to network with others. We are pleased with the highly collaborative culture of the network and the opportunity for practitioners from all sectors to share their challenges and experiences. Cathy Armstrong, with her continued drive to best practice is a fantastic person to lead the network and we thank her for her time, expertise and enthusiasm.


Industry Exploration Tours

Industry Tours

Foodbank Tour

On Thursday, August 17 2023, students from Jackson School in St Albans attended a tour led by Deidre Boaz at Foodbank Victoria, Australia's largest food relief organisation.
The tour was more than just educational. It embodied empathy, a reminder that every act of kindness contributes to the greater good. Deidre emphasised the Food Bank's pivotal role, contributing over 70% of rescued food to charities nationwide. The tour highlighted the collective fight against food insecurity and waste, inspiring students to recognise the broader impact of their actions. Deidre and the Food Bank team also shared their personal pathways, learning outcomes, and transferable skills that have shaped their roles and united them in a spirit of continuous learning.
The journey to Foodbank illuminated the power of unity, community engagement, and the profound impact of collective action. As students return, they carry a more profound sense of compassion and commitment to making a difference.

Click and Collect Tours

On the 25 and 26 of July 2023, Future Connect, in collaboration with Niels Gorman from the Melton City Council Economic Development Team, Steve Gauci from Scalzo Foods, and Ben Rogers from Amazon, organised a highly successful Logistics and Manufacturing Industry Tour for students from the Jackson School, Gilson College, and Djerriwarrh Community College.

This event provided students with a unique opportunity to explore various roles within Amazon, a renowned multinational technology company focusing on e-commerce, cloud computing, online advertising, digital streaming, and artificial intelligence. The tour of Amazon was an enlightening and enriching experience for students. It provided helpful information about innovative technology and automation, motivating and preparing them with exciting opportunities in the constantly evolving logistics industry.

Building on this collaboration, the students also embarked on an engaging journey to Scalzo Foods, a reputable manufacturer specialising in products such as nuts, seeds, grains, and dried fruit. This experience allowed them to delve into the intricate heating, cooling, and packaging processes of producing some of their favourite snacks. Witnessing firsthand the meticulous production methods to supply high-quality products to consumers was an invaluable learning opportunity.

The Logistics & Manufacturing Industry Tour showcased the power of collaboration with the active participation and support from Amazon, Scalzo Foods, Melton City Council, Jackson School, Gilson College, and Djerriwarrh Community College. This event provided valuable knowledge about innovative technology and automation, highlighting the importance of partnerships in empowering students and preparing them for future opportunities.

Realise Your Potential

Realise Your Potential

Realise Your Potential is a co-design project, made for and by neurodiverse young people to support their career journeys.
With a successful Brimbank Community Grant in 2023 we produced and launched the first of the video series.

The 'Dos & Don’t's of Writing a Resume' is now available online, with additional resume making resources available to download from our website. 

SBAT Breakfast 2023

SBAT Breakfast 2023

The 2023 Future Connect SBAT Breakfast was held on Thursday 7 of September in the  ballroom of the beautiful WestWaters Hotel & Entertainment Complex in Caroline Springs.  It was a great venue for careers practitioners’, SBAT providers and our special speakers to get together to discuss everything SBAT! It was so good to see everyone, this feeling was shared with all who attended.
It was an early start for everyone with the breakfast starting at 7:30am, but this did not hamper the excitement of those attending. Everyone was happy to be at the event and learn more about the world of SBATs.

Deirdre Hardy, CEO of Future Connect, acknowledged the work of the SBAT Advisory Group over the past twelve months who helped to shape and guide the structure and outcomes of the event.  This group includes school representatives, providers and AASNs:

  • Cathy Armstrong (St Albans Secondary College)
  • Evan Henry (NextGen Jobs)
  • Chris Coleman (VACC)
  • Julie Pilioglou (Caroline Chisholm Catholic College)
  • Sarah Keogh (Hester Hornbrook Academy)
  • Representatives from MEGT
  • Peter Venables and Stuart Gillespie (Integrity Business Solutions)
  • Joanne Galea (Melton Secondary College)
  • Katerina Crichton (Gilson College)
  • Lucy Taylor (Kurunjang Secondary College)
  • Melissa Bell (Head Start-North West Hub)

The event started with an insightful presentation/update from Danielle McAuliffe, Project Manager from the VCAA.  Her talk shed light on Vocational Education and Training (VET), emphasising its significance in shaping students’ career paths.  It was a valuable session that broadened our understanding of VET’s potential for our students.

Following the presentation from Danielle we heard from two young women, Jasmine and Sarah, who shared their SBAT insights.  Attendees had the chance to ask questions about the young women’s SBAT experiences, gaining valuable real-world perspectives on the program’s impact.  It was an inspiring and informative session that showed the students’ educational and career journeys.

Lastly, the event built further momentum through a networking round-robin session where teachers and SBAT providers could connect, collaborate, share knowledge, and access opportunities for their students.  The networking session nurtured young people’s talents through a shared collaboration by engaging in fruitful discussions with SBAT providers.  These interactions established stronger partnerships to empower students with real-world skills and experiences.  School representatives rotated through each of the SBAT providers, to hear all about what is on offer for 2024 and how students can take up the opportunities. Providers who attended the breakfast were:

  • Department of Education – Head Start (North West Hub)
  • Endota Spa
  • Integrity Business College
  • Leisure Employment Australia
  • MAS National
  • MEGT
  • VACC

Feedback received from schools and providers included:

“I am better informed and took some contact information for some of the providers who attended, therefore I am more confident advising students about it” 

“I enjoyed the opportunity to network and speed date the providers” 

“The event itself ran really well – very informative and lots of connections have been made” 

“Good to talk directly to teachers” 

We look forward to hearing all about the SBATs created as a result of the 2023 Future Connect SBAT Breakfast.  

SBAT Breakfast 2023

SBAT Breakfast 2023


Koorie Network

Koorie Network

The Koorie Career Network is a co-created initiative by Future Connect and Michelle Marion, the western region Koorie Engagement Support Officer (KESO). The network is chaired by Michelle Marion, and brings together representatives from secondary schools and primary schools across Brimbank and Melton who work with Koorie students.
The network aims to meet once per term to share important information about programs, opportunities and new initiatives for Koorie young people. In 2023 the network met in term 2 with special guest Uncle Keith Randall giving the Acknowledgement of Country.

The meeting featured four guest speakers sharing information about their supports:

  • Kristy Lilyst, Career Counsellor, Aboriginal Practitioner
  • Jobs Victoria Career Counsellors Service
  • Scott Krakouer – YSAS Youth and Family Worker
  • Shayne Bates, Toorong Marnong Coordinator
  • Marcus Brooke, Aboriginal Student Support Coordinator – Moondani Balluk Indigenous Academic Unit - Victoria University   

We would like to thank all the guests for their time and sharing resources to support Koorie young people. 

Work Readiness 

Work Readiness session

Interviews at St Albans Community Centre (STACC) The Jackson school

On September 5th, at the St Albans Community Centre (STACC), Future Connect hosted a dynamic event focusing on empowering students with practical experience and insights into workplace communication and workplace conduct, which is crucial for navigating real-world job interviews successfully.

Practice interviewers received manila folders containing position descriptions, interview questions, feedback forms, and the rotation and list of all the students they would see.

Industry practitioners including Ayaan Qani and Jacob Tiauli conducted the practice interviews from Brimbank Youth Services, Ipek Houssein from Brimbank Libraries, Kristie Dawe from MathWorks Exchange, Reece Gains from the Department of Education, and Van Doan from the Skills and Jobs Centre. The students engaged in practice interviews for entry-level roles such as Bunnings Team Member, Crew Member at McDonald's, and Woolworths - Grocery Team Member.

At the event, the practical learning environment immersed students. They rotated through multiple interview stations, interacting with different interviewers and receiving tailored constructive feedback. Dressed in professional attire and armed with their resumes and cover letters, they were ready to apply for specific job positions. This hands-on approach provided students with real-world exposure to the interview process, enhancing their confidence and equipping them with the skills they need for future job searches.

Future Connect, industry professionals, and the students came together to create an environment that empowered students with the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in their early career pursuits. By participating in these practice interviews, students gained valuable insights and practical experience that served them well as they embarked on their entry-level journeys. This event marked a significant step in their development, providing them with a solid foundation for success in the workforce.

Springside West Event work readiness

On Wednesday the 31st of May, Future Connect organised the Work readiness event at Springside West Secondary College. The event covered crucial topics related to the application process, interviewing skills, work rights, career pathways, and course information. These topics, tailored to provide our Year 11 and 12 students with essential knowledge and guidance, were designed to equip them for the workforce, further education, and career decisions. The event aimed to empower students with practical skills and information, ensuring they are well-prepared for the transition from school to the professional world.

The work readiness event at Springside West Secondary College was organised into four student groups, with each group attending presentations by guest speakers in separate classrooms. Students rotated through each classroom, spending 20 minutes with each speaker. The event accommodated a total of 65 students, divided into two Year 11 classes (approximately 20 students per class) and two Year 12 classes (approximately 13 students per class). Teachers were present throughout to supervise and facilitate the smooth running of the sessions, ensuring that students had a valuable and engaging learning experience.

The speakers at the work readiness event hosted by Springside West Secondary College included Thea Debler-Depold from West Justice, discussing employment law; Josie from VTHC - Young Workers Centre covering rights at work; Karishma Dunn from MEGT, focusing on apprenticeship pathways, and Catherine Oldham from the Skills and Jobs Centre, sharing insights on industry trends and course pathways and course selection and training and certifications. These experts provided valuable information to the Year 11 and 12 students, helping them better understand important aspects of the workplace, making informed decisions about their training and qualifications and career opportunities, and how to navigate them.

Structured Workplace Learning

Structured Workplace Learning

We had an extremely successful year with SWL and work experience, placing 235 students into work placements. In term 1, our focus was on working with our current employers to support them in welcoming students back and even increasing the number of students they could help. The building and construction industry placements remained one of our most popular industries, and we organised 51 students for placements with our trade employers.

In term two, we worked hard to set up some great group work experiences for students at the Jackson School. During one of these experiences, students attended equine sports management to assist in tending to small farm animals and learn about teamwork. We also focussed on welcoming 4 students for in-house placements. We created these opportunities to help students struggling to secure a placement on their own.

One of the students in the in-house placement did their SWL project on a Makeup Day-Me Day to counteract various issues that affect young girls in schools, including peer pressure and judgment, societal expectations and trends pressure to wear full makeup daily. Other issues include the financial burden and consumerism associated with makeup and bullying and ostracisation for not wearing makeup. The student wrote an article published for The Bold Source youth magazine edition, Solidarity: Social Justice in Action and performed their article during the magazine launch.

During the students 3–4-week in house placements at our office, the students actively worked with us to identify the employers they were interested in learning more about. During their 3–4-week placement, the students acquired the skills to approach employers with confidence, request opportunities, and understand workplace expectations. This proved to be an invaluable opportunity for students needing some extra support.

Continuing in term 3, students again had the opportunity to work as a group tending to the gardens at Sunshine Hospital through Western Health. This exciting new partnership for Future Connect has proven highly beneficial throughout the remainder of the year and into 2024. Throughout term 3, we also partnered with the Centre for Disability Employment Research and Practice for the "Glide in project". This opportunity brought together 11 Melton Specialist School students and 4 employers. Students attended the Taylors Hill Youth & Community Centre throughout term 3 to learn about all aspects of employment. Then, they could participate in a day's work at the different employers within the community to become fully immersed in the workplace.

2023 also proved to be highly successful in connecting with new employers. We welcomed 14 new employers enthusiastic about collaborating with students for work experience or longer-term placements. We are excited to continue working with more local employers in 2024 to continue this success.


Future Connect Financials 2023