After completing a master’s in international relations at Melbourne University at the end of 2020, Lydia found herself looking for new opportunities.

YEP participants Lydia Bell and Rosie Sparks.

YEP participants Lydia Bell and Rosie Sparks.
“Graduating in the middle of COVID was not great timing,” says Lydia Bell. “I had no money and there were no jobs, so I had to move home to Queensland.”
A family member’s suggestion led her to the Victorian Government's Youth Employment Program (YEP), a $31 million Jobs Victoria initiative started during the pandemic to create public sector traineeships for young people looking for work.Lydia knew getting her foot in the door – even in a short-term, entry-level role – was a step forward.
She accepted a traineeship in the policy team for the Melbourne Arts Precinct project, and discovered a love for policy and project delivery, which sat well with her love for the arts. She recently secured a role in the team.
“It turned out to be a gentle way to enter the public sector and allowed me to find my feet while thinking about the next move,” she says.
Lydia’s story is one of many successful YEP stories - more than 200 YEP participants have moved from traineeships into roles in the Victorian public sector.
“It has been an unprecedented success,” says the program’s Development Manager, Stuart Kemp, who attributes much of it to the program’s flexibility.

“The initiative took away a lot of the red tape of previous youth employment schemes. Having the position fully subsidised allowed HR managers to step up and say, ‘We want to take on YEP participants.’  So now we have seen almost 500 young people go through the program.”

YEP was established to address the impact of COVID-19 on youth employment, creating hundreds of public sector jobs and training for people aged 17 to 29. Many were graduates, but just as many had no tertiary qualifications. They were culturally diverse and came from across the state. Few had public sector experience.

Creating a model for such a broad group of people was the first challenge.

Stuart describes it as “building the plane as it was flying”. His job was to guide the professional development of participants in roles across nine Victorian Government departments. He believed peer-to-peer learning would deliver the best results.

Stuart surveyed participants to see what they wanted from the program, then assigned mentors for regular online meetings.

“As the traineeships wound up, the sessions pivoted towards job-finding and interviews,” Stuart says. “How to apply for work in the public service. How to navigate our internal jobs board. How to take the next step.”

Nathaniel Seddon-Smith was teaching English as a second language when the pandemic began and has now moved to a job after completing the YEP program at People and Workplace Services.

“The public service was a mystery to me in many ways,” Nathaniel says. “The program helped me untangle that. I think it gave me a lot of confidence to sell myself. You learn how to make the system work for you.”

For some, the pandemic ended one career, but started another.

Rosie Sparks lost her job as an administrator in the not-for-profit sector due to COVID-19 and was forced to rethink her career.

She came across YEP on the Jobs Victoria online hub but took time to apply: entry-level traineeships felt like a backward step for someone with seven years in the workforce.

Rosie began her YEP job in the Geelong Planning Approvals Office and used her life experience on her side and the YEP structures supported her to grow into the job.

She’s now working full-time as a project officer and intends to develop a career in the Victorian Public Sector.

“I did think I was taking a backward step, but it became a change of direction,” she says.