Students taking part in the NRL's School to Work program.

NRL School to Work assists Indigenous kids

Everyone at some stage in their life questions their future. Most of us take years to work out our one true calling in the world, while others never get the resources to make an informed decision on their career prospects.

NRL Indigenous Round

For Indigenous Australian children in particular this is where the NRL's School to Work (S2W) program comes into play – an initiative that provides them with work experience, mentoring and leadership opportunities.

These opportunities assist Indigenous Australians in Years 10 and 12 go on to successfully complete school and transition into further study, training or meaningful employment.

School to Work isn't designed to keep Indigenous kids out of trouble. In order to participate, it's the kids themselves who have to nominate to be a part of the program and guarantee they remain a stand-up student at their respective high schools.

"It's not a program for disadvantaged or disengaged students. This is more a program where a kid sticks their hand up and says 'I want to do something but I don't know how I'm going to do it'," S2W Program Manager Kristian Heffernan told NRL.com.

"That's where we step in and help out. It's our way of reminding Indigenous kids of what's available and how hard they have to work to get there.

"Indigenous people represent only 2.9 per cent of the population yet we're overrepresented when it comes to a lack of education, life expectancy and unemployment rates. 

"If we're talking 40-50 per cent of representation in those numbers but we're only three per cent of the population, there's something wrong and that's what we're trying to address."

S2W started in 2012 and was originally a combined effort between the Bulldogs, Eels, Panthers and Wests Tigers as well as the Federal government's Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Six other NRL clubs joined S2W last year in name of addressing the government's 'Closing the Gap' targets. Heffernan's primary role is to ensure the program meets the educational and employment objectives and outcomes it sets out to achieve.  

So far 98 per cent of the 191 S2W graduates have achieved further education or sustainable employment thanks to the opportunities they have been afforded.

"If you look at the national rate of 58 per cent completion [of the HSC] compared to the program's rate, the program is doing great work and has the stats to back it up," Heffernan, who is rugby league legend Arthur Beetson's youngest son, said. 

"[A lot of that comes down to] the workshops we undertake. They range from first aid to responsible service of alcohol. We run resume building workshops, interview workshops and cultural competency and awareness workshops. 

"We also have various employees come in and talk about the requirements they look for when they hire and they explain what positions are available. We'll take the kids to university open days or to meet second or third year uni students to give them an insight into what's required at university. 

"We're also in the process of organising a job expo with TAFE NSW and the Bulldogs with our School to Work students so they'll get a bit of event management experience."

The S2W program is split into three tiers: students, post-secondary students (where kids are kept in the program for six months after they complete high school) and graduates. 

Currently 128 post-secondary students are scheduled to become graduates on June 30 with only 15 of them yet to secure further study or meaningful employment.

While Heffernan is confident in securing these 15 individuals a solid future, it doesn't mean he isn't kept on his toes every once in a while. 

"There was a kid in western Sydney who wanted to be a neurosurgeon so we had to work with universities to nut out a required ATAR and work with lecturers to come and say what students are required to do," he said.

"Then there are kids who say 'okay, I want to be a chef. What do I do?' So we'll work through subject selection choices, or if it's later we'll take them out and get them to talk to chefs who get them to understand they have to do x, y and z to achieve their goals." 

NRL Indigenous Round