Margaret Quixley is the founder of Young Opportunities Australia (YOA), a social enterprise dedicated to providing information, support and advice to students and graduates seeking personal and professional development opportunities. YOA is not only focused on empowering young people with the tools and skills to find or create sustainable employment, but also on furthering social good, by connecting such individuals with their communities, leaders and peers.
Being a recent graduate herself, Margaret knows firsthand many of the challenges that young people face in entering an increasingly fragmented and globalised employment market. YOA is a centralised space where young Australians can access useful information whilst also drawing inspiration from their peers through the sharing of knowledge, experience and advice, both online and offline.youngopportunities.org @young_opps facebook instagram
Capture every experience as an opportunity for growth and think about how you could frame that on your resume … We need to stop thinking about what we have or haven’t done and start thinking about the journey. Employers don’t have time to connect the dots, so we need to do it for them.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
It was only a short time ago that YOA catapulted from idea into reality. In fact, it was the 2014 Federal Budget that catalysed its creation. Returning from a six-month stint interning in the U.S. and recently graduating from university for the second time, I found myself frustrated by what I saw as a disconnect between the proposed policy changes affecting young people and the reality of what I knew many young people experienced. On one hand, a proposal to remove any form of financial support to anyone jobless under the age of 30 for six months, and on the other, thousands of graduates eager to work and contribute to society but exasperated by the perceived lack of opportunities available to them – many of whom had been experiencing unavoidable periods of un- or under-employment.
The young people I knew were volunteering, interning and working long hours, all whilst studying, simply to get ahead. Many young people, myself included, had returned to study because of the lack of meaningful employment opportunities immediately following the Global Financial Crisis, and had found themselves in the situation once again where they were competing with hundreds of other applicants for so-called “entry-level” jobs.
I had spent the last 7 years looking for opportunities to advance my own professional horizons, and it was this perfect storm of events that really got things moving. I wanted to share the information I had with others. But more than that, I wanted to create a community where young people supported one another, particularly in the seeming absence of government support. Of course what YOA does could never fill the gap of government, but what I found it could offer was hope, and practical peer-to-peer advice. I knew all too well the feeling of optimism and anticipation immediately following graduation, followed by those 6-12 months of disappointment and rejection in struggling to find a job even remotely related to your field.
I wanted to create a centralised place online that provided information to non-vocational students and graduates looking for their next steps, which was fundamentally also a space where young people felt connected to and supported by others experiencing many of the same ups and downs. I thought to myself: What if there was somewhere young people could access all of the latest personal and professional development opportunities focused on creating social good? Access to such a place would have personally saved me many hours of internet research!
What started as a Facebook page was followed by a groundswell of support. With youth unemployment currently at a 12 year high in Australia, it is no wonder. The 2013 Graduate Careers Australia report found that almost 30 per cent of university students fail to find full-time employment within four months of graduation, whilst 10 per cent fail to find any work at all. A more recent FYA report also supported these figures, finding that nearly 30 per cent of young people in the labour force are un- or under-employed. Moreover, 25 per cent of young Australians are not using their university degrees in the workplace, representing a loss of 790 million hours of economic contribution and $15.6 billion in lost revenue.
It was the reality of this situation that galvanised the creation of Young Opportunities Australia. I now see it as fundamentally serving two functions: changing outcomes for young people and changing discourse about young people. To me, the disconnect seemed not only to be about bridging the gap between university and employment, but about bridging gaps in the policy debate, between generations, industries and even the way young people talk about themselves. YOA is about inspiring and empowering young people to find or create their own employment pathways by acknowledging the array of challenges they face and working in partnership to change both sides of this coin.
Can you please explain your business model?
Great question! We’re currently in testing phase. Because YOA sprung up more in response to a gap in the social market (rather than the economic one) we’re still busy trying to work out how to make it sustainable.
Having worked for an NGO myself for close to 7 years now, I know firsthand how difficult those funding models can be. I opted for the social enterprise route not only for financial sustainability, but also for impartiality’s sake – part of YOA’s work is advocating on behalf of young people and I certainly wouldn’t want to see that autonomy diluted.
Right now, we’re involved in running events, workshops, and even a Study Tour to India early next year! I hope to find a way to continue offering most of these services free to young people because if the last six months has taught me nothing else, it’s that this is something that is certainly needed!
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
Right now we are working on expansion! Casting our net far and wide to find the organisations and individuals who share our vision and making sure we connect and complement the great work they are already doing. We’re in the process of recruiting Regional Curators, who will be our eyes and ears on the ground, and developing partnerships and opportunities for young people to engage and connect with one another. The next three months will be about strategizing and optimising for 2015, which gets me really excited to see what we can achieve!
How do you make ideas happen?
Just start. Since the inception of YOA I have met countless of other young people who have incredible ideas and are looking for advice in terms of knowing how to get their project off the ground. My best advice would be to just start. Do your research, use common sense, trust your instincts and just go for it. You’ll never anticipate all the challenges you’re going to come up against along the way, but I firmly believe that if you go in with an open heart and clear intentions, the rest will fall into place. And if it doesn’t work out – what did you learn? How would you do things differently next time? Chances are you’re not the same person as when you started, so you should never be afraid to give it a go. Don’t listen to the doubters; your youth is a time for pushing boundaries, exploring options and testing ideas. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and take them on the journey!
What does your typical day look like?
Every day is different, which is something I love (and sometimes hate). Love because of the dynamism of tasks and people I meet, but hate because unlike my day job, nothing is clear-cut – every day is about new priorities, managing your time most efficiently, and motivating yourself to reach sometimes ambiguous goals, which is challenging to do day in and day out.
I try to wake up at 5:30am on weekdays to get in some exercise before I start the day. I still work my day job three days a week and plan the other four around YOA, so 80-hour weeks are not uncommon. Finding the balance is what I struggle with most. Making time to spend with my family and friends is challenging, especially when I am completely invested in something and feel like the work is never done. This is something I continue to work on and am learning to prioritise.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
Wow, where do I start? I think social entrepreneurship itself is really interesting because the types of people it typically attracts often do not have significant business experience (myself included!). So when you start a project it’s often because you are passionate about the cause rather than because of its financial feasibility. In saying that, I’m a firm believer in the power of business to create social good and am determined to find a way to make this idea viable.
I think the most challenging aspect has been undergoing the steep learning curve associated with setting up a business in general; the legal, insurance, accounting aspects that you don’t necessarily anticipate or understand (let’s just say I certainly have a new appreciation and admiration for small business owners like my parents!). In saying that, nothing is insurmountable. I find the more people I talk to about this, the more assistance I am given. My advice here: don’t go it alone. Seek professional advice early to avoid making costly mistakes.
The other thing I would definitely point to is the rollercoaster of emotions associated with the process itself. Things go well one day and can become very hard the next. I won’t lie and say that I haven’t spent some nights lying awake worrying about the array of challenges that lie ahead. It can be really draining and at times socially isolating, particularly when those around you might not fully understand. I take solace in my peers. The story of Thankyou Water has played in the back of my mind on more than one occasion! I find that going to networking events and meeting other like-minded people always revitalises my spirits.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
Capture every experience as an opportunity for growth and think about how you could frame that on your resume – this is particularly important for young people with not much “experience” per se. I think everything you do in life has the potential to be framed in terms of skills: whether it’s travel, team sports, running a marathon, studying or just moving out of home. We need to stop thinking about what we have or haven’t done and start thinking about the journey. Employers don’t have time to connect the dots, so we need to do it for them. That means spelling out the skills you’ve developed and how they are relevant to the role for which you’re applying (and not selling yourself short!) This is something that I think young people aren’t always great at, but certainly something that I’d like to cultivate through YOA.
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
Both relatively new organisations but each doing very cool things for young people!
What about internationally?
idealist.org – sometimes a bit overwhelming with the sheer amount of content, but its career development resources are excellent.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
I think business plays an indispensible role: not only in terms of how it operates across its supply chain, but also in terms of disrupting markets, changing the way things “have always been done”, and taking the lead in addressing critical gaps in social and economic markets. Social enterprise is the obvious answer, but traditional business also has a critical role to play. Organisations like B Corp are doing a brilliant job at facilitating that change by creating a certification system which will increasingly shape whom consumers engage with and how business itself is done.
Speaking of affecting social change, we’ve teamed up with Shout for Good to encourage readers to ‘shout a coffee’ to charity by clicking the button below. Is there a particular charity you’d like to support?
I’d love your readers to support Reach!
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.
Well hopefully by the end of this they will have checked out ours: youngopportunities.org
Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter.
3 young Australian women doing awesome things!
Holly Ransom – @HollyRansom
Yassmin Abdel-Magied – @yassmin_a
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea?
Of course! As I mentioned earlier, we’re in a period of rapid growth so am I allowed to say all of the above? We are looking for anyone who shares our vision and passion in whatever form that takes! We’re particularly looking for bloggers, regional curators and are about to advertise for partnerships and events managers! Please get in touch: [email protected]
We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?
How can we better prepare and equip all young people with the skills they’ll need to thrive in an increasingly entrepreneurial world?
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
I’m loving my local Tommy Ruff fish & chip joint at the moment! But can’t go past Chin Chin.