Recently, Youth Opportunities interviewed our founder, Peter Marshman OAM, to discuss the importance and relevance of our online program, Thrive Online, and its origins. Peter is a successful businessperson, author and entrepreneur who has owned a number of well-known businesses in SA, and founded Youth Opportunities over 20 years ago.
The YO program has been so successful. Why did you see the need for the new Thrive Online program?
The Thrive Online programs came from a desire to appeal to a wider range of schools and the general public. The face-to-face program (Personal Leadership Program) continues to be our core program, but taking students away from the standard curriculum one day per week for a term is a disruption that may not appeal to all schools. The Personal Leadership Program is also resource intensive program, requiring considerable fundraising effort to fund each one.
Thrive Online was developed by Marshman Foundation (Youth Opportunities’ research and development arm) to overcome these problems, and to reach more students across more schools. We wanted to offer a more flexible option that appeals to a range of audiences, from the more engaged students able to self-pace, through to facilitated support for those facing greater challenge. In this way, we can continue to reach the students struggling with the skills to overcome a whole range of problems, such as lack of direction, motivation, poor relationships, bullying and mental health issues but on a larger scale. Thrive Online gives these students the tools to fight life’s battles armed with hope and confidence, instead of fear and insecurity.
How has the online program changed since its inception?
While we got the concepts taught right the first time, we have battled to get technology right. We are at the forefront of this form of education and there were few guidelines to follow. As such, the first programs were clunky and hard to follow for the student and the supervising trainer. After several years of trial, error and continuous improvement, we are now getting great results, while continuing to learn more and more about how to use technology and blend face-to-face training with it to achieve the best results.
What is your vision for the online program?
There will always be a focus on the face-to-face program in the areas where re-engagement of students, who are most at risk, is key to successful outcomes. The greatest opportunities for reaching more young people needing the tools, however, lies in the flexible versions of the program, blending online technology with face-to-face facilitation and one-on-one coaching. In this way, it becomes far more scaleable and affordable. I envisage an expansion of various versions of these programs into schools throughout Australia, and to the general public.
What is your vision for YO?
Twenty-three years ago, I started YO in the belief when young people gain hope, believe in themselves and learn the skills to take control of their life, rather than remain a victim of their circumstances, then magic happens and lives change for the better—for them and the people around them.
The results have proved me correct and, as our reputation grows, YO continues to expand its reach to more and more young people disadvantaged by their circumstances. Thrive Online gives us more options, and I can visualise a time when various versions of the program are being run in schools throughout Australia – all with follow-up coaching and financial scholarships available to those who deserve, and need, the extra support.
During my 23 years, the impact of the 10-week program, and the skills taught, have had on a young person’s future, has continued to amaze me. It has compelled me to do more. I now hope YO acts as a catalyst for change to bring about a time when skills, like those being taught in our programs, are part of mainstream curriculum, rather than add-on programs.
In this age of technology, where we can get nearly all answers from Google, and change is the norm, life skills such as decision making, value and attitude determination, planning and connecting with others are keys to success. I picture a time when all teachers are trained from university to teach these skills and some specialise in them as a key subject line. The more research we do at Marshman Foundation, the more I am convinced there is a new age upon us, as computer technology continues to change our employment opportunities and liberalism increases our personal choices. If we are to thrive in this environment, and overcome the mental health issues associated with it, we must focus more on the skills required to adapt to these changes.
Why is the online program so valuable today, especially during this challenging time?
COVID-19 meant schools cancelled almost all outside contractors in term two. Thrive Online has allowed us to continue to deliver our services flexibly and with adherence to the quality our schools expect, and the high standards we have set ourselves. In the same way we teach students to grow and be able to adapt, we have grown as an organisation by being ready with the delivery tools to adapt to the needs of this fast-changing world.
Mental health issues and the need for personal leadership are going to be a significant part of post COVID-19, so we are adapting Thrive Online to meet this need in a whole range of applications.