Australia's first smash repair social enterprise Synergy Auto Repairs is offering positive, long-term outcomes for its participants, according to an independent report that examined the first two years of the operation.

The report found that participants experienced strong improvements in overall well-being, social stability and a willingness to work and stay away from negative influences during their time at Synergy, as well as developing the skills needed to build a sustainable career pathway.

 

Key findings of the report include:

  • 65% of Synergy participants had gone on to full time employment, or further full time education.
  • The Synergy program is innovative and has the opportunity to offer long-term positive outcomes to young people.
  • The program is valued by the participants as a way into employment and get ‘back on track’.
  • Young people value the mentoring relationships with trainers and the opportunity to participate in an adult ‘work’ environment where they are able to pursue their passion for cars in a productive manner.

Synergy is a partnership between Mission Australia, the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council and insurer Suncorp Group.

Mission Australia State Director Noel Mundy said that given where the Synergy trainees had come from, it was extremely encouraging to see almost three quarters of them in further full time work or education.

“Synergy is about creating a pathway to independence, breaking the cycle of crime, and providing a fulfilling alternative to corrections and detention for these young people,” My Mundy said.

Synergy is a great example of how innovative shared value partnerships between community, public and private organisations can address social issues while creating positive business and community outcomes.

“This evaluation report demonstrates that it is working and can be very effective, and so this kind of program has real potential for expansion.

Mr Mundy added that the report found that the cost of detention for young people can be as high as $440,000 per individual per year, and that despite that, there is a very high likelihood of re-offending as people are returned to the community with no skills or support.

“Synergy offers an opportunity for these young people to break the cycle of negative behaviour, and our participants have told us that the workshop environment provides an incentive to be constructive and stay away from negative influences,” Mr Mundy said.

“We also know that the cost of detention is very high, and it not necessarily effective. Not only does Synergy come at a fraction of the cost, it presents opportunities for these young people to positively contribute in the community.

“Our participants have told us that they truly value Synergy for the transformative impact it has on their lives, and that they find it to be a supportive environment, helping build their confidence and self-esteem.

“It’s about providing skills for life as much as it is skills for the smash repairs workshop, and it’s encouraging to see we are achieving those results. Synergy is not the end goal – it’s a pathway to the next opportunity.

“We hoped Synergy would be a prototype of sorts for more diversionary programs like this and I think this evaluation report shows that we are well and truly on the right track.”

The participants

Luke White, 19, is one of the Synergy success stories, now six months into a full time apprenticeship at a commercial workshop.

I had no idea what I wanted to do, and was really aimless. It wasn’t a great situation,
Luke said.

“A support worker referred me to the program and it literally changed my life. The leaders at Synergy taught me a lot about the job, but I learned a lot about adult life too.

“I love going to work now and working with cars. I don’t know where I’d be without Synergy.”

Luke said he had no doubt the program had the potential to make a difference for a lot of people like him.

Current participant Bodie, 16, has been at Synergy for four months, having abandoned a job as an apprentice plumber, and by his own admission, having fallen in with the wrong crowd.

“It’s changed my life completely, working here,” Bodie said.

“I was hanging around with the wrong people and didn’t have a whole lot of direction. I wanted to be a mechanic but hadn’t made much of an effort.

“Now though I like the routine, and the structure of coming in here every day. I’m usually the first one here, and that even surprises me.

“Learning about spray painting from the guys here has been life changing. I now know exactly where I want to go where I want to be.”

Background

Synergy Repairs is a commercial business offering quality non-structural smash repair services, while at the same time providing on-the-job training, work experience and support to young people with a history of motor vehicle related offences, such as theft, vandalism and hooning.

The social enterprise is designed as a diversionary program, to not only stop participants from re-offending, but also set them up for the future, while at the same time creating a new skilled workforce for the smash repairs industry.

Participants are supervised by an experienced, trade-qualified workshop manager, who also acts as the commercial manager of the business. The business is supported by a full time, experienced spray painter, and a full time, experienced panel-beater.

Participants are assisted to gain ongoing employment in the industry through Suncorp’s network of smash repairers, or undertake further education, or employment in another industry.

To date, 65% of participants who entered the Synergy program are engaged in full time employment or other forms of full time education.

Download the summary report here

Download the full report here

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