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IN THE BEGINNING
When Fred Phillips ventured outdoors on a cold, gloomy day in Melbourne to buy a copy of the daily newspaper, he had little idea that his initiative and concern for others would, over time, result in the establishment of a national network working to assist others in their search for successful employment. His entrepreneurship would inspire individuals and organisations nationally and internationally to provide assistance and guidance to hundreds of thousands unemployed and distressed individuals.
During these daily walks in Noble Park, Fred noticed the same groups of unemployed young people congregating outside pinball parlours and newsagencies. Fred obtained the support of the local Member of Parliament, who offered Fred the use of his office while away in Canberra. He approached 52 senior executives of companies in the local community and urged an executive from each firm to become a “coach”, enabling these young people positions and support within the company.
Fred sourced participants from local schools, asking teachers and staff to nominate students who might find seeking employment a difficult task, including those who found learning difficult and those who engaged in truancy. Fred then referred these young people to “coaches” in many different organisations. By Christmas that year, three months later, Fred had secured employment for 58 young people.
A committee of ten local business members was then formed and a constitution was drawn up. In March 1979, the Government provided funding and Bridging the Gap was created.
In time, the number of coaches and participating companies increased, and thousands of young people were now earning a regular income. People from different backgrounds, cultures and ages were being assisted by Bridging the Gap in their search for employment. As a result of it’s success, Bridging the Gap aimed to open 12 other offices around the country – including 4 in Perth. Fred also opened an office in Slough, England. According to Fred, as of June 1987, 10,000 people who had visited the offices of Bridging the Gap, were engaged in full-time employment.
Larry Davis, a previous employee of the Department of Employment and Training indicated that the idea of Bridging the Gap came from the Rotary Club in Victoria who presented the notion to the Government in 1985. The WA Government then decided to fund the Bridging the Gap projects as a means of responding to the rising levels of unemployment. The Bridging the Gap vision fitted the belief of the Government that community-driven initiatives were the most likely programs to get the desired responses.
It was about the same time -1986 – that the JobLink concept took shape. JobLink was designed to assist people with career decisions, job applications and other employment related issues. The term job-linking refers to the strategy of using people who have pre-existing established networks to help people who do not have established social networks. JobLink was administered through approximately forty four community-based organizations which reflected characteristics of the local regions. An initiative of the WA Government, now there are 39 JobLink projects in the State.
A steadily increasing number of clientele, a large number of whom travelled to Medina from Rockingham, made it necessary for Bridging the Gap to enhance its profile in the Rockingham region. In 1996, part of the Bridging the Gap operations were moved to Lotteries House in Rockingham, with Barry Bolton in charge as manager.
Bridging the Gap was funded by the Department of Employment and Training of the Western Australian Government under its Skills West umbrella. As an community focused organisation, it has the support of the Rockingham and Kwinana councils, a number of local employers and service groups like the Rotary, Lions and Apex Clubs.
With this support, Bridging The Gap Rockingham/ Kwinana seized an opportunity to become an even more powerful entity within the local community when in 1998 Bridging the Gap was approached to join Jobfutures Ltd, a national organisation formed after the demise of the Commonwealth Employment Service and Skillshare. At the time, Jobfutures was the only provider of Green Corps in the country, which meant that Bridging the Gap was able to offer environmental programs to its client base.
In 1999, due to the success it had in delivering Federal employment programs to jobseekers, Bridging The Gap Rockingham/ Kwinana became a full member of Jobfutures. At that stage, Bridging The Gap Rockingham/ Kwinana was delivering job-matching which involved obtaining vacancies from employers and referring suitable jobseekers to the positions.
In 2000 Bridging the Gap strengthened its balance sheet with Federal Government contracts and the forming of new partnerships, resulting in the increased provision of services, exceeding the record for any previous year. The financial year 2000-2001 offered JOBfutures a chance to grow even further and in order to accommodate it’s expansion, Bridging the Gap moved to new premises at Hunsdon House on Council Avenue, Rockingham. A turnover of about $1 million represented a three-fold increase over the previous financial year and BTG were successful in our tender for the JobSearch training contract, which included a component of job-matching, providing jobseekers with the facilities and knowledge they need in order to gain full time employment. Although initially structured to assist 200 individuals, the contract was expanded by 2002 to support over 400 clients.
In 2001 a major program was undertaken by Bridging the Gap for the Australian National Training Authority, an arm of the Federal Government, to conduct research and run programmes for 25 students at risk of substance abuse. Positive Pathways was again implemented in the form of a 20-week course for at-risk youth. Funded by Safer WA and the Lotteries Commission (Gordon Reid Foundation), Positive Pathways was tasked with enabligh young people to develop the kind of skills needed to gain meaningful employment. This program ran in conjunction with Positive Choices, an accredited “Life Skills” program concentrating on personal development offered to clients of all ages, in addition to Career Builder, a computer based career counselling tool allowing clients to explore possible career directions most suited to their interests and skills.
By 2002 Bridging the Gap was successful in winning a contract to offer the Career and Transition Pilot Program funded by the Federal Government, Department of Education, Science and Training. There were two hundred and thirty eight applications across Australia, twenty-three of which were selected, including Bridging the Gap JOBfutures Rockingham Kwinana. The aim of the pilot program was to gather information regarding the career goals and education of years 8 and 9 high school students within the local area with the aim of assisting high school students to define career goals and prepare for job search activities.
WHERE ARE WE NOW
In keeping with the values and philosophy of its originator, to this day Bridging the Gap maintains close links with the community. In the almost 2 decades since 2003, Bridging the Gap has continued to expand and build upon its programs to continue to deliver services to jobseekers, at-risk youth, the unemployed, disadvantaged and disenfranchised from our offices located in Kwinana, Mandurah and Armadale.
While the names of our programs may have changed, the goal and end result of our efforts remains the same and we continue to work closely with major community stakeholders to specifically target issues affecting our local communites.
Bridging the Gap provides these and other programs to meet and uphold our vision to empower people and build communities through self sufficiency, social inclusion, practical training and enhanced employment opportunities.