NRL legend Johnathan Thurston calls on employers to invest in Australia’s young jobseekers

The icon shares his passion for inspiring teenagers both on and off the field

NRL legend Johnathan Thurston calls on employers to invest in Australia’s young jobseekers

NRL legend Johnathan Thurston is calling on Australia’s employers to invest in the next generation as he continues to help young people into the workforce. The Queensland great is known as one of the sport’s most successful players and off the field, his ambitions are just as impressive.

Having launched the Johnathan Thurston Academy in February 2018, Thurston has cemented his commitment to preparing teenagers for the workplace and helping them make the leap from education to employment. But Thurston’s passion for inspiring young people began long before his retirement from Rugby League. After being recruited for the inaugural Indigenous All Stars team in 2010, Thurston began learning about his family background and his mum’s early home in Mitchell, an outback town six hours west of Brisbane.

Taking a trip there with his grandfather, uncle and cousins was a pivotal moment and sparked a passion for improving educational opportunities for north Queensland communities that continued throughout his rugby career. Speaking to HRD, Thurston said the experience opened his eyes as to what he could achieve with the platform he’d built on the rugby field.

“I’ve seen first-hand how education around employment can change a person's life and not only their life, but their family’s lives as well,” he said. “The goal of the academy is to inspire teenagers to further their education or move into employment and to have confidence, courage, and self-belief. Those are the three characteristics that I had to display as a teenager to get where I wanted to be.

“I’ve been dealt with a lot of setbacks in my life but it’s about getting back up and going again – that’s what we’re trying to teach our young people.”

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The Academy is growing into one of Australia’s leading providers of employment initiatives and community programs aimed at employment, education and well-being. Throughout the pandemic, the key aim has been to stay connected and keep spirits high despite the hardship facing the country’s young jobseekers.

Now, Thurston is calling on HR leaders to encourage their organisations to get involved with employment initiatives and do their part in shifting the dial on youth unemployment.

“Given what the country is going through, it's more important than ever that we have HR leaders connecting with young people to inspire them and give them a helping hand because a lot of kids out there feel lost,” he said. “We want like-minded organisations to be a part of the academy where we can create social change, because if we have more confidence in our nation's youth then our communities are only going to be a better place.”

Thurston said he is proud of what the Academy has achieved so far but COVID-19 has been devastating for young people in the region.

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Queensland’s already high youth unemployment rate rose to 15% in July last year as a result of the pandemic, with areas like Cairns, Wide Bay and the Sunshine Coast experiencing increases of more than 10%. The situation facing First Nations teenagers is even more stark.

The recently launched JT Youth Jobs board connects jobseekers with real work opportunities through industry partnerships with the likes of Lendlease, Accor Hotels and Evolution Mining. The streamlined application process is accessible and easy to use, showcasing entry level positions as well as apprenticeships online.

“Because of Covid, there is a lot of work to be done in this space and what we want to do is connect employers with young people who are inspired to work, help build confidence in them but also hopefully take them on a journey with their employment,” Thurston said.

“What we say to these young people is just get your foot in the door, because you don't know what other opportunities will come next.”

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