ReNew Property Maintenance (ReNew) is a gardening and landscaping social enterprise operating under parent organisation Dismantle. Its mission is to support disadvantaged young people in Perth, Western Australia (WA) to enter the workforce by providing entry-level paid work and vocational pathways.
“For a young person that's at risk of long-term unemployment, the most important job they'll ever have is their first one,” says Dismantle CEO Pat Ryan.
“We started ReNew in 2019 and we have a current capacity of about 50 to 60 placements each year. We get access to young people through referral partners and we support them to really step up and take charge of their own lives by helping them sustain award-wage work,” he says.
“It’s frequent work, at least two if not three or four days a week, and some young people are working for us full time. We also provide wraparound support through our Job Ready program,” he says. “So while a young person is working for ReNew as an employee, that's a legal relationship. But Job Ready is an additional function of a social worker or case manager that engages with young people while they're working for us and also helps them to get their next job in a competitive workforce.”
Alongside ReNew, Dismantle also operates BikeRescue, a youth development program that mentors young people in school through bicycle mechanic activities, and BikeDr, a bike-servicing business that provides work experience and traineeships for select BikeRescue graduates.
ReNew’s main KPI is to support young people to enter the workforce and sustain their employment for a minimum of six months.
“We’re trying to catch young people who are falling through the cracks and we try to get them early,” says Pat. “Young people don't leave our employment until they get another job. We have some young people that work with us for six months then move on, but we also have people who stay longer.”
Attendance rates for BikeRescue is above 80 percent, and participation is close to 100 percent once participants transition into work with ReNew or BikeDr.
“We have one young person who’s been working with us over two and a half years because he's just not quite yet ready to exit. Fortunately, we don’t have any sort of deadline that has to be met — we just work on confidence building and support to apply for jobs,” he says.
Room to improve
Young people involved in ReNew are often overcoming a number of hurdles and hardships to be present on any working day, including homelessness, family problems, mental health issues and poverty.
“Ninety-nine percent of our participants are living in poverty,” says Pat.
“There are young people that are coming to us who are waking up at 4:30 in the morning. They're riding their bike 20 minutes to get to the train, they're arriving at work by 6:30am, going out and doing seven hours of hard work on the tools — lawn mowing and whipper snippering — then coming back here to leave at 3:30pm and spending another hour and a half on public transport to get back home. And they're doing that again the next day all while dealing with really significant dysfunction,” he says.
“That's why the work we're doing is incredible, because we have these young people really stepping up and trying to take charge of their own lives,” he says.
“But at the same time, it's really difficult for us to run an enterprise with a highly unreliable workforce. We're on the brink of about 30 percent absenteeism each day and more than half of the time it’s because something has happened and they just don't have the capacity to come to work that day,” he says.
“But that is why this employment with us is so important. They need to have that buffer of getting into the pattern of work as a lifestyle. We are able to help them iron out those kinks, so that they are set up for success when they do get their next job.”
A lighthouse for social enterprises
Pat is hoping that a longitudinal study in the future will answer questions around life outcomes for the young people involved.
“What we really want to know is, what’s the difference if someone with this set of risk factors does our program versus someone that doesn't? What is the benefit or cost to the community?” he says. “What we do know is that ReNew, while it’s not the only thing we do, accounts for more than 50 per cent of our impact.”
ReNew paid about $400,000 in wages to young people last financial year.
“We track wages as an outcome, not an output,” he says. “Because our young people are living in poverty, a reliable and sustainable source of income is a status change for them. They go from having no resources to now having consistent, reliable and frequent resources coming their way via work. It is a very significant change.”
Pat is ready for ReNew to pave the way for other social enterprises in WA and take on an advocacy role in the broader sector.
“‘Social enterprise’ isn't a word in WA,” he says. “We're operating in an environment where there is no recognition of social enterprise, and there is no social procurement policy for government or for corporate. It's a completely different landscape to what's been happening in eastern states for over 10 years now.
“We want to become a lighthouse for other social enterprises and not-for-profits in WA. We want to be a beacon for how social enterprise works,” he says.
“I'm really proud of what we do here. Being connected with Westpac Foundation has genuinely opened up doors to other organisations and partnership opportunities that we otherwise absolutely would not have the visibility to be able to access,” he says.
“In fact, we’re having conversations with Paul Ramsey Foundation right now, based on a connection made from the Westpac Foundation Team.”
Westpac Foundation is currently supporting ReNew with a Social Enterprise Grant of $300,000 over three years.
Find out more about ReNew.