The Y in Australia is in the unique position of being employer to approximately 6,000 young people as part of its team of 11,500 paid staff and almost 1,000 volunteers, as well as service provider to many more. In fact, we see 16 million Australian visits or participations in our programs and services annually – and almost half of these are by children or young people, across our 600+ sites, many of which are in regional and rural areas across the nation.
A career in designing systems to improve access for all
Name: Craig Mathieson
Years with the Y: 6 years in total.
Craig’s initial role was Aquatics Coordinator with YMCA Victoria at the Fawkner Swim Centre in Coburg, which was within weeks of arriving in Australia from Scotland on a working holiday visa. His second role with the Y commenced in 2017, as Manager of Recreation and Communities for both Ballarat Y and Grampians Y (as they were merging to become one).
His degree in product design engineering may at first seem an unlikely incumbant for a leadership role within the Y, which is very much a people-orientated organisation.
But Craig Mathieson, appointed Chief Executive for Y Ballarat in mid 2022, after a period as Acting CEO, quickly saw the Y was a rich environment for putting ideas into practice.
“The thing I have found true in all my roles in the Y, is that no matter what role you are in, your ideas are sought out and listened to, and you are given opportunities and freedom to make things happen,” he said.
Improving tools and systems to enable teams to do their work remains pivotal to Craig’s approach to leadership, which is fortunate, as the Y he’s currently leading has experienced exponential growth in the last 2-3 years, with a huge growth in its kindergarten operations.
Actively recruiting local young people is also essential to the organisation’s workforce strategy, with the Y now one of the region’s largest employers and providers of children’s services.
“We’re always looking for young people with potential and energy, and we’re a first employer for many young people, a responsibility we take very seriously. Many of them want to stay in their community, and employment with the Y can provide them with a long-term career path that allows them to do that.”
Craig personally hopes to encourage more people into educational and caring careers, having seen the “life changing” opportunity this path has opened up for many.
Craig’s own career began as a swim teacher in Scotland in his early 20s, where as a teen he had swum at an elite level.
This eventually led to him managing a private swim school in London with 35 centres, and onto a leadership role with Scotland’s peak swimming body, running a program to create access to swimming lessons for every child in Scotland. He had a similar role with Swimming Australia for over 2 years, before he rejoined the Y for his second stint.
In Craig’s career journey from Scotland to Ballarat, from elite swimming and product design engineering to running large swim schools and programs, he ultimately realised how much he enjoyed positively impacting on children’s lives, and ensuring equality of access for all children to education, and has found great alignment with the Y’s Mission to provide opportunities for all.
“The Y is a great place to start your career due to the opportunities and experiences you will be exposed to, but not only that, your own growth and ideas are valued and are contributing to the overall impact on communities and the lives of young people,” Craig added.
Helping shape the leaders of tomorrow – OSHC employees!
Name: Michael Ford
Role: Executive Manager OSHC, the Y Victoria
Years with the Y: Over two
Commenced: March 2020 – literally had one day in the office then was sent home and has remained working from home for the Y through the pandemic (whilst juggling two children now aged 5 and 3!)
Like many young people starting out Michael Ford tried his hand at a number of jobs including factory pack picker, laborer, and bartender before finding his passion helping to create ‘leaders of tomorrow’.
This realization came during a three-year stint in his early 20s as a camp counsellor in the USA, which lead to a 10-year stint with Camp Australia, where he steadily rose through the ranks to become a General Manager.
Today, now working with the Y, he has responsibility for 60 Outside School Hours Care Programs which include occasional care programs and school holiday programs run through recreation centres all managed by the Y Victoria, leading a team of around 320 largely young people.
He sees the varied career pathways that working in outside school hours for the Y can open up. For example, as an OSHC employee you can start as an educator, become a coordinator, a mentor coordinator, a manager (of a portfolio of centres), an area manager, or even an Executive like Michael!
He says the Y’s national and global reach is a big drawcard for young employees that cannot be underestimated. Currently he’s excited to be talking to a Y in Japan who are looking for some guidance on establishing an outside school hours care program.
“The opportunities with the Y are endless,” says Michael.
“And what’s really motivating for me in working in OSHC is that you can actually have a positive impact on the youth of today and help shape the leaders of tomorrow.”
Michael says despite nation-wide employee shortages exacerbated by the global pandemic, the Y has fared well in recruiting and retaining its employees.
“We’ve been really lucky because people really want to work for a purpose-driven organisation committed to the youth of today and tomorrow.
“There are so many opportunities to do this, whether you’re working in our early learning centres, as a swimming teacher, gymnastics instructor, in OSHC, or in our camps, action sports programs or youth programs such as Youth Parliament.”
From Stadium Coordinator to CEO
Name: Alexandra Ash
At just 33, Alex Ash, led YMCA Victoria’s portfolio of 81 recreation services with an annual turnover of $120M and a team of 2,400 staff, as part of the Executive Leadership team for the largest Y in Australia.
Alex lived and breathed ‘the caring culture of the Y” on a daily basis, but when she first joined the organisation as a stadium manager for a local government partner, she had “no idea” that she was commencing what would become a 13-year career that would lead her to one of the organisation’s most senior leadership roles, international opportunities and life-long friendships.
“I didn’t even realise the centre was part of the Y, nor how big the Y brand was in Victoria, let alone nationally and globally,” says Alex.
She credits the support she received from senior leaders and mentors around her for the many opportunities she has been offered – often being ‘nudged’ or approached to apply for opportunities that weren’t even on her radar.
For example, she was 36 weeks pregnant with her second child, now two, when she got a call from the CEO asking where was her application for the prestigious role she now occupies?
“It wasn’t even on my radar to be honest she says. I was so pregnant, and surprised I would even be considered, but the organisation showed enormous faith in me, and backed me for the role knowing I’d be on maternity leave for 12 months.
“The leaders around me have always had my back and been so incredibly supportive of me having a crack at any opportunity.”
Along the way she received training in everything from finance and team building to lifeguarding, and was supported to be part of the prestigious Williamson Institute Leadership Program, and to complete her Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) course, to support her appointment to several industry not for profit boards.
Alex says young people looking for a rewarding career in a caring and supportive organisation full of variety and opportunity should consider the Y, which teaches highly valued workplace skills such as communications, finance and teamwork, that can be applied across a wide portfolio of industries in the Y – from early learning and outside school hours care to recreation and also lead to other career opportunities with other organisations.
“The Y really values the whole person, not just what you bring to work,” she adds.
“Don’t think you have to tick every box before you have a go, don’t underestimate yourself and don’t be shy to ask for what you want,” advises Alex.
Alex commenced as CEO of Gymnastics Australia in May 2022.
A caring and diverse career journey with the Y
Name: Courtney Anderson
Courtney Anderson has quite literally grew up in the Y.
Her journey with the Y started with taking swimming lessons as a child, leading to an interest in volunteering there as a junior lifeguard at 14, before securing her first paid job at 17 as a vacation care leader and swim teacher.
She credits her early Y experience with helping her get into a teaching degree, “My marks on their own might not have been what I was aiming for but I had already received early acceptance into the university through a program which took into account the skills I’d gained in volunteering and working for the Y”. She went on to complete her Bachelor of Education degree, all the while continuing to work for the Y, eventually realising that the sense of belonging and purpose she had found and the variety of ongoing opportunities were worth sticking around for.
In her 17-year career she worked in multiple roles including teaching swimming lessons, lifeguarding, being an aquatics coordinator, duty manager, and working in customer service, marketing and membership roles, before serving three CEOs as Executive Assistant and Office Manager including the National CEO until mid 2022.
She’s worked with children, people with disabilities and older adults, in particular during her time as a swimming teacher, and got “great joy” from helping customers achieve their goals.
Courtney credits the Y with teaching her “almost everything” she has needed in her work – from teamwork and compassion to budgeting and business planning. It also enabled her to gain formal qualifications through completing a Cert 4 in Business and a Diploma in Leadership and Management through the AFL SportsReady Program offered through the Y, too.
A life-long learner, in 2021 Courtney also successfully completed a Masters in Business, whilst working full time, with the Y.
“The Y is the kind of place that will give you a sense of purpose no matter what role you are working in. If you’re a young person just starting out, I doubt you’ll find a more caring organisation with so much variety and opportunities to offer you, and people around you to support and mentor you.”
Information current in 2022