Building a strong First Nations workforce in rural Western NSW

  • Image: Left to right: Brendan Cubby – Acting Program Manager Youth Outreach Project, Brenda Duncan – Community Engagement Officer, Tim Carr – Training and Engagement Officer, Travis Hill – Community Engagement Officer, Max Hill – Community Engagement Officer. 

Image: Left to right: Brendan Cubby – Acting Program Manager Youth Outreach Project, Brenda Duncan – Community Engagement Officer, Tim Carr – Training and Engagement Officer, Travis Hill – Community Engagement Officer, Max Hill – Community Engagement Officer. 

Marathon Health is a not-for-profit, registered charity with a vision of enabling country communities to thrive through improved health and wellbeing. We’re passionate advocates for equal access to quality health services for people wherever they choose to live.

We know that young people in regional communities experience significantly higher rates of mental health concerns, but also have limited access to adequate support.

To help address this gap in services, in partnership with the Western Primary Health Network (PHN) and the Department of Regional NSW, planning for the Youth Outreach Project (YOP) commenced. The YOP is a culturally safe outreach support service designed to improve outcomes for young people living in ten small communities in Western NSW via the provision of early intervention youth mental health services.

To support service delivery, we needed to develop a strong workforce. Key to this was building the capacity of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners to develop primary and mental health skills and establish service pathways in the target communities.

Supporting our commitment to growing a First Nations workforce

A key strategy under Marathon Health’s Cultural Safety Framework is our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Workforce Development Plan.

We aim to grow a well-supported Aboriginal workforce that reflects the communities we work in and supports engagement and trust in our services by creating culturally safe workspaces where everyone is encouraged to examine their own cultural identities and attitudes.

Employed by Marathon Health, more than 20 YOP learners are supported to complete a formal qualification through a combination of face-to-face learning and practical training while being hosted in health services across the communities to provide opportunity for education and growth.

Through this model, learners gain an introduction to the healthcare sector over 12 months, and the skills and experience to deliver YOP services in their community.

An innovative recruitment approach

At the outset we identified a need for a non-traditional recruitment approach to connect with a typically harder to reach audience. We worked closely with Marathon Health First Nations staff to ensure messaging and tactics were relevant, and that we engaged in a culturally sensitive and appropriate way. Our strategy involved trialling several different channels to maximise our reach – resulting in Marathon Health’s largest and most unique multi-channel recruitment campaign.

The strategy included traditional, targeted media (print, radio) and digital media (online newspaper ads, social media, and web updates). In a first for Marathon Health, the Western Plains app was trialled, covering 11 LGAs in Western NSW and resulting in approximately 16,000 views from its 11,000+ users. 

Additional on-the-ground tactics included flyers and posters placed in high-traffic areas in the communities. The posters featured a QR code that led to a dedicated learner recruitment page.

Throughout the recruitment process, local community engagement was vital. Our dedicated YOP team engaged with young people and their families, community members, Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, local service providers, Elders, schools and local government. Community visits were frequent and in-person, building connections and interest among the target communities, ultimately contributing to the overwhelming success of the recruitment activities.

As part of the onboarding, each learner received a pack, including a custom designed, culturally sensitive Wellness Journal, aimed at fostering positive mental health and documenting their training journey. 

Learners in action

The first group of learners will graduate in March 2024, with additional learners on track to graduate later in the year. Following graduation, learners will be supported to explore employment or further learning options that suit them – such as roles delivering the YOP services, transition to further education, or placement with their host organisation or other relevant organisations within their community.

Learners have told us that they feel supported and proud to be part of this initiative and have developed the right skills to better help others. One learner said that the initiative “feels like it is from Aboriginal people to Aboriginal people” – which speaks to the focus of placing people at the centre of the program.

Throughout the onboarding and training journey, learners have built meaningful community connections, while gaining skills and experience to be part of a strong First Nations workforce that is well-equipped to deliver mental health services now and into the future.

YOP is currently in the co-design phase, to allow for shared decision-making into the development, design, implementation, and evaluation of activities, with service delivery expected to commence from May 2024. For more information on the project visit

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