Not everyone gets the same chances in life, but sometimes a timely intervention can set someone on the path for a brighter future.

Improving the life opportunities for young people is a key reason why Amazon Web Services (AWS) is supporting Eagles RAPS, a non-profit organisation that provides skills training to disenfranchised youth in the Blacktown region of Western Sydney.

Eagles RAPS program coordinator Sally Wynd says the organisation’s goal is to build young people’s life skills so they can actively participate in education, employment, and their community.

“We work with young people who are in difficult circumstances for a whole range of reasons,” Wynd says. “More than 90% of our young people come from homes that experience disadvantage, and a lot of the time they have lived through significant trauma. Many of them have also fallen out of the school system or are at risk of doing so.”

Wynd says Eagles RAPS starts by working with young people to give them the confidence to see a brighter future, and then helps them get their lives on track through building skills and finding employment.

“Because these are very disadvantaged kids, they often don’t believe they can achieve such things. We help teach them that it’s possible,” Sally says.

Eagles RAPS was founded in 1997 as a youth centre, focused on improving mental health. It opened a drop-in centre in 2000 and began an education program in 2003 with just two young men as students. The word quickly spread and before long Eagles RAPS was facilitating courses through TAFE for around 20 young people a day. They quickly became known as an alternative education centre for young people who could not attend mainstream school for various reasons, and for their work minimising these issues while delivering education.

In 2018, Eagles RAPS became a Registered Training Organisation (RTO). They still use TAFE for some Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses, but now run their own Foundation Skills, certificates in Information Technology, White Card, and First Aid courses.

Eagles RAPS Service Director, Scott Dent says that being an RTO means they can help young people complete their secondary education and gain qualifications in fields including hospitality, information technology, early childhood, and community services.

“The big things for us are employability, behaviour, and work ethic,” Scott says. “We also provide counselling and mentoring to improve behaviours and attitudes. If we can get students into an education program where we can work with them five days a week, for four or five hours a day, that is an enormously meaningful amount of time that we get to spend with them.”

In late 2019, and as part of our mission to create innovative programs that have a lasting impact in the regions where we work, live and raise our families, the AWS InCommunities team began supporting Eagles RAPS and its Doonside centre in New South Wales. Since then, we have sponsored 10 to15 positions annually to help young people complete the various courses that Eagles RAPS offers.

Among the courses students study is the Certificate III in Information Technology, a nationally recognised qualification which provides foundational skills and knowledge needed to start a career in the IT industry. Having the opportunity to complete the Certificate III study has opened new pathways for student Noah Tirados, who was struggling with what he calls the “normal high school environment”, and was referred into the program when he was 16.

“I joined Eagles RAPS in 2019 and started with the Workplace Skills Certificate,” Noah says. “I’ve been here three years and enjoy how closely we get to work with Sally and Scott to complete our studies – it’s like having your own coach in your corner, every day.”

“I’m now studying my Cert III in Information Technology with Eagles RAPS and should be done by April 2022. I’ve always been interested in IT, so to be able to study something I enjoy is cool. I’m currently building a computer as part of the course and look forward to finding a job in IT once I finish the course,” Noah says.

In addition to providing course funding, AWS staff also act as mentors to some of the young people in the program. Furthermore, in 2021, AWS helped Eagles RAPS upgrade their IT infrastructure so the students could continue their education throughout COVID-19 lockdowns.

With December 6 marking the graduation of the Eagles RAPS class of 2021, and the inauguration of the 2022 class, AWS is pleased to announce it has reaffirmed its commitment and is providing another year of funding to Eagles RAPS. AWS made this announcement at a graduation event attended by Blacktown Mayor Cr. Tony Bleadedale OAM, Member for Blacktown, Stephen Bali MP, and The Hon Ed Husic MP, Member for Chifley.

Speaking at the event, Cr. Tony Bleasdale, OAM, Mayor of Blacktown City Council said, “Education and training are vital for our young people. There will be an enormous need for skilled roles in Western Sydney, with the region forecast to grow by 85% over the next two decades. Congratulations to the Eagles RAPS graduating class and to all involved in the program. I’m incredibly proud to support such a great initiative.”

Also speaking at the event, Toni Knowlson, Head of Strategic Initiatives, Australia and New Zealand, AWS said, “At AWS we value workforces that represent diverse backgrounds, and we know that our next generation of creative thinkers and future builders can come from all walks of life. We’re passionate about partnering with local education organisations like Eagles RAPS, to help students build the practical skills and mental resilience needed in today’s workforce, and to empower them to pursue careers in areas they never imagined. This particular graduating cohort achieved their certifications despite being locked down with some of the toughest restrictions we’ve seen during the pandemic. I’m really excited to see what they do next.”

Dent says the additional funding will be essential for helping Eagles RAPS continue to improve the lives of disadvantaged youth in Western Sydney.

“Right now, we are igniting a flame by finding the right kids who can really benefit from our of training,” Dent says. “AWS is a brilliant tool for anyone who might even have the slightest inkling that they want to work in IT. Our students also learn the importance of digital skills for every job.

“The message that we try to get across is that IT isn’t as simple as IT anymore, the diversity of roles and jobs and career options that are aligned with IT are enormous.”

AWS has an extensive history of providing skills training and development to people from diverse backgrounds around the world. We have helped over 200,000 Australians gain cloud skills since 2017, as part of our goal of supplying free cloud computing skills training to 29 million people by 2025. AWS provides a number of learning pathways for people to seek, and train, in digital skills. For example, AWS Educate provides K-12 students with free online, self-paced cloud learning resources, and AWS Academy integrates with tertiary curriculums to help improve students’ digital literacy and skills. Meanwhile, the AWS re/Start program provides a free, 12-week full-time skills training program that prepares unemployed, and underemployed people for careers in cloud computing, while our SheDares program is working to increase the representation of women in the IT industry.