In a large meeting room in Ventia's Melbourne office, a group of employees and local students stare nervously at a bridge made of straws. Suddenly and without warning, the group is thrown into a combination of laugher and disappointment as the bridge buckles under the increasing weight it is being asked to carry (a block of chocolate) and yes, it will now promptly be eaten).

This scene might seem unusual for a workplace, but moments like this have become a regular sight since 2017 when Ventia became a member of the Australian Business and Community Network (ABCN), a not-for-profit organisation that connects business with disadvantaged students through mentoring and partnership programs.

The aim of the ABCN program is to provide students with the skills and work experience they require to make sound personal, education and vocational choices through structured programs that involve corporate volunteers. 

The program not only provides a great opportunity for students to develop their skills, it also provides our employees with a rewarding experience and the ability to develop leadership skills outside of the normal work environment.

Support where it is needed

At the heart of the ABCN program is the aim to level the playing field for students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

According to Victoria University, almost one third of Australian youth from the lowest socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds do not complete Year 12 by age 19. This is often not due to ability, instead it can be a range of factors including poverty, cultural barriers, trauma, lack of positive role models and limited expectations.

The aim of ACBN and its partners such as Ventia is that small interventions through targeted mentoring programs can assist in levelling the playing field with these students.

A growing part of our organisation 

Ventia has grown its participation in the program year-on-year from a small cohort of 72 mentors in 2017 to well over 200 in 2023.

Nearly 1,700 students have benefited from taking part in the programs with Ventia mentors and more than 800 Ventia staff contributed over 3,500 volunteer hours.

Students range from grade two primary school students through to senior secondary school.

Programs with Ventia are currently being undertaken in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia with plans to expand to regional areas based on employee demand.

Making an impact 

Ventia ABCN champion and mentor Matt Trotman said that the program has left a positive impression on all who have taken part.

"Mentors will sometimes come in a little apprehensive having not done something like this previously, as do the students, and by the end what you have is two groups who have learned a whole lot from each other, and had a great time in the process" Matt said.

“Over the years we've built up some strong relationships with local schools which helps with us being seen as a part of the local communities where we operate."

The feedback we always get from the students, teachers and our own mentors always makes for great reading.

A small sample of that feedback from mentors includes:

A small sample of that feedback from mentors includes:

"A fantastic opportunity to have a positive impact on improving school kids' exposure to STEM as well as improving your own mentoring skills."

"One of the most personally fulfilling things you will do all year. Absolutely dedicate the time to be in one of the ABCN programs."

'It is such a valuable program to help young adults outside of the school environment and in the workplace.'

"Makes me feel like I am doing something that matters. Has helped me think about new ways of communicating within different generations"