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Youth Engagement Officer changing lives of Newport teens

Cameron Carlson

A Youth Engagement Officer who grew up in care himself is helping support teens who face the same challenges he did by offering advice and guidance to help them get into training or employment.

Cameron Carlson, age 24, from Bettws, is as a Youth Engagement Officer for Wales-wide skills and training provider Itec, working at its Blackwood and Newport centres, where he helps local teens build their confidence, gain new skills, and explore employment opportunities.

Cameron’s passion for helping young people came from his own struggles as a teen which he faced alone, without any support. His own school experience was shaky as he was placed in care from the age of nine and struggled to keep up with his peers. He has also battled depression and anxiety for most of his life.

Cameron credits his foster carers as the reason he was able to eventually work through the challenges he faced in school, giving him the motivation to finish school and go on to study business at university.

Cameron joined Itec as a Youth Engagement Officer in June 2022 to be the trusted mentor that he never had growing up and improve the prospects of teens that are at risk of falling behind.

Itec delivers the Welsh Government’s Jobs Growth Wales+ programme which gives 16-19 year olds living in Wales the skills, qualifications and experience they need to step onto the career ladder and get into higher learning, apprenticeships, or employment.

Cameron says, “The lasting effects of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis has affected so many young people which has heightened their anxiety around their next steps in life. As a result, a lot of these young people are in danger of becoming NEET (not in education, employment, or training).

“The work I do is important because it gives young people the opportunity to explore their options and access support to help them reach their full potential. Something that I never got as a teen which has fuelled my passion as a youth engagement officer and has helped me to understand learners on a deeper level.”

Cameron’s work usually involves meeting with learners either at their homes or Itec centres to build relationships, monitor their progress, and see if any of their friends could potentially benefit from Itec.

Cameron also makes efforts to engage with young people in public places such as schools, community centres, food banks, and fast-food restaurants to explain what Itec is and how it could benefit those who are at odds with their future.

Cameron says: “Being positive, relatable and honest is key when you’re working with young people because lot of them have not had someone that they can trust in their lives. I understand what that feels like so I try my best to be a friendly face that they can turn to for advice, support, or guidance.

“I often share my own story to show them that we all have problems, but these problems don’t have to hold us back from reaching our full potential. I find it a great way of giving teens inspiration for their own personal growth by framing it from the perspective of someone who understands.”

According to Cameron, Youth Engagement Officers make positive change from the bottom up. The outreach efforts of Itec’s five Youth Engagement Officers have made a significant impact within the communities they serve with many learner referrals coming from positive recommendation from learners and their guardians.

Adele Hughes, operations manager for Jobs Growth Wales + at Itec, says: “Youth Engagement Officers like Cameron have been such a valuable asset to the Itec team and have championed the success of the Jobs Growth Wales+ programme. With the challenges that young people are facing today, engaging with them in a community setting has helped us to break down barriers and has allowed us to take a more tailored approach to our outreach efforts and help teens who may be at risk.”

Cameron’s experiences have taught him to be empathetic with his approach when engaging with young people. The 24-year-old feels a strong sense of pride when learners achieve their goals whether this be securing a placement or apprenticeship, being more confident, or discovering their passions – something that Cameron says is the most rewarding part of his role as a Youth Engagement Officer at Itec.