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NRL School to Work program producing Indigenous leaders

A star graduate of the NRL's School to Work program, Wilson Young is determined to become a police officer and break down barriers for Indigenous people.

Young, a proud Gadigal man of the Eora nation who was the first male Aboriginal captain of Morisset High School, was among 61 students in the Roosters' School to Work program to finish the HSC this year.

School to Work, which helps Indigenous students transition into tertiary education or meaningful employment, had more than 450 graduates overall in 2019 – amounting to a 96% HSC achievement rate.

Over 2000 young men and women have completed the Federal Government-funded initiative since it was launched in 2012, with 11 NRL clubs engaged in the program in NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

Young, who will enter the Indigenous Police Recruitment Our Way Delivery Program at TAFE, credited Roosters School to Work project officer Jason Solomon with providing a clear pathway to his goals.

"The School to Work program has done a lot for me and I love it for it," Young, who started School to Work in Year 10, told

Members of the Roosters' School to Work graduation class.
Members of the Roosters' School to Work graduation class. ©NRL Photos

"I told Jase I wanted to be a police officer, so he got me a meeting not only with my local liaison officer but the Indigenous liaison officer.

"It was just me and them, and we had a big meeting about how to get there, what to do. We made a plan for me just to get into the police force as soon as I could.

"I would see kids in school having mental breakdowns all the time [about their future] … But I had my plan all set out, so it helped me a lot more."

Young gave a moving speech about his journey at the Roosters' graduation, revealing he didn't learn of his Aboriginality until he was in Year 2 and was often told he "wasn't black enough" at primary school after asking to join in Indigenous celebrations.

He said connecting with his culture throughout high school has given him a much stronger sense of identity and confidence.

Solomon expressed his pride at watching students like Young develop into "the leaders they were born to be".

"We go in once a fortnight, we start off by running career development workshops, just to work out their aspirations and what they want to do," Solomon said.

"There has been over 310 Year 12 students that have come through since I've been in the [Roosters] program since 2015.

"Next year we're going to have two neurosurgeons that are fully qualified. And just from this lot, the 61 that have finished this year, we've got about 12 of them that are going on to study law and about 20 going on to study nursing.

"It just goes to show they're not just entry-level jobs, they're actually going to go into the jobs that we need Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be in."

Members of the Titans' School to Work graduation class.
Members of the Titans' School to Work graduation class. ©NRL Photos

Aside from being a great career launchpad, Young said School to Work also supplies priceless memories.

"There were kids through the program with me that weren't wealthy – I wasn't wealthy either but I wasn't poor – and they were no chance of doing half the stuff they got to do [with the program]," he said.

"The program helped them meet football players, it helped them get jobs – it helped them get experiences that without it they would have never had."

Roosters graduates were present at the club's second Reconciliation Action Plan launch on Wednesday alongside NRL squad members, with School to Work a key pillar of the RAP.

"The Roosters are very supportive of the program. They provide anything we need," Solomon said.

Acknowledgement of Country

St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

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