Last month, we had the pleasure of meeting Paul Breen, Director of Productivity Bootcamp, at the Queensland Disability Conference in Cairns. A charismatic entrepreneur who was passionate about improving the lives of our youth, Paul was on a panel of experts, talking about the opportunities that the NDIS can create in our backyard.
Based in Sydney, Paul runs eight-week bootcamps that get young people ready for work. On the outside, it looks like he’s focussed on teaching real-world skills in the construction industry, to boost their job chances and better prepare them for the workforce. But on the inside, Paul teaches work ethic, mental strength, a health and fitness mindset, a pro-WH&S culture, nutrition and more.
His work is perhaps best summed up by David Spencer, the parent of one of his graduates: “Yesterday I attended the graduation of my youngest son… to say I am proud is an understatement… to see what these guys have learnt in 8 weeks is unreal… Paul Breen you are an inspiration to the youth of today.”
We took time after the conference to ask Paul more about the difference he’s making…
Social Care: Paul, what inspired you to start Productivity Bootcamp?
Paul: My background is in construction. I used to build roads and bridges around Australia. My idea for Bootcamp came from a project I won, building concrete chambers. The work involved all different types of trades in infrastructure – formwork, steel, and concrete. It was repetitious and each chamber took 9 days to build. Good tradespeople where hard to come by, so I started experimenting, placing young people with no skills among my trades. Very quickly I noticed how they pick up the basic skills in all the trades to assist the tradesmen. But what really struck me was the drive they had to meet that benchmark of nine days. I saw a new culture evolve in front of me
We see a lot of negative media around young people being lazy, unproductive and ill-equipped to enter the workforce, but after what I witnessed on that job, I started to question it. This prompted me to dig deeper into what I had witnessed, so I sold out of my company in 2013. For a year and a half, I studied and researched the young generation, working with a psychologist to design my program, Productivity Bootcamp.
I am convinced this young generation are going to be the best workforce to hit this world and that comes from three forces that have re-wired them:
- Social media has made them team-players in the way they collaborate online;
- Xbox has triggered the challenge in them to get to the next level and reach milestones; and
- Facebook offers them constant recognition – a tap on the back is a ‘Like’ on Facebook.
Bootcamp is all outdoor training, which replicates a real construction site and using the three forces. I created Xbox on steroids, but physical. No couch potatoes here.
Social Care: Do you have youth who show up, think it’s all too hard, and give up?
Paul: Our first week is always the biggest challenge for them. Their anxiety and low self-esteem can become too much when they are surrounded by a large group of people they don’t know. When this happens, we prepare them with a softer approach by assisting them to overcome those barriers, which in turn means they can return into a future group.
Social Care: Can you share with us some anecdotes of student success stories so far?
Paul: We have many stories, but the one that sticks out the most is about a young man called Dylan who suffered severe anxiety and depression, which resulted in a rash all over his body. Before Bootcamp he never went anywhere without his mother – never went on public transport or left the house. Over the eight weeks, we watched Dylan excel at every challenge and by the end of the program, his anxiety and rash had disappeared, which greatly improved his confidence. Dylan decided that infrastructure wasn’t for him and we recognised his strength was customer service. After Bootcamp we assisted him to get into sales. He had to travel to and from his job via public transport. In just a short period, Dylan went on to receive an award for excellence in customer satisfaction. This experience made me realise what we teach in Bootcamp will work for any industry.
Social Care: What do you see as the biggest needs of the youth of today?
Paul: Teachers, trainers and employers need to realise that society and technology has rewired the young generation, and therefore the way we train our future workforce has to change. We need to engage and empower them, to bring out their best. We now live in a fast-moving world and due to their sedentary lifestyle, the transition from school to work is instrumental for them to succeed in work and life. In Bootcamp, that is one of our main objectives.
Social Care: How do you see the NDIS rollout affecting the youth of today?
Paul: NDIS recipients are going to have more choices and a greater chance of success, because organisations will have to lift their game in order to attract their services. Win, win for everyone. Accountability at long last.
Thanks Paul for your insights and keep up your great work at Productivity Bootcamp!