Young people are a critical element of the future of St John Ambulance Australia. Members aged 12 to 26 years are a vital part of our future work force and consumers, but they are also 36.9% of our present. Unfortunately, national statistics suggest that we are losing ground in terms of retention of this age group. When the inaugural 2016 National Youth Member Survey (NYMS) was reported in 2017, young people under the age of 26 years made up 42.9% of the organisation. Reporting on the NYMS today, the organisation has lost 6% of its youth population in the span of one year.

The work of St John Ambulance Australia is a vital element in each of the communities we operate in and as such it is vital that St John Ambulance Australia works towards ensuring young people are engaged, nurtured and supported in reaching their potential. In turn, young people will support the organisation to reach its goals.

The St John Ambulance Australia NYMS was initially conducted in 2016 and has now become an annual activity of the Australian Youth Advisory Network (AYAN) with the support of the Australian Office. The NYMS aims to act as a thermometer—one that checks the temperature of youth satisfaction across several priorities in our organisation.

The 2017 NYMS will compare the results of the 2016 survey, and measure how the organisation is tracking in the key areas, including:

  • opportunities
  • recognition
  • flexibility
  • wellbeing
  • communication
  • decision-making
  • career progression
  • challenge
  • valuing members
  • respondents’ future in St John.

In 2016, AYAN and St John Ambulance Australia established a picture of how young members were feeling about their organisation, along with identifying areas that require attention by both the National and State/ Territory entities. By considering young members’ feedback and acting on it, we ensure St John remains an organisation of volunteering and employment choice for young people.

Young people can play a valuable role in organisations, such as by contributing with knowledge and innovation. By allowing young people to have their opinions and feelings heard in a forum such as the NYMS, we hope that our young members will feel that St John is listening.1 We must do more than listening however. St John must also act to show our young members that we have heard them—and this may mean that in some areas, we need to consider aspects of our organisation that may not be working so well, or evaluate our practices to ensure that they are conductive to the health and wellbeing of all members, including young members, and make changes. Change is hard but relying on ‘this has always worked for us’ does not fly with young people and can no longer be an excuse. Research demonstrates that where young people are dissatisfied with an organisation—particularly where they do not feel heard— that they will vote with their feet.

AYAN believes that a loss of 6% of young members in the space of a year is sending a loud message— that we must do better, improve our culture and be more innovative. A recent Mission Australia survey found that 54.1% of young people aged 15–19 years surveyed participated in volunteering, and in 2015 the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 42% of 15–17-year-olds volunteer.3 St John has access to a large pool of young volunteers, but we do not seem to be taking advantage of this population groups’ willingness to freely give of their time. Yes, youth programs have closed in some entities, but losses have occurred in the 18–26-year-old category too (in 2015, 26% of the membership nationally was aged between 18–26 years. In 2017, 22.3% are aged between 18–26 years).

In the 2017 NYMS, AYAN has put the question to respondents to better understand why our young members are leaving. Understanding and then acting to improve the volunteering experience for young members will aid in retention and maybe provide some insights into this downward trend.

In 2017, the NYMS will build a picture of member satisfaction as well as determine how the organisation is tracking in the key areas, as well as identifying any emerging trends. The information gathered within the NYMS will support the Australian Office to inform policy and organisational strategy, such as the National Youth Strategy (2017–2022).

The results of the 2017 NYMS remain encouraging. There is relatively high satisfaction rates across most of the key areas, with some challenges and areas for improvement identified. In particular, young members aged 18– 26 years have lower satisfaction rates than 12– 17-year-olds across most areas which indicates that this is an area of need that St John should make it a priority to address.