Digitally Enhanced Career Support in Youth Mental Health


James Whiting is the Career Projects Innovation Lead at Orygen, Australia’s youth mental health innovator, with 7 years’ experience across employment services, mental health and career development. James is currently project managing the YOTES in Schools project to support secondary students in alternative education settings. James has a particular interest in ensuring groups that are marginalized in the labour market receive support to experience a fair and equitable career trajectory.


Orygen is trialing a range of digital and hybrid employment support and career development programs to support young people with mental ill-health. This post describes how Orygen developed an integrated digital platform and what we learnt through the process. We hope our findings will provide useful insights on integrating digital supports into your programs.

A quick recap on the Youth Online Training and Employment System…

The dilemma

Disruption to education and employment are a key concern among young people experiencing mental Ill-health. Unfortunately, vocational support within mental health services is limited, with long waitlists leaving many young people without the support they need. 

As career practitioners we know the impact meaningful career progression through work or work-related activities such as education and training can have on self-efficacy, confidence and mental health with more research linking career development to mental health and wellbeing emerging every day.

Could a digital intervention provide a solution?

Creating innovative career support options that enhance face-to-face employment support has been a focus of Orygen’s work, ensuring that solutions had the capacity to support existing in-person employment support programs.

We needed something multifunctional and scalable to allow more young people to access support sooner. Orygen had some initial evidence that career support on a digital clinical platform, Horyzons, increased young people’s employment and education outcomes. Horyzons found that young people engaging with online clinical, peer and career support were 5.5 times more likely to gain employment or enrol in education or training.

The solution

Informed by Horyzons, Orygen designed the Youth Online Training and Employment System (YOTES). YOTES is a digital career support platform that takes what we know about mental health and career disruption to expand career support in primary youth mental health services. 

YOTES is an innovative social networking platform informed by psychological theories such as self-determination theory, social learning theory and supportive accountability. These merge with career development and education principles, including career adaptability, and activities are embedded within the Core Skills for Work Developmental Framework.

These aspects amalgamate into an interactive, social media-based platform where users can access career education content, real-time professional guidance from career practitioners, peer guidance from trained mental health peer workers and use group problem solving techniques to gain advice and guidance from other users.

What did we find?

The study

YOTES was implemented as a randomised controlled trial (RCT) across four headspace centres in Melbourne. Approximately half of the participants were randomised to use YOTES with the others receiving enhanced treatment as usual (TAU+). This meant they were informed about another digital career platform available in the community. Around half of participants accessing YOTES and in the TAU+ group were also receiving in-person employment support.

Results: digital career support works

As far as we’re aware, YOTES is the first RCT focused on digital career support within youth mental health settings. We found that YOTES improved young people’s career adaptability when digital career support was combined with in-person employment support. Receiving online and face-to-face support concurrently also led to a decrease in psychological distress among participants.

This early evidence is promising as we scale up digital career support within clinical settings in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland through Orygen’s Moderated Online Social Therapy (MOST).

What we learned

Alongside our research findings, we learnt a lot along the way.

  1. No one person is alike, so why should their support be: individualised support and flexible delivery is the key to engagement. Digital platforms should not be one size fits all.
  2. Integration is key: digital only is a great start to expand capacity, but integration with face-to-face support can further improve outcomes.
  3. Change is good: being able to adapt the system to respond to user needs is essential in digital delivery.

There’s still a lot to learn

YOTES has begun to show us what is possible when we look to digital solutions to integrate and expand career support. Thanks to RACV we will be trialing YOTES to support secondary school students.

YOTES in Schools combines curriculum and evidence-based career content, social networking and group problem solving to deliver interactive career information and support to students. YOTES in School will introduce career concepts earlier and support school-based career practitioners. The platform will be available to students in years 7-12 at a regional secondary school in Victoria for 12 months. 

We look forward to discovering and sharing new ways to work within digital landscapes to best support young people. For more information on Orygen’s current projects visit the website or reach out on [email protected]