Developing an Indigenous employment strategy makes sense

By Sharona Torrens, Reconciliation Australia Workplace Ready Program director

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees are engaged in a wide range of sectors, including the construction, mining, energy, manufacturing, retail, education, transport, scientific, hospitality and IT industries, just to name a few.

However, there is always more that can be done to improve engagement with Indigenous Australians; the advantages of a culturally diverse workforce are well documented and promote a sense of community.

Since former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologised to the Stolen Generations in 2008, there has been a surge in large corporate and government organisations signing on to employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers.

Given past injustices, there are compelling reasons why mainstream Australia should extend its hand to First Australians in providing real job opportunities. Many have done so and found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees not only work hard, but have a great sense of loyalty to the company or organisation when given an opportunity that had previously been denied them.

From a commercial perspective, the cost savings in not having to continually find and recruit employees makes good business sense. Additionally, from a business perspective there is real value in reaching out and accessing new markets and customers in a bid to exchange and promote a diverse range of ideas.

Across Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are growing rapidly with capable, committed and talented workers. So how do organisations successfully recruit skilled and enthusiastic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers into long-term sustainable employment?

Developing an Indigenous employment strategy is the first step towards employing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers. Nonetheless, these initiatives on their own are no guarantee of either the successful recruitment of or retention of these workers.

Reconciliation Australia’s model of building strong relationships and enhancing respect to achieve sustainable employment and business opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has informed its Workplace Ready Program. The program, which began in 2012, is being delivered in partnership with the Australian Government.

The program helps build the knowledge, skills and relationships of organisations committed to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment to not only attract Indigenous job seekers and retain them but also to look at other ways to support our First Australians in employment by using suppliers and businesses operated by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Through the delivery of five one-day employment master-class workshops, the program provides a forum for organisations to enhance their success in creating the right internal culture to attract and retain Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees.

Transfield Services – an operations, maintenance and construction services business operating globally in the resources, energy, industrial, infrastructure, property and defence sectors – developed its first Indigenous Participation Strategy in 2005. The internal document included a comprehensive policy about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment and participation.

Today, Transfield Services recruits First Australians into ongoing permanent roles within their business. Last year, it set an ambitious target to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees to become 4 per cent of its Australian workforce. Transfield Services exceeded its target and achieved 4.5 per cent.

Many of those who have been involved in the Workplace Ready Program, such as Incitec Pivot, have commented it’s helpful for connecting people and organisations with the right people to contact as they navigate the development and implementation of their strategy.

Similarly, other organisations have told us it was reassuring to hear about other journeys into current best practice in the Indigenous engagement and employment space, and to know they were on the right track.

The Workplace Ready Program is supported by an online toolkit to ensure lessons and insights can be shared across an entire organisation. The toolkit guides you through the step-by-step process of recruiting, retaining and promoting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

You can visit the website at
www.reconciliation.org.au/workplace.