Closing the Gap on Indigenous Employment

I’ve been struggling with this blog topic for weeks. Well, ok, months. It is a topic I am passionate about and that is Indigenous employment.

Some people may laugh at me and call me a hypocrite because I have made comments about sporting identities who happen to be indigenous, but quite frankly in my opinion, are knobs (I can’t use the other word here). How quickly they forget when I cheer and applaud other indigenous sporting identities for their positive on and off field behaviours.

This all dates back to my first internal recruitment position with SKM, now Jacobs – one of the first companies in Australia to have a reconciliation action plan. A new office refit saw interior design consisting of indigenous art works and prints, meeting rooms named after the Noongar Seasons, and “Welcome to Country” recognised at major events. There was a genuine interest in embracing the indigenous community and helping them close the employment gap.

Jacobs set the benchmark. John Holland came close. But since then, I’ve come to realise that the indigenous community are really up against it. Sure there are fantastic organisations like Wirrpanda Foundation doing their bit, but their struggle is a real struggle, and it is a struggle that I got to experience first-hand.

What're the stumbling blocks in closing Indigenous employment gap? @StanRolfe shares more. Click To Tweet

There are a few major stumbling blocks in closing the indigenous employment gap:

  • Ignorance and racism;
  • Barriers to entry – the minimum requirements to secure a job;
  • Low skills = no skills in a high tech world.

I’m not going to go into detail here and focus on the negatives but, instead, I’ll provide some suggestions as to how we can all contribute towards getting more indigenous people into employment:

Understanding the Lore

I’m a firm believer that mandatory education in schools and in the work place needs to take place to better inform all of us about indigenous culture. Whilst it is important to understand the history, what I am talking about here is lore. Read up on lore here.

Not long ago I was speaking to an engineer specifically about an indigenous employee who had not shown for work. I asked him whether the employee mentioned anything about someone passing, and if he was aware of aboriginal customs. He was not. Even though he lived in a very large regional town with a big indigenous population, he had no idea that family members were required to take time off to grieve when a relative passed. Had he been aware, he would have been better prepared for the employee’s absence.

Does education have to mean a lot of money being spent on training? No. The programme could be developed and delivered as an online session. What will it achieve? Well, better education in workplaces will likely result in higher engagement, and better retention. And that can only be good.

Reducing barriers to entry

Barriers to entry are a huge issue. The two primary areas which impact are health and criminal records. Employers use these as excuses to not employ people, not just aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. But what are we doing to help overcome these barriers?

For most of us, not a darn thing. Wirrpanda Foundation, however, found a way.

The Foundation introduced prospective employees to employers in informal networking situations where employers get to know individuals before seeing the paperwork. Imagine that – getting to know someone like you would in a pub or at a party! You form an opinion of an individual from that meeting, and maybe you will find them perfect for your company. This is exactly what happened at a previous employer. I spent a few hours talking to people at Wirrpanda Foundation, got to know a candidate who left a good impression, invited her in for an interview, and before we knew it, we hired her. I had not even seen the resume until after I got to know her.

Sure some minimum requirements are needed, after all we need to manage risk. However, based on my experience, many judgements are made based on an employee’s past history and not enough is being done to make history. We need to be working harder at reducing the barriers.

The right training for the future

There seems to be a focus on providing traineeships for low skilled work to indigenous employees. Sure, it is a step in the right direction but my concern is that many of the low skilled jobs are drying up through technology and automation.

For example, why offer someone a trainee truck driver’s position when in five to 10 years’ time, that position on a mine site might be automated? Why aren’t we looking at positions with longer sustainability and more aligned to where industries are going? Is anyone out there offering traineeships in the automation or technology industries for example?

Kudos to those employers out there doing that little bit more to improve the employability of Indigenous people. However, please don’t get comfortable in just delivering jobs or training to individuals. We need to broaden our reach and help the community. With concerted efforts from everyone, we can close the gap.

How can you close the Indigenous employment gap? Understanding the Lore makes a good start. Click To Tweet

I recently met with a local community in the goldfields of Western Australia. I was there representing a contractor working on a site owned by the client. There was talk about traineeships, and vacancies for X number of people. I made the comment that whilst that was great, we needed to look further and focus on the long-term sustainability of the community.

The mine has a finite life and we need to help the broader community become job ready and secure employment beyond the lifespan of the mine. So I offered my assistance with interview training, resume writing etc. I think the group was a little shocked by my suggestion, but certainly in agreeance with the amount of head nodding going on.

We, as employers and recruiters, have become complacent. We really need to be pushing the barriers and driving the change. We know we hold the power and we have to take the first step.

If you are an employer with demonstrated experience in closing the Indigenous employment gap with innovative approaches, please share with our readers. Your share will bring us closer together.

Image: Shutterstock

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3 Responses to “Closing the Gap on Indigenous Employment”

  1. Great article Stan, thoroughly enjoyed the read. You have made some great points here. We all need to view indigenous culture and people as an asset with a lot of potential to unlock.

  2. Hi Nathan, thanks for the comment. I was recently speaking to my cousin about this a couple nights ago. Many people still make comments and views which could be said as generalisations or stereotypes of indigenous people. One big step is to stop labelling everyone in the same bucket. I mean there are plenty of drugged crazed meth heads who are Caucasian but we don’t lump all whiteys into the same bucket like people do with our Aboriginal and Torres Straight peoples. Thanks for reading and your feedback.

  3. Thanks for your article Stan. Definitely some valuable insights into a complex societal issue. It can be challenging to get the big wigs to invest in social justice programs without short-term returns. Keep fighting the good fight, my friend 🙂


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