This year’s Closing the Gap report came and went without much fanfare, which is typical. It’s the annual survey conducted to see whether life is getting any better for Indigenous Australians, who don’t live as long as other Australians and whose children are more likely to die in infancy. Their health, education and employment outcomes are also worse than for non-Indigenous people.
Since indigenous health equality targets were set in 2008, the survey has expanded to measure education and employment each year. The latest report shows that Australia is failing in six out of seven of the key targets.
Focussing specifically on indigenous employment, the target to halve the gap in employment by 2018 is not on track. While there has been an increase in the Indigenous employment rate since 1994, there has been a decline since 2008.
How big is the gap? In 2014-15, the Indigenous employment rate was just under 50 per cent, compared with 72.6 per cent for non-Indigenous Australians. Of course, geography is always going to be a factor. In very remote areas only 35 per cent of Indigenous people of working age were employed, compared with 57.5 per cent of those living in major cities.
The government’s community employment programs link Indigenous Australians with jobs, and help to equip them with the skills needed. The Commonwealth has set targets across the public sector and into a number of large infrastructure contracts, and state and territory governments are looking to do the same. But it’s not clear whether these targets are being met.
Many people reading this will share disappointment if not dismay at the figures but for many businesses that are sympathetic and keen to employ indigenous people, the major hurdle is knowing where to start.
How can organisations help close the gap?
Lots of organisations already have employees from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds. The principles and personnel practices that work to maximise the benefits of a culturally diverse workforce will often work in Indigenous employment. A willingness to adjust human resource management practices to make them more appropriate to an Indigenous audience is just part of the job of managing a culturally diverse workforce.
A useful guide for employers, produced by WPC Group back in 2008, still holds water today. Called Getting It Right: Employing Indigenous Australians, it says that organisations that succeed in Indigenous employment have a very clear view on why they are involved and what they are aiming to achieve. They often see their business can benefit from Indigenous employment initiatives for a number of reasons:
- Give them access to the right people for their jobs
- Provide staff that reflect their customer base
- Gain better access to business opportunities with Indigenous organisations
- Gain the advantages of a culturally diverse workforce
- Build their reputation for corporate citizenship
Success in Indigenous employment is about finding some alignment between the culture of your organisation and the needs and aspirations of your Indigenous staff, advises the report.
“Our aim is that Indigenous people are competitive for mainstream jobs (not specifically identified for Indigenous people). We do not want to pigeonhole Indigenous people only in Indigenous jobs,” commented one employer in the report.
Whole of organisation approach
Of course, some things are common to all business strategies and that is even more the case here. This issue needs leadership buy-in and an indigenous employment strategy should be integrated into a “whole of organisation” approach, so that everyone is aware of and understands the organisation’s motivations and goals.
The most critical staff in the Indigenous employment strategy are those who will have direct supervision of Indigenous employees, such as supervisors or line managers. These staff may need some assistance or advice on issues that might come up and a brief education on best practice.
One employer who contributed to the report’s research said: “Management needs to be prepared to get their hands dirty – targeting, mentoring, support – you’ve got to get in and do it!”
Come to AHRI’s Inclusion and Diversity Conference in Sydney on Monday 1 May, and hear from Australian leaders and HR experts on how you can integrate inclusion and diversity into your organisation’s culture and strategy, and transform workplace attitudes.
This year, 2016 NSW Australian of the Year and Former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick AO will be sharing her vision and experience as keynote speaker.