In recent months there has been discussion and conjecture about Indigenous employment and whether mainstream Australia has been tokenistic in its approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment policies. Some of that criticism has been leveled at companies and organisations that have produced Reconciliation Action Plans but failed to act on them, particularly in respect of employment strategies. While they might comply with Aboriginal Employment Covenant regulations in advertising jobs, namely that a position is open to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, little more is done to recruit or retain Indigenous people.
A lack of employment opportunities
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2012 the unemployment rate for the Indigenous population was more than three times higher than that of the non-Indigenous population. There is no doubt that in the past decade, the private sector has directed attention to the issue of lack of employment participation and career opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in mainstream Australian employment. The fact that 600 corporates, NGOs, government departments, educational institutions, church groups and sporting clubs have signed on to a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) indicates a sincere desire to implement them. But what Reconciliation Australia discovered is that many organisations and businesses are unsure how to go about achieving one of the primary objectives of the program – engaging Indigenous people in the workforce.
To address this, Reconciliation Australia has been working with the Federal Government to develop a new program called Workplace Ready. 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 Indigenous employment. The program comprises five one-day employment master class workshops to guide organisations on creating a culture that attracts and retains Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The workshops are supported by an online toolkit comprising five modules complete with case studies that show how others have gone about engaging Indigenous employees and the benefits it has had for their respective businesses. Incitec Pivot Limited has met its 6 per cent Indigenous employment rate target in its operations in the Pilbara after undertaking the program in 2012. Diversity program manager Mary McCabe says: “This target specifically relates to our BHP Contract at our Newman Operation where of the 55 employees, four are Indigenous.”
Meeting future targets
There are currently 29 Indigenous employees across the business nationally. McCabe says the future target is at least a 3 per cent Indigenous employment rate across the business nationally by 2017. And it’s not just about numbers. Other benefits of the program, says McCabe, are that the company has built positive, productive relationships with traditional owners and increased the cultural capability of its organisation. McCabe says the program enabled a “sharing of experiences which was invaluable for us as an organisation just starting out on our journey into Indigenous employment and engagement.”
A success story
Tegan Humphries is one of the workers who has benefited from the program. She works for Incitec Pivot’s wholly owned subsidiary, Dyno Nobel, a manufacturer of explosives. Humphries is a Noongar from the south-west corner of Western Australia. She was born and grew up in the small country town of Pingelly, 158 kilometres from Perth. In 2011, Humphries started in the mining industry as a mobile plant operator and now works at Dyno Nobel’s Newman Operation in the Pilbara as a multipurpose utility operator on a mine site. Before taking on her current role, she worked as a blast operator to gain a full understanding of site procedures. “Being at Newman is an eye opener because of its major operations. This is a new role for me, which is challenging and exciting. The support I received throughout the training program was helpful in every way, particularly because of my Indigenous mentor coordinator,” says Humphries.