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Including Indigenous talent in the workplace

Organisations need to do better when it comes to Indigenous inclusion, says AHRI Chairman Peter Wilson.

Many Australian HR professionals have been exposed to gender equity as a key priority for their organisation’s inclusion and diversity initiatives and have an awareness of other priority areas like ageing, LGBTI, and ethnicity. But Indigenous inclusion is a priority area where the exemplars are not prevalent in our profession.

The experience of two groups – the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress (CAAC) and the global giant Chevron give us a number of pointers towards a more equitable treatment of our first peoples. And perhaps their experiences can pose some questions about Indigenous inclusion issues that may be dormant in your own company.

Develop Indigenous talent

At CAAC, developing Aboriginal capacity and providing opportunity is central to delivering its business strategy. CAAC set about linking their strategy to workforce initiatives to grow and develop a local, highly skilled leadership and workforce to deliver relevant primary health care services to central Australian residents. This emerged through a recognition that addressing social inequities could best be achieved by providing unique employment and development opportunities to Aboriginal people that would lead to improved quality with its client service.

The CAAC Workforce Engagement and Development Plan committed to increase the number of Aboriginal staff across all parts of congress, develop all staff professionally, and also to find out why people join, stay and leave.

The results have surely followed. Since 2014 Aboriginal workforce has increased by 5.2 per cent to 51 per cent of total workforce. There are 10 more people holding leadership roles now (30 per cent of the total leadership team); and 24 Aboriginal people are employed in professional roles or training to be professionals, an increase from 10 people five years ago. Greater access to employment also is facilitated through provision of opportunities and support for increased levels of education, occupation and income.

The employer perspective

Securing a pathway to future employment via education was also adopted as the core principle for Indigenous inclusion by Chevron with its operations in Western Australia. In 2011 Chevron realised it had been slow to participate in the Aboriginal employment market, operating in an environment where 40 per cent of the population are Aboriginal. So the company developed a strategy to lift its Indigenous workplace participation on a sustainable basis.

Chevron’s Aboriginal School Scholarship Program (ASSP) was developed to create a pipeline of highly talented future Aboriginal employees; as well as strengthen and build relationships with the Aboriginal communities.The ASSP program provides scholarships to Aboriginal secondary students, with financial support towards payment of school fees and other study-related resources.

In addition, Chevron visits schools regularly and each term the scholarship recipients visit Chevron’s Perth office to gain an insight into a ‘day in the life of a Chevron role model’, receive information and exposure to career opportunities, interview techniques, resume writing and engagement with industry professionals.

Chevron worked with an experienced curriculum development writer to design a curriculum with clear outcomes targeted at high school students. After receiving course approval, Chevron established a professional development program for teachers to implement the curriculum across six schools and 145 students.

Its Women in Engineering program also now includes Aboriginal students, with participants receiving scholarships to assist them. And Chevron’s Aboriginal cadetship program is a paid vacation work program offering on-the-job learning and study allowance for Aboriginal students studying in disciplines of interest to Chevron.

To ensure the skill development of local Aboriginal people for potential opportunities on the Wheatstone LNG Project in Onslow, Chevron established the Wheatstone Operations Aboriginal Employment Program (WOAEP) that develops skills of local Aboriginal people, leading to qualifications and experiences for employment in the operations phase at the Wheatstone LNG Plantor with contractors supplying services to the project.

In 2011 a cultural awareness program was introduced to aid retention, and includes knowledge about Aboriginal lifestyle and cultural values for the broad workforce and more specific awareness training for supervisory personnel with Aboriginal reports in their teams.

The company’s successes have included 104 Aboriginal Australians participating in the education to employment pathway, resulting in employment of Aboriginal candidates with interest and skills for this industry. Aboriginal employment with Chevron has increased from four in 2010 to 50 currently employed. Taking initiatives such as those of CAAC and Chevron also increases the value of engagement with staff and partners.

This is an edited version of an article that appeared in the March edition of HRM Magazine.

Photo credit: Michael Coghlan

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