Workforce in waiting
Indigenous workers have a valuable place in the Australian workplace. Cara Jenkin reports
CULTURAL divides are keeping workers out of jobs and employers short of staff.
Indigenous people are one of the nation’s most underused groups of the workforce.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show the proportion of that sector’s population that is unemployed is more than three times the national average.
Almost one in five indigenous Australians, or 18.1 per cent, is unemployed compared with the national average of one in 20, or 5.1 per cent. The indigenous unemployment figure has increased from a low of 13.9 per cent in 2007.
Low education attainment levels by indigenous people is blamed as much as a lack of cultural understanding by employers for workers not to be hired or retained in work.
Australian National University College of Arts and Social Sciences Associate Professor Dr Boyd Hunter says more indigenous workers need to stay in school and gain an education or take part in training programs to be more employable. Employers also need to divert more resources to training staff – and create a more friendly environment for indigenous workers.
‘‘ It would be good for employers to divert some time to look more at indigenous workers,’’ he says.
‘‘ But we can’t expect them to do everything.’’
Mining has been hailed as an industry in which indigen- ous people can access employment opportunities – and particularly for those living in remote areas.
‘‘ The mining sector is doing a lot better than it did . . . but only because it was doing so poorly in the late ’ 90s,’’ Hunter says. ‘‘ That’s a heartening thing. We want locals to work (in mines).
‘‘ But it will never be a major employer (of indigenous people. Mining companies) need high-skilled workers.’’
Hunter says opportunities need to be sought for and offered by every sector but highlights the service sector in particular as an area for job opportunities, as it is tipped to be a growth industry.
‘‘ We want to educate indigenous people,’’ he says.
‘‘ There’s a lot of firms that have committed to . . . getting indigenous employees and finding jobs for indigenous people. What happens in the
HOW TO MANAGE AWARENESS
Practice: Take the information provided at cultural awareness training and put it into practice. Allow flexibility in rosters to cater for when staff need time off and consider the benefits that cultural diversity brings to a role when looking to promote staff.
Allocate: Give all workers the time to take part in training, even if it means delegating their workload for the day to other staff. Give an indigenous worker a workplace mentor to help them through any daily or long-term issues that may arise.
Review: Ensure the organisation’s policies are being met by holding regular reviews of the progress your own department is making towards achieving the set targets. rest of society is it’s up to the individual (to get training) and there are incentives for certainly unemployed people to get (training) opportunities.’’
Henry Button, 34, (pictured on cover) is helping to train indigenous workers as lifeguards in his position as aquatic operations team leader at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence – a role in which he also is carving out a career path.
‘‘ I understand that the NCIE probably would like to see me as a centre manager in the future,’’ he says. The mining, construction, retail, hospitality, tourism, manufacturing and community services are key growth industries for indigenous workers in South Australia. Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology chief executive Raymond Garrand says an indigenous employment cluster has been established in each of the industries because of its projected growth to help get more indigenous workers to meet the demand for staff.
This aims to create 520 jobs and 250 training places each year for indigenous people.
Garrand agrees that it will take indigenous people completing training – as well as support from employers – to provide the opportunities and help them transition in jobs for the gap to close.
‘‘ We’ve tried to look at areas where there are significant growth opportunities,’’ Garrand says. ‘‘ Each cluster is headed by an industry leader – and has set their own target to provide training opportunities.
‘‘ Part of it is to do training for real jobs.’’
The training includes work placements with employers to help provide pathways to employment once the course has been completed.
The programs are equipping trainees with at least a Certificate I on completion.
Mentoring, meanwhile, helps support workers in the transition from unemployment to work.
‘‘ All the mining companies have an Aboriginal Employment Strategy and all are actively engaged in terms of actual employment,’’ Garrand explains. ‘‘ But there are significant employment opportunities in other sectors as well . . . retailers are strongly committed to Aboriginal employment.’’ The hospitality, agedcare and manufacturing sectors also are providing training and job opportunities.
HOW EMPLOYERS CAN LEAD
Plan: A Reconciliation Action Plan is a business plan that documents what an organisation is doing to further reconciliation in their workplace.
Opportunity: It may commit an organisation to achieving indigenous employment targets, providing on-the-job training and career development programs or scholarships for indigenous workers or students.
Respect: Plans can include providing cultural awareness training for staff, participating in cultural events and establishing protocols for Acknowledgement of Country.
Relationships: Have ongoing consultation and partnership with indigenous communities, organisations and people on company and community projects.