Businesses need to engage Indigenous workers early and support them throughout their careers, a panel of Indigenous employment experts told a CEDA livestream audience.
Minderoo Foundation Generation One Chief Executive, Shelley Cable, said employers that do a good job on this front are those who “aren’t just trying to get numbers”.
“Often, it’s employers who invest in the work-readiness of individuals, and organisations who are ready to support those Indigenous staff into different roles and up the ranks into managerial positions,” Ms Cable said.
Ms Cable was joined by Wirrpanda Foundation Director and Community Engagement General Manager, Troy Cook; BGIS Talent Acquisition Business Partner and Indigenous Engagement Specialist, Rikki Cooper; and CareerTrackers Learning and Innovation Director, Adam Davids for a discussion about developing work opportunities for First Nations people.
Mr Cook said businesses needed to make sure that workplaces were culturally safe and that cultural awareness was embedded throughout the organisation.
“Cultural awareness is the key… but it is really important that it’s led from the top down and making sure that the executives are serious about it,” he said.
“If you are serious about it, try and quarantine some roles for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – that is showing that you are serious about it.”
Mr Davids said businesses and organisations should be prepared to engage Indigenous university students as early as their first year of study.
While plenty of Indigenous students are starting tertiary education, Mr Davids said about four out of 10 Indigenous students were dropping out and ending their degrees early.
However, nearly nine out of 10 students who completed internships went on to finish their studies.
“One of the most vital ways for an employer to improve their brand in the Indigenous community as an employer of choice is to provide meaningful experiences and opportunities,” he said.
“The more meaningful the experience, the better the taste that the student is going to have of the opportunity… and students talk to each other – they will talk about whether the experience was good or bad, and that will have an influence on the brand of the employer.”
Ms Cooper said employers must make a genuine effort when attracting Indigenous employees.
“Indigenous people can see from a mile away whether a business is committed… and they can also see the organisations that are just ticking a box,” she said.
“If you are going to do it, then do it genuinely from the heart.”
At BGIS, Ms Cooper has focused on making sure the organisation knows who their Indigenous employees are and how that information is collected and collated.
She said that information has helped the organisation support workers through Indigenous employee mentorship programs.
Ms Cooper noted they had seen a 1600 per cent increase in engagement with their Indigenous communities and Indigenous employees since 2015.
Data is also front of mind for Ms Cable and the team at Generation One.
“Indigenous Australians are invisible in our labour force and the last time that we had a comprehensive picture of the Indigenous labour force was in 2016,” Ms Cable said.
“We know as businesspeople that what gets measured gets managed.
“And if we want to manage the employment gap, we need better information, so we can make better decisions and make smarter investments to close the gap faster.”
To tackle the data gap, Generation One is working with 50 of Australia’s largest employers to create the country’s first Indigenous labour index and establish a baseline of Indigenous employment.
Ms Cable said the index would be a critical evidence base for Australia to learn from and track our collective progress over time.