Councils must increase Indigenous employment

By Rob O’Brien

Councils have been dragging their feet on the issue of work opportunities for Indigenous Australians, an Aboriginal employment agency has said.

The Aboriginal Employment Strategy (AES) has reported that Indigenous Australians currently make up just one per cent of the sector’s 170,000-strong workforce.

AES chief executive, Danny Lester, said councils had an obligation to employ people who reflected the communities they served.

“The question is ‘do you have staff that is truly representative of your community?’”

The Australian Centre for Excellence in Local Government (ACELG) has also called on councils to employ Indigenous people at a rate that reflects local Indigenous populations.

In a green paper released last week, the ACELG urged councils to recruit and train a greater share of Indigenous employees to alleviate future workforce demands.

As an agency the AES has been developing skills and training to create career pathways for Indigenous Australians, to create a generation of Indigenous professionals to “change the face of employment in Australia and [improve] living standards for thousands of Aboriginals”.

“Governments need to look at what their demographics are going to look like in the next 10 years,” Mr Lester said.

“Alice Springs for instance is going to be majority Indigenous in the next 10 years: if organisations don’t get their HR policies into action and change their procedures, they’re not going to be reflective of the communities they serve.”

Mr Lester said the AES had experienced successful placements through the City of Sydney and Campbelltown City Council, but that collectively local government should be doing a lot more.

“Local government in some areas is the life and blood of the town in terms of the sustainable economy, outside of government through welfare,” he said.

According to the AES there are currently 120,000 to 160,000 Indigenous Australians currently working predominantly in ‘blue collar’ industries.

While a record 1810 placements were made through the agency in 2009-2010, the focus was on creating careers rather than filling short-term positions.

“We want to have the proper mix of white collar and blue collar, but spread across a low-level and high-level occupation base,” Mr Lester said. “But we don’t want all low-level occupations to be filled with Indigenous people.”

Pathways into employment for Indigenous Australians were boosted by the creation of the Australian Employment Covenant (AEC) in 2008, a joint initiative between mining magnate Andrew Forrest and the former Rudd Government.

The AEC’s goal of job placements for 50,000 Indigenous Australians has already attracted 120 employers from 12 industry sectors in the private and public sector including Federal Government departments and the four major banks.

In February the Queensland Government committed to employ 2800 Indigenous Australians through the initiative.

Mr Lester said there was a huge level of demand, but a lot more needed to be centred around the medium-to-high level occupational base rather than low-level vacancies.

“We don’t want to place another 50,000 Indigenous people in these low-level jobs, because it’s not going to achieve anything outside of just ticking a box – it’s not going to increase the potential of home ownership, which is what we’ve got to tackle, and health and education levels.

“The demand has been focused since the apology [by the former Rudd Government] but now the rubber has got to hit the road, enough has been said but now it has to be done.”

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