The many benefits of developing recruitment strategies to attract more Indigenous Australians (and how to do it)

Since Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Indigenous peoples of Australia on 13 February 2008, Jason Timor, co-founder and CEO of Two Point Co, has seen “a quantum leap” in terms of awareness around economic participation for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders.

The long overdue ‘Sorry’ speech ignited the reconciliation movement in Australia, he says, with both private and public sector organisations standing up and committing to providing employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. But, while it is getting better, there is a long way to go to reach parity.

What does employment ‘parity’ look like?

According to a recent report, the employment rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples fell slightly from 48% to 46.6%. During the same period, non-Indigenous employment remained broadly stable, at around 72%.

These figures indicated that the Federal Government’s target to halve the gap in employment opportunities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 2018 was not met.

Since Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples make up around 3% of the total population in this country, Jason’s definition of “parity” is simple: each organisation should be aspiring to have that percentage reflected in their workforce.

Why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander recruitment is better for business and for the community

There are many upsides to this recruitment approach for businesses, including employing staff that reflect your community and customers, and improving the way your business interacts with Indigenous communities.  As Jason points out, employing locally in the areas you operate makes economic and strategic sense.

“It’s just ludicrous that some construction companies fly non-Indigenous people in from the mainland to do work on Thursday Island, for instance, where they have local people who have carpentry businesses,” he says. “I mean, that’s nuts!

A) you can save a lot of costs employing locally, and

B) these people have a better sense or intelligence regarding what their community is like, which can boost your business’ engagement with that community.”

On top of that, he adds, there’s an untapped pipeline of candidates and talent among Indigenous Australians, and research proves having a workplace that values diversity helps businesses attract top talent, and fosters innovation – both critical factors for organisational success.

Plus, “If you’re looking at doing more business with government, they are really going to want to know: What is your economic participation plan when it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities?” Jason says.

Some unique challenges

From a potential lack of digital connectivity to community obligations, as well as getting ‘confirmation of heritage’ for positions under the Affirmative measure (positions identified as only open to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples), tailoring your organisation’s recruitment strategies to attract, support and retain Indigenous employees comes with its own set of challenges.

“You can’t just whack up an ad and cross your fingers and hope you’re going to get Indigenous people applying,” Jason says. “It’s just not going to happen through the traditional channels, like SEEK or Indeed or LinkedIn. Because sometimes it’s a passive market, you have to go to them.”

The Australian Government’s Indigenous Recruitment Guide is an excellent resource for businesses wanting to explore more culturally inclusive hiring, but Jason – who consults on this very topic at organisations such as Google and Microsoft, Lendlease and Westpac– says it boils down to a few key points:

  • What’s your ‘EVP’? “What is your employee value proposition (EVP) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be excited or ignited or passionate about working for you?” Jason says. Ask yourself:
    • Does my organisation look like a place where Indigenous people would want to work?
    • Are there people identifying as Indigenous working for me already?
    • Does my marketing collateral or website, or social media content, speak to the Indigenous people in those communities?
  • Seek Indigenous advice: “If you’re employing in Cairns or in Darwin or in Brisbane or even in Sydney, who are the local Aboriginal-controlled organisations that you can tap into to find out more around where you find the talent pipelines?” Jason says.
  • Screen with empathy: Just like anyone who might have familial obligations (in Indigenous households, women are still traditionally the primary child carers), it’s important to always consider the individual and cultural circumstances surrounding the situation.

“What we are really trying to do here is ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can compete for a job just like anybody else,” Jason explains. “Some of those obstacles and challenges for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander – not all, but some – are challenges that are a product of transgenerational trauma and a whole range of policies from this government in recent history.”

Lay the foundations first

Before you can successfully build a more culturally inclusive and diverse workplace, Jason says there are three initial steps to consider – and these apply to all types of organisations.

  1. Get your ‘Why’ right: Why are you doing this as an organisation; what is your vision? Is your ‘why’ able to stand up to the BBQ test (how would you respond if someone asked you at a BBQ why your organisation is involved in Indigenous engagement)? “A really succinct ‘why’ that anybody can understand is really key,” Jason says.
  1. Educate before action: “At the core of all of this is having a culturally safe working environment,” Jason says. “Get the right people, at the right time, at the right platform to educate – whether that’s workshops or online.”
  1. Support the full employment life cycle. If you are committed to increasing your Indigenous employment numbers, Jason says, you must be able to support Indigenous candidates through pre-employment and onboarding, through to strategies for career development and leadership opportunities, retention and so on. To do this, it is critical managers are trained to be culturally sensitive so that employees feel supported throughout the life cycle of their employment.

“Ultimately, we want to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples moving into more influential, decision-making roles, whether that’s a senior executive position or in the C-suite,” Jason says. “It’s about removing barriers and getting everybody a seat at the table to compete.”

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