8 things I learned about Indigenous recruitment

Recently I spent a few months working with an Indigenous owned and operated diversified business. My role as Recruitment Manager was to hire directly for the business but also assist other businesses with their indigenous recruitment.

I have always had some involvement and interest in helping Indigenous people secure more meaningful, sustainable work. The seed was planted for me at SKM (now Jacobs) where they were one of the first companies in Australia to establish a Reconciliation Action Plan.

Yes, this was a long time ago. Since then, I have attempted with mixed results to continue to provide opportunities to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) People.

Whilst I was only at this company for a relatively short period of time, I learned a heck of a lot. Here’s a few things that stood out for me:

1. Face time is popular

No, not Apple’s FaceTime app, but the many many requests I had from ATSI People wanting to meet me face-to-face where possible.

They dropped in unexpectedly following a phone call, requested meetings over the phone or via email many times.

For the most part, they are very pro-active with wanting to meet you face-to-face.

2. Perm employment opportunities are limited

Many are living from short term gig to short term gig with enough gap between gigs to make life even more of a struggle.

A few days or weeks here, several weeks off then another short-term gig and more time off.

Trying to secure longer term or permanent employment is a priority but challenging to say the least.

3. We need to look beyond criminal records

Criminal history is a major barrier to their employment.

Until such time that employers take a more respectful and understanding approach to criminal history, this will be an ongoing issue that will be difficult to overcome for many.

4. It is still a predominantly patriarchal community

Indigenous women are the primary care giver regardless of whether they are also working full time. Workplace flexibility is essential to ensure their success.

This of course should apply to any care giver.

5. Most of them are not connected digitally

There is a large population of Indigenous people living remotely who are not online. You need boots on the ground and connections to traditional owner groups to identify these people and work with them.

Make sure your attraction strategy captures their attention.

6. Make use of their medical health schemes

ATSI People are eligible for one free medical check-up each year under the MBS 715 schedule.

This is an excellent way to help manage potential health risks prior to a pre-employment medical to ensure at risk individuals have a better opportunity to pass their medical.

It also reduces the cost to employers where individuals may not meet the health requirements of a role.

7. Career pathways are uncertain

Employers are competing for a small group of people much like other specialist skill sets.

This, however, does not translate to longer term, sustainable and consistent careers for ATSI People. Nor is it translating to in increased wages or salary.

8. We need to understand Indigenous cultures better

Family is important. Our failures are typically due to our lack of understanding of Indigenous culture.

We need to invest more in engaging with families where possible to help educate and retain individuals (family members) in the workforce.

According to the ABS Census in 2016 there were just over 220,000 Indigenous Australians participating in the workforce (employed or unemployed and aged 15 and over). So, when I hear companies committing to percentage of workforce, I question whether they fully understand the various challenges of Indigenous employment diversity – that of availability, demographics, underemployment, career growth and retention. 

It is great to hear some change in this approach where businesses are, instead, committing to a percentage of spend or procurement towards Indigenous owned and operated businesses. Something I believe is more achievable.

From the conversations I have had with Indigenous Australians, like you and me, they just want job security and progression. We need to start focusing on the quality of opportunity and outcomes for the individual. By doing that, you will attract more, retain more, and likely spend less on attraction to reinvest in training.

Whilst technology can help with some of the issues both indigenous people and employers face, we cannot forget grassroots, boots on the ground tactics to find, engage and hire.

Cover image: Shutterstock

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