Home' Charter : 1111 Charter Contents 30 Charter I November 2011
Cover > Indigenous employment
“As much as I’d like to claim the idea as mine, it actually came from
Chris Leptos (FCA), a friend of mine who was then at Ernst & Young (and
is now a managing partner with KPMG),” he says. “I had a crazy idea,
which I can’t remember – and he said ‘I’ve got a better one, why don’t
we look at targeting 1,000 Indigenous accountants over 10 years?’
“He said ‘If we’re really fair dinkum about closing the gap and
moving forward in an economic sense, we’re going to have people
who have this fnancial knowledge and skills in the accounting
profession. We need to step up and get people on board. ’
“I loved the idea, so we approached the Prime Minister and the
Opposition, and they were fully supportive of it and they helped us
get everyone in the room. ”
He says economic development, not welfare dollars, is
what’s needed for Indigenous communities. “Education is one
of the major factors in this so we have to open up the world to
Indigenous kids and adults as well – that ‘Yes, you can become
an engineer, yes, you can become a tradesperson, yes, you can
become a doctor, lawyer or accountant’,” Mundine says.
“Everyone’s sick and tired of having to go cap in hand to
governments for handouts. Welfare reform will play a major part of
this, there is no doubt about that.”
In Queensland, Simon Grant FCA is helping bring about that
change. Grant, the General Manager of the Queensland branch
of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, says Indigenous people
are woefully under-represented in the accounting profession.
“According to the three main accounting bodies, there are only
about 10 Indigenous accountants out of about 150,000 across
Australia,” he says. “That’s a pretty crummy number. ”
Grant is on the steering committee of the ‘1,000 Indigenous
accountants’ initiative, which will be offcially launched in the coming
months. To achieve that ambitious goal, the Institute is working with
the other professional accounting bodies, as well as the Big 4 frms.
He says mid-tier frms and large corporate frms also want to be
part of the initiative, and an Indigenous relationship liaison offcer
was recently employed to start the ball rolling.
“Our challenge is to build pathways for Indigenous kids at
school, ” Grant says. “We’re probably going to target the Year 8, 9,
and 10 students to try to get them to do business-related subjects
at school and try to get them to think about doing business
degrees at university, and then basically almost guaranteeing them
positions in the big employer groups. So when an Indigenous
Year 9 student says ‘I’d like to be an accountant’ you can say
‘Look, here is a great pathway for you’ .
“The big (Indigenous) populations we’re looking at targeting
are in south-east Queensland, urban NSW and part of WA
around Perth. ”
While Grant and his colleagues are doing their sums on the best
way to reach their goal of 1,000 Indigenous accountants, Rhonda
Parker has already chalked up her magic recruitment number. In
fact, she well and truly exceeded it.
Parker is the CEO of the Australian Employment Covenant
(AEC), the program launched by mining entrepreneur Andrew
Forrest three years ago with the goal of getting businesses to
pledge 50,000 Indigenous jobs. At the time of writing, it had
pledges of 60,491 Indigenous jobs from 311 employers.
But, as Parker says, getting the pledges is one thing, but skilling
up is another. “The frst thing that had to happen is that we had
to build demand for Indigenous employment, the second part is
of the equation is to build a skilled supply and that’s the federal
government’s responsibility through the training industry and the
employment service providers industry, ” she says.
In some ways, recruiting people is the easy bit, and retaining
them is the hard part. “One of the biggest barriers is that
Indigenous recruits sometimes don’t understand the informal rules
of the workplace,” Parker says.
She says one mentor related the story of how she’d reminded
an Indigenous employee to ring in if he was going to be late. “The
young lad said to the mentor, ‘But if I ring the boss and tell him I’m
going to be late, he’s going to be cross with me’,” recounts Parker.
“And she said ‘No, if you don’t ring and tell him you’ll be late – then
he’ll be cross with you’.”
Parker says the AEC requires all its employer partners to provide
Indigenous recruits with a ‘workplace buddy’ to help them settle in.
“Employers report that the workplace buddy is one of the things
that has really made a difference to retention (rates), ” she says.
COAG’s Closing the Gap reforms aim to halve the gap in employment
rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous employment by 2018 –
and Parker says business can help make it happen.
“We have a great opportunity in the next fve years. We have
a robust economy, and we believe we can use work rather than
welfare as a vehicle to end disadvantage,” she says. “My challenge
to CEOs is to put in place a strategy so that in fve years’ time you
can look at your business and know it will look different with respect
to Indigenous employment to what it looks like today.”
The Ord Irrigation Expansion Project, near Kununurra in the extreme
north of Western Australia, is one big project that’s embraced work as
a way of ending disadvantage. This huge project will eventually increase
the size of the Ord’s irrigation area by 7,500 hectares as part of the
decades-long dream to make the Ord a giant ‘food bowl’ for the nation.
The Moonamang Joint Venture, as it’s known, is a partnership
between Leighton Contractors and Indigenous Business Australia.
The body representing the local Indigenous community – the
Miriuwung Gajerrong Corporation, or MG Corp – is working with
the project partners to provide work readiness programs and
employment support services for locals.
CEO Franklin Gaffney says during
Phase 2 of construction at least 70 of the 200
construction jobs will go to local Indigenous
people. He says four Indigenous businesses
have already been created as a result of the
Ord Final Agreement, the precursor to the
expansion project. They are a catering frm, a tourism venture
to show visitors around the giant irrigation project, a fencing
business and a labour hire business to recruit local workers.
Iain Summers FCA is part of that. He’s a director of the
Miriuwung Gajerrong Corporation and also works as a governance
trainer with Indigenous communities. He believes businesses have
to realise two things if they want to help close the gap.
Firstly, they have to realise there’s another gap – a gap in our
understanding that Indigenous people can be very much tied to their
traditional tribal laws and customs which they’ve lived under long before
the arrival of the English. In effect, they are forced to live in two worlds.
“The challenge for an Indigenous Australian is to ‘toggle’
between those two worlds and the two sets of rules,” he says.
“The challenge for business is to recognise that the Indigenous
person they are recruiting has to live in both those worlds and that
will affect the availability of that Indigenous person to ft within the
expectations of the employer. If business can’t see that second
world and respect that second world, it’s going to struggle to
If business can't see that second world
and respect that second world, it's going
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