e=MC5…What’s in a Number? Indigenous Employment & Engagement


I’m not a fan of numbers. Never have been, just ask my school math teacher’s. Talk about another language.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve heard a heck of A LOT about numbers.The two most focused on, Women in the Workforce and Indigenous Employment. I’m now waiting on some white paper on the appropriate balance of Gen X, Y, Baby Boomers, Gen i to ensure maximum productivity, and profitability is released. Actually one probably already does exist.

Today, i’m going to talk about Indigenous Employment.

Indigenous Employment and Engagement is something I have been exposed to through my time at SKM. It’s hit the radar in my three previous employers since and now again with my current position. My experience has been as follows:

SKM – In my opinion one of the first employers to fully embrace the Reconciliation Action Plan – RAP, as well as Indigenous Engagement & Employment. I consider them to be a thought leader in this space. It would be interesting to know how they are measuring ROI. How have they increased the number of Aboriginal & Torres Straight Islander employees within their business? Are they measuring how successful they are once in the business (through tenure and salary increases), Have they secured new work from clients due to this commitment? Have they measured what impact on brand their commitment to Indigenous Employment and Engagement had with employees, clients and suppliers? There would be some really interesting data in there.

The Strategist Group – A Perth business in the HR/Recruitment and now Training industry. At the time they employed 8 people including a Indigenous Trainee Office Administrator,  Bree Mitchelson the Owner/Principal is passionate about diversity, and certainly championed it with her clients and within her own business.

John Holland – The Perth office employed an Indigenous Liaison Officer who sat within the HR function. Unfortunately their work was very separate to recruitment which I found a little strange. As their recruitment manager, there was no remit, or ever any real direction from the business in relation to Indigenous Engagement and Employment. Whilst I lead the discussion within the Internal Recruitment team in relation to how we could increase our Indigenous Content, there was little interaction or involvement from leaders within the business. One of the ideas here was to consider low level incarcerated people returning to society as potential employees for remote area rail work due to the difficulty in finding suitable, available talent that were interested in this type of work.

Decmil – Took the strategic approach of aligning with strong Indigenous Suppliers and Joint Venture partnerships as opposed to doing it on their own. The heart was there, but the budget was not. They are very active with the PINGKU Indigenous Traineeship.

Current – The client with whom I presently work with is looking into increasing their Indigenous Employment and Engagement and have asked me to look into Generation One, a RAP, and just generally looking at opportunities within our business to increase our Indigenous content. The right intent is there, it will be interesting to see whether the commitment and budget is!

With all of this I have formed some opinions in relation to Indigenous Employment & Engagement;

  • Almost every client proposal has a request for information in relation to Indigenous Content
  • You can win work, and get repeat work,  if you’re seen to be committed and/or successful in your Indigenous Content Strategy. You can also lose work for not having one.
  • The majority talk about numbers, a % of workforce, but rarely do you hear about ROI, or see meaningful data published in relation to the benefits
  • The focus is on unskilled positions, where it should be on entry level roles with upskilling towards appropriate qualifications and accreditation’s
  • Lots of talk about increasing numbers, but little in the way of increasing cultural awareness
  • There is typically a higher turnover of Indigenous employees, I think primarily due to lack of cultural awareness and the ‘numbers’ mentality
  • There needs to be better integration between internal Indigenous Employment & Training Departments with the broader HR/Recruitment function
  • If your strategy is to use Indigenous Suppliers, your less likely to commit as much time, and finances as an employer who chooses to fully participate via a RAP
  • Participating in the RAP is a real commitment to Indigenous Employment & Engagement.

How do I think organisations should approach Indigenous Employment & Engagement?

Pick your strategy.

Can you as an employer invest the time, energy, and finances into a RAP? A RAP is a huge commitment which requires executive support, regular reporting, engaging with community, raising awareness, educating your employees and that’s just for starters. If done well and correctly, clients will see your efforts and potentially reward it, your employer brand increases therefor positively increasing your ability to attract top talent, increasing your retention rates and the list of benefits goes on.

Implement a broad cultural awareness program, and measure your employee sentiment and engagement in relation to your Indigenous Strategy. If you don’t educate your employees you’ll continue to experience a higher rate of turnover.

Provide on-going support, and mentoring to your Indigenous employees. Simply employing them and leaving them to their own devices in most cases does not work. Recently I have been speaking with RTO Solutions who pride themselves in what they call Pastoral Care. This is a post placement service to provide on-going coaching and mentoring to indigenous employees.

If you have an internal indigenous employment/engagement/affairs team you need to better integrate them into the HR team.

Not so fussed on an Indigenous Strategy with that much involvement, well then consider outsourcing it or simply increase your Indigenous suppliers and partnerships. Its a move in the right direction, and who knows you might even see the longer term benefits of a more involved strategy!

Move away from % of workforce reporting. Start reporting on Tenure, Salary Increases (reflecting promotion and performance), Client perception/satisfaction, Employee engagement (in relation to your indigenous strategy), Supplier engagement/perception (Indigenous and non-indigenous), Community perception/awareness (indigenous and non-indigenous), Company financial performance attributed by Indigenous content….

If we are really serious about Indigenous employment and engagement these are the sorts of numbers we should be talking about. Not how many ads you’ve posted to a particular job board, or many hires you’ve made (because lets face it, if you hire 100 and your turnover is high, you’re doing more damage to your brand, operational, and financial performance than good)

I’m speaking from my own experiences, these are my own opinions. I’ve had no formal experience or training in relation to Indigenous Employment  Engagement but for me its the practical application of a tailored Attraction, Engagement, and Retention strategy of which we use in our day to day operations. Sure it needs to be tweaked, but is it really all that different?


One thought on “e=MC5…What’s in a Number? Indigenous Employment & Engagement

  1. Have also had a high level of involvement in my previous roles, and agree with your sentiment that success should be measured not on how many Indigenous employees you have, but how well they are retained and engaged. The most successful programs I have seen have included a strong focus on mentoring, and post-placement support. Cultural education of the greater employee population is VITAL, but particularly important for the managers who will be directly involved with coaching the new recruits.

    If you are talking about employing long-term unemployed people (whether Indigenous or not), you need a strategy in place that will support their re-entry to the workforce – it is not easy, but a good support program will go a long way. You have to set realistic objectives and expectations from the outset, or as you say, you will just be doing more harm to your employer brand than good.

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