We will not Close the Gap without employer-directed training

Employment growth among Indigenous people currently lacks the momentum needed to make any real ground on closing the gap.

by Warren Mundine
Executive Chairman, Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce

Since 2006 the Indigenous employment rate has gone up to 44.%,  an increase of 1.7%. It’s an improvement, but it is nowhere near the target and already half the time for achieving that target has passed. Employment growth among Indigenous people lacks the momentum needed to make any real ground on closing this gap.

This is despite the fact that, with a 5.4% national unemployment rate, there is a strong business case for building the capacity of marginalised workers. One of the reasons for the slow progress is that unemployed Indigenous people disproportionately fall into the most disadvantaged categories of job seekers.

The unemployed are often categorised in four streams. In streams three and four are the most disadvantaged. These people have multiple and complex barriers to employment. These might include poor literacy and numeracy skills, unstable housing and drug and alcohol addictions. The report indicates 77% of all Indigenous job seekers fall into these two streams.Getting unemployed Indigenous people into sustained employment is hard. New recruiting and retention strategies are needed.There are two obvious solutions here: supporting employers to recruit and retain Indigenous staff, and Vocational Training and Employment Centres (VTECs).

It is important employers have the practical resources and support to employ Indigenous people. This week GenerationOne, the Australian Employment Covenant Initiative, Reconciliation Australia and Social Ventures Australia launched a collaborative handbook for those on the front line of recruiting and retaining Indigenous staff.

The handbook was developed in consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander zpeople and organisations and draws on shared knowledge and experiences related to helping people break the cycle of disadvantage through sustainable employment.

One of the case studies used in the handbook focuses on the Programmed Group, a provider of staffing, maintenance and project services. Since signing with the Australian Employment Covenant, the Programmed Group has recruited 30 Indigenous trainees and apprentices, nine of whom have more than a year’s service. The Indigenous participation strategy used has a strong focus on structured mentoring and training.

Employer-directed training through VTECS is essential to break through all the barriers to employment, especially those that hold back unemployed people in streams three and four. VTECs use an integrated service approach, training people for jobs that exist and then supporting people in work so that they stay in those jobs. And by addressing the multiple and complex barriers to employment, the VTEC approach also goes some way toward closing the gaps in health and education for those individuals.

The VTEC program is championed by GenerationOne and works to connect unemployed Indigenous people with the 60,334 jobs allocated for Indigenous Australians by the 335 employers who have signed the Australian Employment Covenant.

Since 2008, 14,223 unemployed people have commenced work through these combined programs.

This year marks the halfway point for the Closing the Gap targets. So far the government has fallen short on health targets, moved backwards in some education targets and shown minimal improvement in employment figures.

Some employers, however, have started to act differently in their approach to recruiting and retaining Indigenous staff.

I do not believe the Closing the Gap employment target will be achieved any other way.
First published in the Australian Financial Review on 28 February 2013. Warren Mundine was the then CEO of GenerationOne.


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