The Australian Financial Review
8 February 2012
By Tony Shepherd
President, Business Council of Australia
Creative initiatives by Australia’s largest businesses are having an increasingly significant impact in supporting Indigenous employment and economic development.
The release this week of a report analysing the impact of the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), shows 22 members of the Business Council of Australia are now playing a leading role in cross-sector action to improve opportunities for Indigenous Australians.
Our 2011 annual member survey showed that 22 BCA companies had launched RAPS, which help them articulate a business case for Indigenous engagement, encourage organisational buy-in, as well as structuring accountability for action.
The company that I chair, Transfield Services, developed its first RAP in 2009.
It takes a strategic approach to Indigenous employment, including a strong focus on retention.
Indigenous employees now represent just over 3 per cent of the workforce, with a retention rate of 79 per cent over the past 12 to 18 months.
We attribute our success to strong community engagement and relationships, cultural awareness training, mentoring and continued efforts to understand and address the challenges faced by our Indigenous employees.
Building strong relationships with local Indigenous communities early on is a critical step in supporting the retention of Indigenous employees.
They help to identify potential Indigenous candidates and give us a broader understanding of the concerns of communities, so that we can provide appropriate support to employees. Training focuses on raising awareness, stressing the importance of Indigenous employment for the company, as well as providing information on language, connection to land, sea and family, and kinship. Mentoring plays an important role in supporting Indigenous retention.
The final, highly significant element of our approach is a commitment to resolving issues faced by Indigenous employees.
Targeted interviews were held recently to survey all Indigenous employees on their experiences at the company. Exit interviews are held with any Indigenous employee who leaves the business.
While we aim to achieve high employment targets, we also recognise the importance, first and foremost, of providing a supportive work environment.
Like my fellow council members, we recognise our role in ensuring that a prosperous country like Australia does not have groups of people continually missing out.
While industry cannot solve the social and disadvantage issues facing Indigenous people, we can certainly make a significant contribution towards reducing that disadvantage.