Business Trailblazing in Indigenous Economic Engagement

Creative initiatives by Australia’s largest businesses are having an increasingly significant impact in supporting Indigenous employment and economic development.

The third annual survey by the Business Council of Australia attracted a record 74 per cent response rate from member companies (up from 40 per cent last year), and showed that 81 per cent of respondents have formal Indigenous engagement strategies in place.

The council’s Chief Executive, Jennifer Westacott, said the survey report, Vision and Values: Working Together to Close the Gap, shows council members are reaching out in ever larger numbers to help improve outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

“It’s increasingly well recognised that our members are playing a leading role in developing progressive and effective ways to provide Indigenous people with economic opportunities,” said Ms Westacott. 

“The results of this year’s survey, which provide more detailed information from a larger number of member companies, show that finding and retaining qualified Indigenous employees is still a major focus.

“But members are also heavily involved in activity to improve education outcomes for Indigenous children to show them they have choices in life.”

Key findings from the 2011 survey include:

  • 81 per cent of respondents have Indigenous engagement initiatives in place
  • 63 per cent of all respondents have employment, training and/or education and skills strategies
  • at least 872 new Indigenous employees and 561 new Indigenous trainees have been hired by member companies over the last 12 months
  • 52 per cent of companies are working in partnership with Indigenous organisations
  • the vast majority of respondents with Indigenous engagement strategies were able to identify successful initiatives with examples across each of the major categories including employment, education and business development.

This year’s survey also includes personal insights by CEO members Ralph Norris (Commonwealth Bank of Australia), David Peever (Rio Tinto) and Steve McCann (Lend Lease) whose companies are deeply involved in Indigenous engagement.

Ms Westacott said that when asked to identify the main factors underpinning success, the CEOs highlighted the importance of building relationships and understanding with Indigenous organisations and communities, and committing for the long term.

“Members recognise they have a major role to play in ensuring that a prosperous country like Australia does not have groups of people missing out.

“Their capacity to think long term and come up with creative approaches means they are often better equipped than government to work through these complex challenges.”

She said that while the survey results highlight the significant progress being made, the lessons learnt from the survey also draw attention to ongoing challenges.

These include the demand on human and financial resources, competing business priorities, identifying potential job candidates, generating support within the company, and the need for more pre-employment support so people are job ready.

The aims of BCA’s Indigenous engagement survey are to:

  • raise awareness about what businesses can do to help improve opportunities and outcomes for Indigenous Australians 
  • share information about what’s working
  • encourage more businesses to get involved
  • promote collaboration.

“While there is still a long way to go, Australia’s leading businesses and their chief executives are optimistic about their capacity to make a positive difference,” said Ms Westacott.