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Improving Indigenous engagement in FM

Richard Young previously worked as Manager of Indigenous Affairs for John Holland Group, in the construction industry. During his four years in this role, Indigenous employment increased from less than 1% to more than 4%. Designing and implementing organisational change management processes across the Group was one of his primary responsibilities. 

Young is now the Director of Culturepreneur, where he works with organisations to ensure there are more opportunities for Indigenous Australians to work in the facilities management (FM) industry.

Rachael Ognjanov from the FMA Diversity Portfolio spoke to Young about the barriers and opportunities in improving Indigenous engagement.

What do you currently see as a roadblock for Indigenous Australians entering the workforce?
I see a lack of understanding of Indigenous Australians’ skills and their capability to work within organisations. Attitudes, opinions and perceptions are based on what employers see and hear, and are not necessarily based on facts.

In addition, international companies do not understand the policy frameworks that are trying to close the Indigenous Australian employment gap, and the history and story behind them.

What short-term action do you think should be taken to help corporate Australia close the Indigenous employment gap?
Companies really need to analyse their organisational culture, look at and review existing practices and procedures, then thread that through the cultural values so as to reflect and appreciate all cultures. We need to challenge key decision-makers to go and work in an Indigenous community to gain a better cultural understanding.

Do you think there is an education piece that is missing about the value of employing Indigenous Australians?
It seems that the more people understand Indigenous Australians and their stories, the more action is taken towards implementing programs and achieving results.

I always say to companies, ‘Show me your budget and I will show you your commitment; I will show you how serious you are’. When people say they want to go out and engage, and be more culturally diverse, we need to ask: does their budget reflect that?

With regards to the recruitment process, what types of questions are companies asking when they go to the market and look for applications? Are they only using mainstream media, or are they using tools that will target Indigenous and diverse Australians?
A lot of companies do not go to Aboriginal communication channels to advertise, such as Koori Radio, National Indigenous Television (NITV) and Koori Mail. You will never get the change you want if you are too fearful of bringing in a bit of colour, a bit of diversity of thought, more women, and people of all sexual orientations; to me, if you are talking diversity, you are talking about all types of diversity.

It’s not just about getting numbers, otherwise that turns into tokenism. Is there influence up the line? Is diversity vertical, or is it just horizontal at a particular level and pay grade? Companies need to ask themselves what other opportunities they are missing out on by not being more diverse.

On the flip side, what can we do to work with Indigenous people to get them more active in CBD or subregional areas?
Relationships are key – if companies want to engage the Aboriginal community, they need to ask: what value are we going to bring to the community to get their approval and get their involvement?

You also need to consider whether you have gone and spoken to an Aboriginal community about the advantages of the FM industry. Is there a benefit back to the community? Is the community aware of you?

There needs to be an inclusion for families who will generally work in sectors together. There also needs to be cultural security and a satisfaction that you are benefiting the community.

What was the key strategy you used to increase Indigenous employment during your time at John Holland Group?
I went out to Aboriginal communities and spoke to them about the benefits of working for the John Holland Group.

If you have one key message that could encourage corporations to not only employ Indigenous Australians, but also to educate their current workforce on the value and benefits of engaging Indigenous Australians, what would that be?
Look at your $50 bill, because what you will see on there is a fella by the name of David Unaipon. He had 100-plus patents; he is known as Australia’s version of Leonardo da Vinci. He designed the patent for the motorised hand shears used for sheep; he put two boomerangs together for the helicopter propeller system; and he was a senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide in science, art and philosophy. The reason I say look at the bill is because Aboriginal people are not seen to be at that level.

When you hear ‘Aboriginal people’ as CEOs, is that a natural fit? If not, what I say to that is: lift your eyes, which helps lift your opinion, which helps lift your mind, which helps lift your attitude – all of those things.

Lift your head when you are talking about us; don’t talk about us while looking down on us. Talk about us and see us as your equal.

Historically, we have always been seen as less evolved. When you think of us, do you see Aboriginal Australians as your equal? Because when you see Aboriginals as equals, then there is nothing we cannot achieve. Invite us in, listen and give us the exposure to your business.

About Culturepreneur
Culturepreneur was established in November 2014 to advance the cause of entrepreneurship and contribute to reducing Indigenous poverty to close the wealth gap.

Culturepreneur advises companies, government departments and Indigenous people on how to understand the integration of culture business and business culture to support the establishment of Indigenous family-based businesses across multiple sectors.