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First Nations: How a grass roots organisation is helping job seekers

23 November 2021

CYE SoniaGrass roots organisation Cape York Partnership is helping to solve the challenges faced by First Nation’s people in employment.

The organisation is composed of multiple entities tackling policy, education and employment, health and culture. The common goal is to empower First Nations people of Cape York. One entity making a big difference for Indigenous job seekers is Cape York Employment. CYE has helped secure placements for more than 1400 job seekers in Aurukun, Coen, and Lockhart River since 2013.

A lack of employment opportunities and reliance on welfare is problematic in many ways, particularly the impact on self-worth and confidence. Cape York Employment works closely with local, regional, and national employers to align training with upcoming grass roots opportunities, helping to provide personalised job plans and foundational training to help secure future employment.

And it doesn’t stop there:  Cape York Employment celebrates the unique talents of community members, researching possible avenues of self-employment.

One inspiring female leader helping to empower job seekers within the communities of Cape York and Cairns is Sonia Minniecon (above), General Manager at Cape York Employment. We spoke with Sonia about employment challenges, her passion for community development and creating pathways to meaningful employment.

RUBY: Hi Sonia, can you let us know a little bit about yourself and your role within Cape York Partnership?

My name is Sonia Minniecon, and I am a proud descendant of the Gubbi Gubbi people from Southeast Queensland and of Vanuatu. My passion is helping my people. My working life has always been in training, community development and support, and in the employment sector. My current role as General Manager of Cape York Employment enables me and my team to support unemployed people in Aurukun, Coen and Lockhart River, to acquire skills to gain employment, and support their communities and families.

RUBY: What challenges did you face getting to where you are in your career?

When I initially started this role at Cape York Partnership, I had self-doubt about my abilities to be a manager and lead a team. I also didn’t think I had the technical skills required. At times I neglected my personal health and wellbeing and put work commitments first to try and combat those doubts. Over time those doubts faded and I was able to push for more while still finding balance.

RUBY: Can you describe how Cape York Employment serves the community?

Cape York Employment creates pathways to meaningful employment. We work with local job seekers and school-leavers to identify job opportunities, provide access to training, improve job-readiness and address any barriers to gaining meaningful employment.

We work with our communities to co-design a range of regular activities that provide job seekers with an opportunity to learn new skills and contribute positively to their communities.

This is made possible through the Community Development Program (CDP) in Aurukun, Coen and Lockhart River.

RUBY: Why do you think financial independence is so important?

With jobseekers outnumbering available jobs in many of our communities, many find themselves in the grips of passive welfare that strips them of their purpose and self-worth and places them at high risk of being left behind by the real economy.

Our youth, too, are calling out for opportunities to further their education and train for jobs of the future. The benefits of employment go far beyond an earned income for one individual. A genuine, meaningful job restores personal pride, builds resilient families, and creates safer communities.

RUBY: How does Cape York Employment create roles and make them accessible for these women?

Cape York Employment works with our jobseekers to understand their needs and aspirations. Many of our women have multiple roles in the community as caregivers, mothers and leaders and our voluntary activities, personalised case management and foundational training all help build the relevant skills and experience employers are looking for. We also foster self-employment opportunities, leveraging the jobseeker’s distinctive talents.

An example of this is seen in our women artists in Aurukun whose work is being recognised nationally and internationally.

RUBY: Can you describe some of the biggest challenges at CYE?

We work in three very different and sometimes challenging Cape communities. The impact of significant historical factors still has an impact on the people’s lives in our communities. Sometimes work is not the immediate solution for some of our jobseekers. It is important we understand the culture and community and the individual’s needs. We sometimes struggle finding suitable staff to work in our communities, so when we do, we need to ensure we have the support in place for them, so that they can provide the best service and support to our jobseekers and our communities.

RUBY: What changes in the community have you seen over your years of working at the CYE?

I have seen a dramatic increase in women’s participation in activities in our communities. The Women’s Art Centre in Aurukun not only provides a place for the women to create their beautiful art, it also provides therapeutic support and a safe place to work from.

RUBY: What more do you think needs to be done around financial security and employment in the Cape? How is CYE addressing these needs?

Supporting individuals and families to support each other on the employment journey. At CYE we are providing training and creating work-like activities linked to jobs in the community. Once in jobs, we are providing ongoing support for the job seekers and employers so that they remain in employment.

We are also starting a new initiative – Work Opportunity Network or WON. Initially working with senior students from Djarragun College, Cape York Leaders Program and Cape York Girls Academy, WON will mentor students while they are at school and then create pathways to their employment, predominantly in apprenticeships and traineeships.

RUBY: What advice would you have for young women wanting to be where you are today in your career?

Be open to opportunities

Be resilient

Be yourself

Build your team wisely

Find work life balance

Love what you do

RUBY: What do you hope to achieve in your role?

That CYE increases our support across more communities in the Cape and employs more local Indigenous staff to support financial security for our communities. A genuine, meaningful job provides financial freedom, restores personal pride, builds resilient families, and creates safer communities.

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