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Job dream must come before dream job

06 December 2013

Like it or not, your job is part of your identity in 21st century Australia.

Rachelle -Towart -033-HR

People who don’t have a job often feel a shortfall in their identity – feeling less good about themselves, feeling they contribute less than they should or could and sometimes feeling the effects of poverty as their relatively low incomes may not stretch to cover basic bills.

This is particularly a problem for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who have not only lower life expectancy, poorer health outcomes and lower education completion rates, but also lower rates of employment than non-Indigenous people.

That’s why it’s important that Tony Abbott has acted swiftly to set up an Indigenous Advisory Council and a review of Indigenous employment and jobs programs after commencing his term as Prime Minister. 

But why does that matter to you?

It matters because every Indigenous person who is able to realise what their full potential is and then strive to achieve it contributes more. And when each of them contribute more, their families see benefits, their communities see benefits, their workplaces see benefits and Australia, as a whole, sees substantial benefits.

There are more than 500,000 Indigenous people in Australia, and about 70% live in urban areas. Australia for the most part appears to be moving beyond the negative stereotypes about Indigenous people and work, realising that generations of family trouble, forcible family breakups during the stolen generations years, and many other complex interwoven contributing factors have meant that Indigenous people have been left behind in the past.

However, it’s now 2013 and Australians have overwhelmingly supported a government which has a strong commitment to improving outcomes for Indigenous people – but the big question is how? Lots of money has been thrown at Indigenous issues in the past in a well meaning way, but it has not always been well spent.

Jobs are one of the keys to improving outcomes for Indigenous people. Not just any jobs – giving all the lowest paid jobs in the country to Indigenous people isn’t going to narrow the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Nor is the solution in token jobs – that just breeds resentment and artifice.

No, the answer is to give Indigenous people skills, knowledge, networks and opportunities that enable them to be appointed to jobs on merit. There is no Indigenous old boys network to give talented young people a step ahead in life and not enough Indigenous people in senior corporate and government positions to serve as aspirational role models for those bent on a career.

While women have long talked about a ‘glass ceiling’ preventing them to the top echelons of the corporate ladder, there also appears, at least in the past, to have been a bark ceiling preventing Indigenous people from rising to middle management.

To break down these barriers and to allow Indigenous people to be their best, employment programs are required – which brings us back to the government’s latest moves. The appointment of Westpac CEO Gail Kelly to the Indigenous Advisory Council is a particularly important step in this process. Aunty Gail, as she is known to her friends at the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre, has been a strong and effective support of Indigenous employment programs – taking a keen interest not in PR opportunities, but in what actually works.

My organisation was able to show results from a KPMG audit that showed that graduates earned an average of almost $14,000 extra each year after completing one of our Indigenous leadership courses and 60% received a promotion as a result of the course. When we were able to show these and a host of other objective statistics about the effectiveness of Indigenous leadership training to Aunty Gail, she was very interested – but when we introduced her to a range of graduates who had completed our program, their personal stories helped make Westpac a friend for life.

If you have two minutes to spare, check out the extraordinary stories of some of our alumni in our new anti-boring Annual Report. We want to show why Indigenous leadership, Indigenous Governance and Indigenous jobs matter to all Australians – and how good the future could become.

Rachelle Towart is CEO of the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre and was named Australia’s top Community CEO in the Westpac Community Leadership awards for 2013. She loves her job!