Partnerships with Traditional Owner groups… and the flow on benefits!

This isn’t a new concept at all; the wider business community, especially in Western Australia where the native title system lends itself to true commercial partnerships has been looking to traditional owner groups for some time now to not only increase business opportunities across their footprint, but as a mechanism to provide socioeconomic improvement; unlocking opportunities out of the native title process.

On the surface, this seems to make good business sense……partnering with a TO group often results in market leverage, providing you and your business access to boardroom tables often only reserved for big business. However, if not done correctly and with the right moral fortitude, it can be devastating to not only business operations but your own personal brand.

As a non-Indigenous Tiwi man from Bathurst Island, I have had the pleasure in witnessing many successful partnerships with TO groups. Real partnerships that have a mutual and shared benefit for all key stakeholders involved which have long term and on-going successes both financially and socially; often turning around whole communities, breaking ‘generational welfare dependency’ whilst leading the way in ‘closing the gap’.

However; unfortunately, I have also seen the less than desirable partnerships or Joint Ventures, those that narrow in on short-term financial gain, acting only to benefit one partner or the other; leaving a trail of economic destruction in their path. These partnerships are often born out of a single opportunity, that once won provide little benefit to those that it was intended to?

The Introduction from both Australian and State Governments of Indigenous procurement targets or policies has certainly changed this landscape somewhat and as a collective Industry, indicators are being ‘smashed out of the park’; however, if we draw analysis against ‘closing the gap’ data, we can clearly see that we are still struggling as a nation to improve on key benchmarks?

The above initiative has clearly worked for Indigenous businesses owners across the sector, developing opportunities within various supply chains that otherwise would have not had entry into the market; however, I feel that there are still real and long-lasting partnerships yet to be developed that bring benefits back to a ‘grass-roots’ level; acting as a true catalyst for socioeconomic, employment and generational change?

For any change to take effect, you need a long-term strategy; one that often gets forgotten about in the race for financial success. Breaking the cycle of generational welfare dependency through employment from the ground up, is one that I have been passionate about for the majority of my life; including strategies that focus on the long-game instead of short-term successes.

For long-term employment and for that matter, project success any business or partnership requires time to develop operational strategies such as workforce development and training whilst embedding cultural change; in turn building the foundations necessary for prosperity and inter-generational change.

In my experience, the above change only occurs across a work-group long after a project has commenced, often failing those individuals that take the leap of faith to be a part of the project in the first place; whilst workforce development strategies that are holistically reversed engineered prior to the commencement of any project and with the individual in mind have the highest chance of success and therefore reward.

One such area that requires exceptional business focus and dedication, across any partnership is the development, training and investment in, a long-term workforce; one which if done strategically can be, not only a valuable resource but a legacy for social change.

Bridging the gap between the commercial viability of any business partnership with the intended drive for social change is certainly a challenge; however, if done correctly all parties involved can prosper whilst providing a conduit for employment and workforce development, socioeconomic growth and real change.

Localised Indigenous Workforce Development… Just a pipedream or true Return On Investment?

As the general resources industry looks to decrease spending in line with the downward trend in commodity prices and the ever present ‘redundancy’ or restructuring takes place, I am left wondering what if?

What if the wider business community took a pro-active view on ‘localised’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment and Workforce development?

What if, we saw a dramatic increase in both employment and Indigenous business engagement within specific project or mining lease areas by Traditional owner groups, would we still have the downward trend in the resources sector?

Well, I firmly believe if localised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) employment and workforce development is done correctly and pro-active engagement all levels is reached, the key to unlocking positive return on investment or a decrease in cost-of-production is a mere formality and the resources sector would still be as lucrative to investors as it was 3 years ago?

Unfortunately, in my experience the appetite or engagement for localised Indigenous employment is minimal at best, especially within a soft employment market and in-turn the majority of Indigenous communities within resource rich areas are left behind as the pressure to produce gains momentum.

Aboriginal communities such as Woorabinda, which lies on the edge of the Bowen Basin in central Queensland and averaging well over 70% unemployment could see the flow on effects of pro-active and strategic local Indigenous employment and workforce development strategies, developed in conjunction with surrounding resource rich projects; whilst developing a BIBO type approach to workforce engagement.

I have not only had the pleasure in engaged with local Traditional owners and other community stakeholders on a holistic level, but I have been witness to well over 30% local Indigenous employment across many works packages.

As I hear the ever-present questions, including the how do you? And the, why do you? I am continually asking, Why not?

Why not? It makes not only commercial and economic sense but it ticks all those critical boxes including native title, ILUA compliance and Traditional Owner engagement!

Resource and construction companies that not only embrace, but increase engagement within local Indigenous communities play witness to a distinct improvement across all employment areas, including retention, training and development and diversity.

Those companies that embrace innovation and change the way they engage Indigenous employees throughout the HR life-cycle can drastically see a decrease in the cost-of-production as FIFO costs such as flights, accommodation and other unrelated costs are reduced. Other such benefits include a reduction in presentism and furthermore attrition, as it is well documented a workforce that is ‘Indigenous’ to the project area are more engaged and invested.

Project cost such as employee based mobilisation and accommodation costs, that are redirected towards pro-active strategies to increase local Indigenous employment and workforce development can drastically improve engagement and retention, in line with the nature of a localised ‘Indigenous’ workforce within the project landscape whilst decreasing dependency on welfare and creating   socioeconomic growth long after practical completion.

In my opinion, the only way to create true Indigenous employment and workforce development strategies is to create a sense of proactive urgency throughout the contractor base and gain an initial confirmation and guarantee on the number and type of jobs available. Only through this method, can you gain a true level of dedication to local Indigenous employment.

You cannot merely, invest in training a set group of candidates on the hope they become employed, you must engage and guarantee jobs upfront whilst developing the workforce to suit! We have all heard the saying ‘Training, for training sake’?

One such method of developing strong localised Indigenous employment and workforce development strategies is to engage an Indigenous business that has the resources to provide a platform (Whether it be Labour hire or contractor based model) to not only attract, engage and develop a true localised Indigenous workforce. A business that has the ability to perform at all levels of stakeholder engagement whether it be Traditional owner group, funding body or community health center, as no one can do it alone and forming the right alliances is vital to the success of any project.

As the resources Industry looks to innovation to provide a buffer between production and ‘care and maintenance’ across the industry I can’t help but wonder, if localised Indigenous employment and workforce development strategies were more widely utilised as a way to reduce costs associated with large scale resources projects, would we be experiencing a decline in this sector?

As always, my door is always open and my phone is always answered.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement – The real benefit

Now, I’ve touched on this subject previously; however, in light of the recent senate inquiry into the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) and the recently published list of recommendations, I would like to revisit this much debated topic.

Now, as a non-Indigenous person I don’t attempt to know how to fix this issue, I am only attempting to raise awareness of what we are doing isn’t working and we MUST change tact!

Now a bit about me, I grew up in the early 80’s on the small Aboriginal community of Wurrumiyanga (Nguiu) on Bathurst Island, north of Darwin. I think there is still a picture floating around somewhere of me, aged around 4 years old dressed up on Tiwi Grand final day, as the Tapalinga mascot? The local Tiwi Island AFL team my farther played with.

Growing up on the Tiwi Islands, I consider myself extremely privileged to have been embraced by members of this traditional owner group. Through the understanding of their culture and lifelong connection with the people and the land, I possess a strong commitment to the empowerment of the Indigenous people of Australia incorporating socioeconomic advancement.

Whenever the spotlight returns to this topic a surge in well-meaning RAP’s or similar documents follows.  Are they achieving results and what does it all really mean?

What it means to me, quite simply, is a long term and meaningful connection with the traditional owners of the land on which you are working, whether it be project specific or otherwise. A beneficial joint partnership that links your moral compass and the commercial realities of business.

One such engagement model that I have had the pleasure in implementing, was a successful employment and workforce development program that not only provided capacity around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment (around 20 – 30% of the total workforce) but built socioeconomic advancement through the establishment of an 100% Indigenous owned Labour hire company that provided approx 750 Aboriginal employees with employment.

Late last year I had the absolute pleasure of exploring this very journey with a senior and exceptionally strategic human resource manager of a major civil contractor in Brisbane. It’s a discussion I could happily have 100 times over and one I thoroughly enjoyed, as it provided meaningful direction to the organisations core values regarding Aboriginal engagement and the use of workforce development strategies together with Labour hire options.

This discussion was not only from a place of passion and dedication but a strategic, long term direction, based on a holistic approach to workforce development. During which we explored how by integrating culturally rich learning and development practices into their operations, they can significantly increase engagement and employment numbers through a labour hire model whilst developing socioeconomic advancement.

Engagement with traditional owners. Yes, it is a long term concept and yes it takes commitment. But, if done correctly, the commercially driven ROI is huge.  Not to mention the ‘Employer of choice’ and diversity benefits to an organisation.

The real long term benefit of this concept to an organisation willing to develop these strategies, is that you are locally engaged with those who possess a deep understanding of the project area.  Another added benefit, and sometimes hidden benefit, is that you minimise lengthy delays in cultural heritage / Native title issues.  All the while being provided with a local workforce; a workforce that is ‘Indigenous’ to the project area and who are 100% invested in the project.

Yes, I agree, for any project to be achieved on time and under budget we have deliverables that are commercially driven.  However, I do also firmly believe that the key to long term success in the procurement of viable and cost effective projects, are sound and effective Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engagement strategies.

I have worked with and been a part of some really great organisations that have seen the real economic and moral benefit of these strategies in play and I must say, there is currently a lot of good work being done within my networks nationally to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engagement across the business community!

In conclusion, as this area is a real passion of mine (if you hadn’t already picked up on it!), I naturally see the benefits for any organisation willing to invest. However, my challenge together with those that advocate for increased engagement, is to keep educating the market in the long term benefits and ROI!!

Only through education can you keep learning and adapting!

As always, my door is always open and my phone is always answered.