The Murky Waters of Indigenous Employment 

Key points: 

  • Liberal government pledged $45 million to Generation One movement 
  • VTEC contracts awarded to unqualified organisations 
  • 62,000 jobs pledged are not ‘real’ jobs, yet 

In 2013, then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott pledged 45 million dollars to Mr Andrew Forrest’s Generation One ‘movement’ (formerly known as AEC which was noted for its ambitious 50,000 Indigenous job ‘pledges’).  The Generation One website states that it now has 62,000 job pledges. There was also the promise that if the Liberals won the looming election at that time, the Indigenous employment and training industry would be reviewed within 6 months of the election. 

Abbott won the election, and not long afterwards announced that Mr Forrest would be the man leading the review.  At this point it should be known that Mr Forrest’s FMG had a government funded work-ready program called VTEC based in Port Hedland. The model was simple: take local Indigenous people, give them some basic work-ready training and place them into entry-level jobs across the FMG business. This was a requirement as part of the FMG’s Land Use Agreements anyway.  

The model was not 100% successful; not everyone that went through the FMG VTEC program ended up with a job. We know that the model did do a lot of good for many Aboriginal people, but it also wasn’t a model that would suit every other industry, especially those that don’t have Land Use Agreement obligations.  

The Ending Disparity report was tabled and one of the main recommendations made was for the VTEC model to be rolled out across the country. In most cases JSAs were provided with VTEC contracts. The JSAs don’t have a good track record in servicing Indigenous or other jobseekers, as was documented in a recent Four Corners episode. Long before the report was tabled, those JSAs were asked to submit an expression of interest to become a VTEC. That might need a ‘please explain?’ 

In other cases, VTEC contracts have been awarded to organisations that have no history or experience in finding jobs for people, let alone even having access to any Indigenous people to fill the jobs. Those particular organisations had to build their VTEC units from scratch and find hundreds of jobs for Indigenous people within an 18-month contract period.  I can hardly see how the VTEC model was so revolutionary that it had to be immediately rolled out in such a way. 

Recently, the PMC office has identified that many of the VTECs were not tracking well, and provided a 6-month extension to enable them to meet their targets. Yet still, many of the VTEC’s are struggling for several different reasons: 

  • The 62,000 job pledges are not real jobs, they are ‘pledges’, there is a cavernous difference.  
  • The Generation One staff are trying to rally up new job ‘pledges’ to pass onto the struggling VTEC’s who don’t have the ability to source there own jobs. Given that there are 5,500 VTEC placements across the country and 62,000 job pledges, this might need another ‘please explain?’ 
  • Some of the VTECs don’t have access to Indigenous jobseekers  
  • The level of investment being put into the candidates is very low due to the nature of the back-ended contracts. No payments are provided to the VTECs until the jobseeker has been in employment for 6 months. Therefore, little to no real training is being provided to the jobseekers to prepare for their jobs.  
  • The original objectives of Mr Forrest’s VTEC model have been manipulated to minimise the financial risks whilst maximising their likelihood of the incentive payment by some of the VTECs. This has resulted in the people who were meant to get the jobs being overlooked. Instead, candidates who didn’t need any or as much training in order to fill the jobs and would be more of a certainty for the 6 month incentive payments, were chosen.  

The focus on the individuals that most need the help seems to have been forgotten about. 

We should also be asking Generation One what the $45 million is being spent on.  Their website does not disclose who is on their board of directors, and there is no public annual reporting.  Who has oversight of this organisation and the tax payers’ millions?  Maybe instead of a ‘movement’ we should ask why those funds are not being directed to real programs and Indigenous organisations that have the proven outcomes. Some might say I have sour grapes about not being given a VTEC contract; of course I’m disappointed about that, especially when I have over 4,000 Indigenous people on my books who are waiting for jobs. However, my main concern is the employment outcomes for Indigenous people. 

I disclose Ochre has a contract with FMG for labour hire.  I personally admire Mr Forrest greatly for his entrepreneurial spirit, his advocacy about Indigenous issues and I genuinely believe he is legitimate in his concerns in the Indigenous space. FMG is a company that has a strong track record of engaging with Indigenous businesses in a genuine way.  However, I don’t think that should prevent me from discussing the continued manipulation of Indigenous employment programs that tax payers are paying for, and are expecting results from.  When the results aren’t delivered, the Indigenous people are blamed for their laziness and then put on basic cards…that’s a whole different article. 

 

3 Keys to Success with Indigenous Engagement 

Key points: 

  • Indigenous employment is complex 
  • Creating awareness within business is important 
  • Genuine connection is the key 
  • What are the politics that affect the business?  

The area of Indigenous engagement has always been a complex business issue.  However, with increasing importance being placed on this area in the world of government and business, navigation of the issues, the politics and the bureaucracy continues to be difficult.   

Many companies seek to cover this area by creating internal Indigenous units or employing Indigenous engagement officers.  However, in our experience despite the best intentions to meet their obligations, many companies fail. This is generally because the actual people in charge of those decisions didn’t understand the importance, the contractual obligations, the need to create opportunities for the Traditional Owner (TO) groups, and a host of other factors. 

Three keys to success that we have observed through our work with clients: 

  1. Create awareness at every level in the organisation about why Indigenous engagement is important to your business; 
  1. Create genuine connections to the Indigenous community.  This may be with potential trainees, employees or suppliers, depending on the focus of your strategy; 
  1. Have a clear understanding of the politics that could affect your strategy. 

Engaging a consultant who is knowledgeable and passionate about the area and committed to achieving real outcomes for indigenous people can make all the difference. 

Best endeavours are no longer applicable to the state of affairs regarding Indigenous issues, and to create positive change, real action is required.  This needs to be led by those who really know about this very complex and culturally sensitive area.   

Ochre Consulting Services have enormous experience in creating positive engagement and outcomes with Indigenous programs.  Whatever you are trying to achieve in this area, we will apply our skills and experience to make the process easy for you.  We have a successful track record in creating programs which result in positive outcomes for all stakeholders.   

Our point of difference is our extensive knowledge in the area of Indigenous engagement, our understanding of TO dynamics in each region, and our strong connections to the indigenous community. Each of these strengths help to ensure the success of your indigenous programs.  As business owners ourselves we also have a very strong focus on commercial considerations. 

Whether you need help navigating the bureaucracy of federal government policies or the politics of Traditional Owners on country, it really is a minefield out there. 

Ochre Consulting Services can help you navigate through this complexity to get the best outcomes for your business. 

The Future Looks Bright for the Emerging Indigenous Technology Sector 

Key points: 

  • Kids from around Australia are involved in creating new tech 
  • Technology sector is important for Indigenous Australians to be a part of  
  • iWork is a great example of Indigenous firm, using Indigenous resources and benefitting Indigenous job seekers 

 

Over the last few weeks I have seen several media stories about kids and teenagers from around Australia creating all kinds of new technology products; from building and then using their very own iPad, a granddaughter live streaming images of her lonely and ill grandfather who lives far away, automated clock-in systems replacing roll calls to save time in the classroom, and kids actually knowing how to code programs.  

 

I also read a story recently about how the top technology gurus have stated we are only at the beginning of what the internet really has to offer., Really, how much more could it do? A great deal more, apparently. 

 

Therefore, when I read so many stories about the shift to a fast and emerging technology sector– which will be so prolific in our future lives that now primary schools are replacing large chunks of their curriculum with coding classes, iPad building and creating new technology–I’m now feeling quite satisfied that I’m somewhat ‘digitally inclusive’.  

 

I had the great pleasure of creating the concepts behind the iWork Jobsite. iWork uses innovative technology to connect with the disadvantaged and most ‘digitally excluded’ Indigenous people. This connectedness will enable them to still be a part of the job application process and in-turn, increases their chances of employment. Of course, iWork is for all levels of jobseekers, from kids still at school looking for casual work right up to professionals and graduates looking for careers. However, I’m especially excited about the piece of technology which is connecting to the grass roots people who really need access to jobs. In the first 3 weeks of going live, iWork has had almost 10,000 unique visitors to the site, without spending any money on advertising or driving a heavy campaign. I have no doubt at all that iWork will be the most powerful, and the only go-to platform, in the Indigenous employment market and that the numbers will speak for themselves. 

 

Then we have the Trakka App, a world first mobile app helping to keep Aboriginal people connected at a local level.  A very well presented, impressive, robust and informative app now available through the iTunes app store. It is an app that is being sold to local councils around Australia to keep their local residents, and tourists to the areas, informed about all things Indigenous; be it NAIDOC events, cultural experiences, events, tourism, landmarks, Aboriginal organisation directories and everything else in the Indigenous space in those localised areas.  

 

Next we have CAT Online, which is an online cultural awareness training program. Easy to use, full of foundational cultural information, and now nationally accredited. It is meant to be one component of a cultural awareness strategy which organisations can imbed into their onboarding/induction process in a streamlined and convenient way. The online component is meant to compliment other practical cultural awareness strategies of each corporate or government department which chooses to use the technology; in order to provide that first level of awareness to large groups of people at one time.  

 

Each of these IT startups was created and developed in Perth, by Indigenous people who have applied their knowledge and expertise in their various fields, identified the gaps in the market and then digitalised the solutions in a very sophisticated way to future-proof their businesses.  It’s exciting to be a part of a fast developing and complex business sector which breaks the moulds of how Indigenous businesses are usually perceived to be. 

 

In my new capacity as an Indigenous female version of Steve Jobs, I’m also looking forward to being a guest judge at the Indigenous start up weekend, powered by Google in Brisbane at the end of August. I’m eager to see what other emerging Indigenous tech companies are sprouting up.  

 

You can visit each of these tech companies mentioned in this article here: 

www.iworkjobsite.com.au 

https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/trakka/id1093099743?mt=8 

http://www.catonline.tv/. 

 

How Small Actions Lead to Poor Outcomes for Minorities 

Key points: 

  • Indigenous candidates at a disadvantage 
  • Only a handful of eligible candidates are ever employed by mainstream organisations 
  • Confrontation and questioning of these decisions must be done if anything is to change 

A recent article in The Australian discussed modern day racism: 

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/modern-day-racism-judges-on-stereotype-not-individuals/story-fnb64oi6-1227268195368 

The article discussed how most instances of modern “racism” have a borderline quality.  

Take the lack of black representation in English football management. Every decision to reject a black candidate is effortlessly justifiable. Often, the white candidate has a better track record. The chief executive making the decision is not racist. This is a decent person doing their best for the club. 

But now take a step back and look at the cumulative effect of these individually plausible decisions. There are only a handful of black managers in the top four divisions. All these chief executives making borderline judgments have resulted in a conspicuous lack of black managers, not to mention chief executives and board members. 

The same process can be applied to Aboriginal candidates who apply for jobs.  There are usually mainstream candidates who have better CVs and better experience.  The person making the decision is not racist, they are choosing the best person.  However, this selection process means that many qualified Aboriginal people miss out on jobs. 

Recently, Ochre was asked to provide Aboriginal candidates to an organisation that desperately wants to increase the number of Aboriginal people it employs.  Ochre was providing the candidates to an agency who was responsible for the actual hiring.  The 100 positions were entry level and required basic administration skills.  There was a standard questionnaire to be answered as well as the need for security clearances. 

Ochre sourced a substantial number of Aboriginal candidates who met the requirements.  Ultimately only a handful were employed.  This didn’t help Aboriginal people get jobs and it didn’t help the organisation increase its numbers of Aboriginal employees.  As the article above points out, where there is wiggle room, decision makers lean against the black candidate. 

If we are truly to improve the levels of Aboriginal employment, then we have to confront these types of decisions.  If organisations are truly committed to increasing their numbers of Aboriginal employees, they need to ensure that if Aboriginal candidates meet the basic requirements, they ultimately secure the jobs.  There are many qualified Aboriginal candidates out there for many types of jobs.  There will always be a reason to select a mainstream candidate over an Aboriginal candidate.  Organisations need to eliminate the wiggle room by setting targets for recruiters and rewarding them accordingly for making the right decisions.   

Ownership Levels in Indigenous Businesses 

Key points: 

  • What is a certified supplier? 
  • What is the criteria? 
  • No size limitation could cause issues  
  • The trouble with the 50% ownership clause 

Previously I have written on the topic of ‘What constitutes an Indigenous Supplier?’  In this article I discuss the definition of a Certified Supplier according to Supply Nation (the Federally funded premier business-to-business membership body dedicated to growing diversity within the supply chain in both the public and private sectors). 

Their first three criteria for full certification are: 

  • Ownership – at least 51 per cent ownership of the company by an Indigenous Australian(s). 
  • Management – the company is led / managed by a Principal Executive Officer who is an Indigenous Australian. 
  • Control – the key business decisions regarding the company’s finances, operations, personnel and strategy are made by an Indigenous Australian(s). 

Recently, Supply Nation has launched Indigenous Business Direct – Australia’s premier listing of Indigenous business, which will allow businesses which are 50% Indigenous owned to be listed on the ‘Registered’ list and not the fully certified list.  The reasons behind this are to get more businesses on the list, and to accommodate small businesses owned by husbands and wives where one partner is non-Indigenous.  

I am concerned however, that given there is no size limitation and that this could lead the way to joint ventures with much larger companies who are looking to enter the Indigenous supply chain.  The desire to do this is going to be increased due to the change in federal government procurement policies from July 1.  After this, 3% of federal spending will need to be with Indigenous businesses who only need to meet the ‘Registered’ criteria. 

I have observed and worked with many of these types of Joint Ventures as they are common at mine sites in the Pilbara.  Some of the things I have observed (even with 50% ownership) are: 

  • The Aboriginal participants in the JV rarely have any control over key business decisions 
  • Management is almost never led by an Indigenous Australian or even shadowing project manager positions (to support improving the skills of an Indigenous Australian) are rarely supported 
  • The Aboriginal participants only benefit if the JV partner actually lets them, as they can manipulate the JV outcomes to whatever they like through management fees. 

Given the new directory listing has dropped ownership requirements from 51% to 50% I think we need some clarification about management and control.  Who is making the decisions about the business?  Do Aboriginal people have any control within the business? And who is going to monitor these crucial facets to ensure the objectives of these policy changes are met?  

The federal government has implemented a substantial opportunity for Indigenous business to benefit from, so that can we can get some form of a level playing field. But we can’t deny there are opportunists that will take advantage of the loose eligibility criteria, in its current form. 

The Economics of the Recent Noongar Native Title Agreement 

Key points: 

  • South West Settlement has been authorised 
  • What does the settlement mean for Noongar people? 
  • Minimum spending within Noongar region is needed 
  • There are still questions to be asked about the settlement 

Last week it was widely reported that the South West Settlement negotiated between the Western Australian government and the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC) had been authorised through a series of meetings. 

It is worth examining what this Settlement provides for Noongar people, in particular those things detailed in ‘The Economic Participation Framework’. 

The Key Deliverables of this Framework are: 

  • Intensive capacity building in year one of the implementation of the Settlement, and ongoing support thereafter, in government tendering and contracting policies as well as the development and submission of tender documentation;  
  • Promote early engagement between State Government agencies through Early Tender Advice for all Noongar businesses registered with Tenders WA;  
  • Exemption from competitive tendering processes that allows for the direct engagement of a registered Noongar business for works, goods and services procurements valued at less than $150,000 (as outlined in the Engaging Aboriginal Business Policy and Open and Effective Competition Policy).  This amount has been raised to $250,000 since the Framework was developed. 
  •  Increase registration of Noongar businesses on the Tenders WA website; 
  • Provide Noongar representation on tender evaluation panels for Government agencies providing works in the South West where appropriate. 

When we compare this to the types of economic concessions that you would expect to see when a mining company in the Pilbara signed an Indigenous Land Use Agreement with Traditional Owners, we can see that what is being put forward here is of limited value to any Noongar businesses.  Nowhere in the Framework does it talk about real commitments in terms of targets. The wording is non-committal with very little substance. Generally these types of agreements would provide for: 

  • A minimum percentage of Aboriginal employees on any project. 
  • Priority in tenders for Aboriginal businesses and all other contractors on the project to report on the Indigenous contract spend they procured. 

To really assist Noongar businesses, in line with the federal government’s recent policies we would expect to see a guideline of a minimum percentage of state government spending going to Noongar or Aboriginal businesses and priority in tenders to Noongar businesses.  Having real targets in place at the state level in the same way would enforce the state agencies to engage in procuring from Noongar business in the South West region; whereas the current policy of providing exemptions from the tendering or quoting process and providing up to $250,000 to Indigenous businesses has been almost a non-event. There is evidence of the policy being grossly underused with only a small number of supply opportunities being provided since its inception, and those have been for small amounts. There seems to be a resistance from the state agencies’ head office-bearers to not compromise their tendering processes, which defeats the whole purpose of the policy.Even when they are presented with a need from the market to procure Indigenous business to provide Indigenous specific services, they still resist. This is despite Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPS), exemption policies, Open and Effective Competition Policies all being at the disposal of each agency to use. The key word in these current policies is ‘discretion’ of the agency, that is, in effect, the escape clause. 

Just registering more Noongar businesses on Tenders WA will do nothing to ensure that tenders are actually awarded to Noongar businesses. SWALSC had the opportunity during negotiations to implement the employment and business procurements targets into the Native Title deal, but there are no such clauses. Given the historical evidence in these areas and the underuse of the current procurement policies, the Noongar people will not be employed on any of the major construction projects now or in the future, and no Noongar business will benefit as a priority party for supply opportunities. If SWALSC and the state government were serious about ‘Closing the Gap’ and ‘Ending Disparity’ as we hear so much about in the media, these standard clauses that form part of a blueprint agreement for all ILUA’s across the country, would have been part of the Noongar deal. That’s where real ‘self-determination’ will come from, the individuals, not the bodies or the committees or the boards that are supposed to represent the people, but the actual person on the ground that needs and wants an income.  

How can we as Noongar people trust the state government to provide these opportunities to us, when clearly up until now, we haven’t been afforded with any? That’s why it seems hard to believe that such a significant and permanent deal omitted probably the most critical and tangible clauses from the deal. 

Look for Inspiration not Condemnation 

Key points: 

  • There are many inspiring Indigenous stories to be heard 
  • Stories out of Don Dale show that we need support and inspiration more than ever 
  • Spreading inspiration and positivity is more productive than condemnation 

Everyone is different when it comes to where they seek inspiration from, or maybe some are not even looking for inspiration. The latter group may be wondering why they have remained relatively stagnant for most of their lives. They may not know how to be inspired or know how important it is to be open, self-aware and empathetic to different people and their circumstances; and how to apply the lessons from other people to their own lives. 

For me, I’m actively seeking those stories that stir my emotions, resonate with my deepest thoughts and bring me to a place that thinks,’If they can do it, I can do it!’ Those stories are like magic and have been my bursts of energy propelling me along on many occasions. 

I love stories about those who have overcome adversity to achieve something they have set their minds to. Those are the stories that move me internally and physically to keep going until I reach my own goals. I read biographies by Nelson Mandela, Lance Armstrong, Richard Branson and the like and take note of more local stories of achievement through adversity from all kinds of background.I then apply these stories to my own life. I mostly read books that will inspire me, true stories about people who have come from nothing to achieve something, maybe because I have come from nothing also. I have told many people, I didn’t just start from zero, I started from negative zero. I had to make my way up to zero first before I could move beyond it. 

There are many inspiring stories within the Indigenous business and professional sector and I applaud and admire each and every one of them. Whilst sometimes I might not agree with their views, opinions or policies on certain things, I still admire them for getting to where they are. Indigenous people in general are vulnerable to all kinds of adversity and deserve to be admired for their determination and tenacity to succeed; or at least to have a go against all the odds. 

We exist in a time a time when graphic images are shown of Indigenous kids in prison being horribly abused, bringing the whole country to a level of shame and discomfort on an international scale. As an Indigenous Australian, I felt relief that the rest of Australia was just as outraged and disgusted as I was. For all the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent on reconciling our country over many years, it took a graphic few minutes of barbaric treatment of our kids to bring our country together. Now with a Royal Commission on its way, it will go down as an historic moment for Australia. That’s why it troubles me to know that while mainstream Australia was sticking up for us, some of us are knocking each other down. 

I for one, just like I know many of us do, hope that all of those kids in the Don Dale prison and all those Indigenous kids in juvenile prisons around our country will one day break their cycle of adversity,set their minds to their goals, and do everything in their power to achieve them. Just like I did. I will be their biggest admirer, that’s for sure, and hope to one day read their stories of success. 

 

Lifesaving Policies Just in Time for the Indigenous Business Sector 

Key points: 

  • Indigenous enterprises come together in Canberra 
  • ‘Meet the Supplier’ event held to bring Indigenous businesses together 
  • Designed to boost Indigenous business sector and close gaps 
  • Over 55 Indigenous suppliers and 200 government procurement reps 

Last week, possibly the most important gathering in the history of the Indigenous enterprise sector came together in Canberra. Personally, it was a privilege to be part of the occasion.  The event was a ‘Meet the Supplier’ function which sought to bring together Indigenous businesses and procurement people from various Federal Government departments. This event came about due to the new federal government Indigenous Procurement Policy which came into effect on the 1st July. The policies are designed to boost the Indigenous business sector, which will in turn flow on to ending some of the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians; by way of a targeted amount of federal government budget spend that has to be provided to Indigenous businesses.  

My first visit to beautiful Canberra was so valuable, in terms of seeing for myself, just how much genuine goodwill there is at the top levels of government to ensure the new policy will be successfully implemented. It is now up to us, the Indigenous business sector, to help the agencies meet their objectives by being ready, willing and able to take up the opportunities that are going to come flying thick and fast. 

The event was a bit crammed, with 55 Indigenous suppliers and apparently over 200 government procurement representatives buzzing about excitedly in a room that maybe was better suited for 50 people at the most. As they say though, if you’re at a party and you can swing a cat without hitting someone, it’s not a good party. Therefore it was a great event with a definite buzz of business talk in the room. 

The event was arranged by The Department of Environment and to me, it was a very effective event. Given the new federal government procurement policies that came into effect on the 1st July, it was an opportune time for those with buying authority within all of the federal agencies to actually meet the people and businesses who the new policies were aimed at. This was not just the ‘run of the mill’ networking event where you stand around awkwardly with strangers and talk about the weather. The procurement teams are now obligated to purchase millions of dollars’ worth of goods and services from Indigenous businesses every year. Those buyers need to know who those businesses are, what they offer, whether they can  deliver, where  they are based etc. Therefore, the event was a direct business-to-business (with targets that have to be met) occasion. It was the best ‘networking’ event I have ever been involved with, and the opportunity to personally meet the authorised buyers was a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

The number of Indigenous businesses who attended the event is a key indicator to how timely these new procurement policies are for the Indigenous business sector. Given that the Supply Nation directory currently has over 300 certified and registered businesses on their database–and only 55 were able to either attend or send a representative to the most valuable ‘meet and greet’ in the history of Indigenous business–speaks volumes about the dire state of the sector at the moment. 

Further to this point, only 4 businesses from WA (that I am aware of) made the journey, even though there are currently 324 businesses registered on the WA Aboriginal Business Directory. Not so long ago the WA Indigenous business sector was arguably the strongest in the country, being propelled along by the booming mining industry. For such a small number of WA businesses to be able to attend this event only highlights even more the timely procurement targets now being mandated within the federal government procurement teams. It’s time for WA Indigenous businesses to think outside of the mining industry and consider how to diversify in order to participate in government supply chains.  

All Indigenous businesses should now be celebrating these new policies and building their capacities, capabilities, branding, online profiles etc, to increase their opportunities to win work from the federal government. Ochre offers expert consultancy in the areas of entrepreneurship, tendering, financial management, HR and IR laws, business development, marketing and branding to name but a few. We would be more than happy to assist other Indigenous businesses to build their capacity in order to secure a financially stable future through these new policies, which have been designed to end the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.  

To highlight further that Ochre can assist other Indigenous businesses be successful in this space, I am pleased to announce that Ochre has been awarded several contracts with a federal government agency since the policies came into effect.  

HOW YOU BECOME AN EXPERT: WHEN CAREER AND PASSION COME TOGETHER 

Key points: 

  • This industry requires a thick skin 
  • Business relationships are key 
  • Understanding of the real problems is needed 
  • Doing things differently gets the job done 

Some of you may have noticed that recently I have announced myself as the leading expert on Indigenous employment in the country. Some might say it’s a big call but I say it’s probably the reality. 

After nearly 6 years at the coalface of securing contracts in the boardrooms of many different companies, many of those ASX listed, then finding the Indigenous people to fill the jobs in the contracts, it has been an amazing learning experience. In hindsight, one that I may not have ventured into at the beginning if I knew the amount of challenges that I’d have to overcome. This is one game where you need a thick skin and resilience like no other, and of course a passion so strong that no challenge can stand in your way. You also need to be genuine; being genuine will carry you through those countless meetings and challenges and help form long-lasting business relationships with other genuine and likeminded people. 

I was the first person in Australia to start an Indigenous labour hire company, with no funding or grants or any capital for that matter, just the naïve desire to fill the gap in the market that I could see from a mile away. That naïve want resulted in a turnover of $3 million in the first 18 months of operation. At that stage I was on a steep learning curve, a period that no university degree could have prepared me for. Since those first 18 months, my brand Ochre has gone from simply an Indigenous labour hire company, and expanded into a private Registered Training Organisation. The only RTO license to be owned by an Indigenous woman in WA, in fact. Ochre is now winning considerable opportunities on a national level, something I don’t take for granted, but instead will be forever grateful for. 

I don’t mind saying that I take pride in being the first person to do a few different things; I’m the type of person who sees something and just makes it happen, an essential quality to have in business. The RTO side of the business specialises in the pre-employment training and development of Indigenous people, based on what industries expects of employees. 

Since inception, Ochre has now placed over 700 (and counting) Indigenous people into employment, all without the aid of government funding. I personally think this fact speaks volumes about why I am proclaiming to be the expert in this field. 

I understand what industry and employers expect and I can translate those expectations to the people we train or employ. In essence, I have the ability to walk in both worlds, find out what the mainstream world wants, then go to the other world and help them across the bridge, to unite both sides. Without wanting to sound conceited, I know not many people have this ability. 

I decided to take this title only recently, when it dawned on me that I actually know more about this subject, (including the challenges, the loopholes, the policies, the detail, the engagement obligations, the targets, the RAP plans, the disconnection, the failures, the solutions, the rhetoric) ,whilst also having an in-depth debate with a private government tender writer. One thing I can’t do is write tenders, they drain the life out of me. I put my feelers out for someone to do the job for me; I got a call from an ex-government employee who used to sit on the evaluation panels to assess tender bids. 

The tender we were talking about was the recently closed Transition to Work tender, which is to prepare early school leavers (ESLs) for the working world. Thankfully, the government has finally acknowledged that the ESLs have been failed by the JSA system, those who follow my posts might recall that I wrote an article about this very subject earlier this year and as such was very happy to see that this cohort will now be serviced outside of the JSA system. Anyway, the quote to have the tender written for me was anywhere up to $30,000 depending on a few factors. During this conversation, I educated this person about details of the tender and how it was going to be another failed experiment, and at best a band aid solution to a huge problem facing the future of this country. I quoted data adlib, details of pre-employment programs, needs of industry, Indigenous barriers to work etc etc etc…by the end of the call he asked me if I ever thought about becoming a politician because of the amount of detail I knew off the top of my head and the passion he could hear in my voice. He also said I should be sitting on the consultancy committees that advise the tender writers about what to include in the tenders . 

I told him thatI don’t want to be a politician, and I ended up writing the tender myself. In the meantime, I’ll just take the title as the leading expert in the country on Indigenous employment and hopefully those people such as policy makers, report and tender writers and the like will soon be coming and consulting with people like me;, the people at the coalface, with skin in the game and the knowledge they need. Come and ask us, not academics or committees who only have the same rhetoric, text book phrases or conservative views to offer. These views are responsible for the ongoing wastage of tax payers’ money on unworkable models. If you want results, go to the people who have proven outcomes. 

 

 

The Indigenous Procurement Policy Awards $284 Million in First Year

Key points:  

  • $284 million in contracts awarded in first year of IPP 
  • Government bringing forward budget spend by 3 years 
  • 500 Indigenous businesses have received contracts 
  • No data on Indigenous employment within these businesses 
  • Indigenous employment is still low 

$284 million in awarded contracts in the first year of the IPP is very impressive, so impressive in fact that the Federal Government is now bringing forward the 3 percent national budget spend allocated to Indigenous business by 3 years. Now that is what you call accelerating an economy.  

It’s reported that 500 Indigenous businesses across the country have received contracts as part of that spend. This is all great news for us Indigenous businesses! It really is an amazing time to be part of this sector at the moment. 

One of the main reasons the IPP was introduced in the Federal Government Procurement legislation is that studies have found Indigenous businesses employ more Indigenous people than any other sector. Makes sense, right?  

Just 2 days ago, the ninth consecutive annual Closing the Gap report was released. One of the targets that will never be met at the current rate is the Indigenous employment target; in fact the rate fell to 48.4 per cent from 53.8 in 2008. 

Given these reported government figures, it would be interesting to know how many Indigenous people are employed within the  businesses that are winning those contracts. The majority of the contracts have been awarded in the building and construction sector, which  need large workforces. 

I have asked the question about how many Indigenous people are employed across the IPP contracts and was informed there is no such data. Currently, there are no clauses written into those contracts to ensure an Indigenous employment target. Therefore, we can only assume the businesses who are winning those contracts are not employing many, or at worst, no Indigenous people at all.  

This problem is being compounded by the growing practice of a few Indigenous businesses winning large contracts, and then outsourcing the entire contract to mainstream companies who have the capabilities to deliver.  

It’s not hard to figure out that the Indigenous employment gap could be considerably reduced overnight if the businesses winning the IPP contracts had to meet Indigenous employment targets. Not only will this stem the flow of outsourcing the contracts to mainstream companies, but will also ensure a level of accountability on all winning contractors to employ Indigenous people. Implementing targets, then auditing them to ensure accuracy would make it easier for the relevant departments to capture the numbers for future reporting transparency, and reduce the gap at the same time. 

Ochre is a 100% Indigenous owned business; we have 100% Indigenous personnel contracted out to various clients across a variety of Industries. There is no doubt we are the leading business in this space as a Certified Supply Nation company. Ochre also has a vast footprint across the county with strong networks within Indigenous communities.  

If your company or department needs immediate assistance to increase your Indigenous workforce numbers, please contact our office on 08) 9470 1008 or email liz@ochrewfs.com.au . There is no reason or excuse for the Closing the Gap numbers to be failing so badly when there are businesses like Ochre around, who are dedicated to assisting the government improving on this very issue.