There is a lot of information out there with regard to ‘Closing the Gap’, which is basically about improving the Lives and life expectancy of Indigenous Australians. For many people it has been deemed as a positive and long awaited acknowledgement and change and for others, it’s more about ‘haven’t we done enough already?’. Australia is a multi-cultural nation and we’re proud of that label, however, there is one outstanding truth in all this: Traditional Owners are sadly lacking in so many ways, still. One of the initiatives set up by our Governments has been more assistance in employing Indigenous Australians in jobs to assist with the feeling of inclusion, self-esteem and better financial conditions, however, is it really working?
In Cairns, we have a large percentage of Indigenous people and for those already Employed, it is a good feeling to be working with others and enjoying a better quality of life than the unemployed. So I asked myself why so many Indigenous People are still battling to find ‘The Perfect Job’ or just a good job and one thing that is stands out is that there are some definite barriers that stand in the way.
- Education: Although there is a lot of focus being placed on retention rates in schools and higher outcomes, for those that completed school around 15-20 years ago, it is a case of being too late. Many Indigenous people were lucky to complete Grade 10. Over the years we have seen $100,000’s put towards Indigenous training, a lot of people weren’t able to gain employment following the training and some of the skills and knowledge were lost over time. Now the Governments are working closer together to stop the cross-over and double dipping of funding, we are seeing a more cohesive approach to training with employment outcomes.
- Employer Prejudice: Many employers have had a bad experience, or heard of others that have had bad experiences employing Indigenous people and this affects their decision to employ Indigenous people again, for fear of lost time and money. This can happen with any employee regardless of Race, Religion or Sex . For example, Indigenous people who live ‘On Country’, will experience times where they will need to attend more funerals that most other employees as their Aged Elders start to pass away. Attending any Family event is an important part of the Indigenous way of life and can sometimes cause friction with an employer. This can be perceived that Indigenous people are unreliable.
- Experience: For many Indigenous women, in particular, previous work experience can be minimal or non-existent, since as soon as our children are born, we dedicate our lives to raising them at home. Some women will have their children close together and will be out of the workforce for many years, so they do find it difficult to enter later in life with so many young people with experience and formal qualifications.
- Lack of Jobs: For those Indigenous People living in the Remote Communities of Australia, the lack of positions in their home community is the biggest barrier faced by them and their families. There are only limited jobs in these communities and since for many leaving the community is not an option, there just isn’t enough sustainable employment for everybody. The higher level jobs are usually filled by Non-Indigenous people from outside the community. Starting up businesses would be an alternative, however, due to the remoteness, it could also be impossible to keep the business viable.
It is now strongly recognised that Employers and their employees do some kind of Cross Cultural Training, in order to make the workplace a comfortable and understanding environment for the retention of Indigenous Employees. There are also many Work Readiness Courses for Indigenous people to do before entering into employment to educate and assist them with their journey into sustainable and life long employment. Mentoring is also available for Indigenous men and women, to help when things get tough or when confusion sets in due to misunderstandings that happen in workplaces all the time. There are many great organisations that are committed to assisting the Traditional Owners of Australia to gain employment and stay employed.
Written by Jenny Joyce – Mamu People
Training and Development Officer – Employment Projects
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