Aps human Capital Matters: Indigenous Workforce Participation January 2012, Issue 1 Editor’s note to readers

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Issue 1

Indigenous workforce participation

February 2012
human capital matters cover

APS Human Capital Matters: Indigenous Workforce Participation
January 2012, Issue 1

Editor’s note to readers

Welcome to the first edition of Human Capital Matters for 2012—the digest for time poor leaders and practitioners with an interest in human capital and organisational capability. This edition focuses on the challenges of Indigenous participation in the APS.

The APS has long held the twin goals of a workforce selected on merit that is also broadly representative of the community it represents. While it has been largely successful in the former, the latter has proved difficult to achieve, particularly in the area of participation of Indigenous Australians. The graph below shows that, despite agencies implementing a broad range of strategies in conjunction with an APS-wide Indigenous employment strategy delivered by the Australian Public Service Commission, the rate of participation by Indigenous Australians in the APS continues to decrease.

There are a number of complex issues involved in indigenous workforce participation and the papers canvassed in this issue of Human Capital Matters reflects these:

  • The Australian National Audit Office conducted an audit of the success of Australian government programs in supporting Indigenous workforce participation. Although not focussed on public sector employment, the report identified a number of prerequisites necessary for the ongoing success of the programs.

  • Kristine Giddy and her co-authors Jessica Lopez and Anne Redman identify a set of factors that contribute to successful employment outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians as well as a number of barriers to achieving Indigenous workforce participation.

  • Boyd Hunter demonstrates the link between community capacity and workforce participation in his paper which looks at the impact of macroeconomic factors on Indigenous employment. Critically, he identifies the long-term benefits of community capacity-building for workforce participation.

  • Nola Purdie and her three co-authors draw on a wide range of literature to provide an overview of the barriers to, and drivers of, successful recruitment and retention of indigenous employees and fit these into a framework based on the concepts of coherence, collaboration, and commitment.

  • The work of Lori Ann Roness and Mary Collier, commissioned by the Canadian Government, examines the effectiveness of Indigenous labour force participation strategies in Canada. They found that a cohesive definition of ‘labour force participation strategy’ is largely absent from the debate and that participation strategies are only one element in Aboriginal advancement that requires a holistic approach.

  • Robert Vurens van Es and A. M. Dockery examine the link between social capital and workforce participation levels Indigenous communities. Social capital theory, although relatively new, is considered particularly relevant in looking at Indigenous workforce participation because of its explicit recognition of both the role and value of culture in Indigenous workforce participation.

About Human Capital Matters

Human Capital Matters seeks to provide APS leaders and practitioners with easy access to the issues of contemporary importance in public and private sector human capital and organisational capability. It has been designed to provide interested readers with a monthly guide to the national and international ideas that are shaping human capital thinking and practice.

Comments and suggestions welcome

Thank you to those who took the time to provide feedback on earlier editions of Human Capital Matters. Comments, suggestions or questions regarding this publication are always welcome and should be addressed to: humancapitalmatters@apsc.gov.au. Readers can also subscribe to the mailing list through this email address.

Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), ‘Indigenous Employment in Government Service Delivery’, Performance Audit Report No. 4 2011–12, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2011, 120 pp.

The report assesses the effectiveness of DEEWR’s and FaHCSIA’s administration of the Australian Government’s responsibilities under Element 1 of the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Economic Participation. The Agreement, which is designed to contribute to meeting Closing the Gap initiative targets, involves complementary investment and effort by the Commonwealth, states and territories to improve opportunities for Indigenous Australians to engage in private and public sector employment. Element 1 (of four Agreement Elements) focuses on creating real, sustainable employment in areas of government service delivery that have previously relied on subsidisation through the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) program (established in 1977).

As part of its audit, the ANAO identified specific Australian Government programs and locations in the National Jobs Creation Package (NJCP) and the NT Jobs package, and used them as the basis for case studies. The analysis concentrated on jobs created in the arts, culture, broadcasting, aged care and education support sectors as well as the Indigenous ranger service. The audit’s scope did not include the identification and creation of jobs by state and territory governments or job creation in the Torres Strait Islands. The ANAO found that, in delivering the jobs packages, DEEWR and FaHCSIA had provided effective coordination and direction, which resulted in jobs being delivered within relatively short timeframes.

The audit also concluded that the transition of CDEP activities into mainstream jobs placed an administrative burden on service providers who were required to support staff in meeting new workplace expectations and training demands. To address this issue, the ANAO recommended that relevant departments should in future provide information to employers and employees, which assists them in connecting to relevant services and opportunities. In addition, the report’s authors concluded that, because the NJCP and NT Jobs Package are, together, only one element of a broader strategy, attention should be given to periodically assessing the necessary prerequisites for the ongoing success of the packages. These prerequisites include: the jobs being maintained and filled by Indigenous Australians, with appropriate wages and conditions being provided; the provision of ongoing funding with appropriate increases to take account of up-skilling through on-the-job experience and training; an assessment of retention levels to determine the impact on Indigenous employment outcomes; and continued pre- and post-employment support to employers and employees as necessary.

The ANAO concluded that, although these factors would be taken into account in departmental risk management frameworks, their importance to the longer-term success of the jobs packages is a strong argument for including them in the planned review of the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Economic Participation and in ongoing reporting to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

The Australian National Audit Office is an independent public sector scrutiny agency headed by the Auditor-General.

Kristine Giddy, Jessica Lopez and Anne Redman, ‘Brokering Successful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Outcomes: Common Themes in Good-Practice Models’, Australian Government, Canberra, 2009 (report), 29 pp.

(A 12 pp ‘Support Document’ is also available. Both of these publications can be accessed by title via the Internet. They are also available to National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) subscribers at )

This report, undertaken by the Cultural and Indigenous Research Centre Australia at the request of the Adelaide-based National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), identifies the key factors most likely to lead to successful employment outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Research for the study—overseen by the National VET Indigenous Advisory Taskforce—drew on the experience of nine bodies (mainly employment services organisations) operating in urban, regional and remote parts of Australia. Some were large (with more than 140 employees nationally), while others were small (with four full-time staff). Several organisations were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander owned and managed, and others were not, although all had Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff.

In their research discussions with these organisations, the authors focused on nine factors identified in earlier studies and evaluations as being important in building and maintaining higher levels of Indigenous workplace participation: 1) targeted and integrated training; 2) knowledge of client group and its context; 3) provision of mentoring and support; 4) partnerships and connections; 5) community involvement; 6) skilled and dedicated staff; 7) specialist strategies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; 8) innovation; and 9) promotion of success.

In the study the authors identified 11 factors which contribute significantly to improved Indigenous workforce participation and divided them into two categories: Essential (seven factors) ; and Desirable (four factors). They are set out below:


  • having strong vision and understanding the importance of monitoring targets;

  • responding to the employment market;

  • maintaining strong relationships with the community and business;

  • offering ‘job related’ and culturally appropriate training;

  • collaborating with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and the community;

  • providing holistic support; and

  • ensuring strong staff commitment.


  • tailoring available funding to suit individual needs;

  • providing employment opportunities through internal enterprise;

  • learning from other organisations; and

  • having alternative sources of funding.

The study also contains a valuable outline of eleven interrelated factors which can act as barriers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workplace participation. The authors point out that these obstacles differ between regions and communities and in many instances are influenced by the type of economy that prevails. These factors are:

  • level of job opportunities, especially in areas of ‘limited’ economies;

  • education and relevant training levels;

  • lack of experience;

  • poor health;

  • problems with alcohol, drugs and gambling;

  • aspirations to work and role models;

  • workplace culture and level of support for employees;

  • geographical isolation, transport and reluctance to leave the community for employment;

  • limited understanding by the corporate sector of how socioeconomic disadvantage affects the recruitment and retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees;

  • the challenges involved in balancing family and community obligations with the demands of work; and

  • access to organised childcare.

Many of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment organisations interviewed for the report also face their own barriers in delivering sustainable employment outcomes. Principal among these are: short-term funding; fragmentation of initiatives and lack of linkages; and contracts that do not necessarily recognise qualitative objectives, such as the need to develop better partnerships with key organisations.

The authors are on the staff of the Cultural and Indigenous Research Centre Australia (Sydney).

Boyd Hunter, ‘Revisiting the Relationship Between the Macroeconomy and Indigenous Labour Force Status’, ‘Economic Papers’ (The Economic Society of Australia),Vol. 29, No. 3, September 2010, pp. 320–332.

The author revisits the little-explored question first raised in Vol. 11 of the ‘Economic Papers’ in 1992 by J. C. Altman and A. E. Daly: ‘Do fluctuations in the macroeconomy influence Aboriginal employment status?’ He finds that, although Indigenous Australians are now more likely than they were twenty years ago to be employed in industries along with other Australians, they are therefore less likely to be insulated from the business cycle, in particular major adverse economic events (e.g. the Global Financial Crisis of 2008). Nevertheless, he argues that rising levels of workforce participation is a positive development for Aboriginal people because it is likely job incumbency means that they will benefit when conditions of sustained macroeconomic growth return.

He points out, for example, that the buoyant economic conditions between 1996 and 2006 saw Indigenous employment in the private sector converge fairly rapidly to the Australian average. The author concedes that economic slow-downs undoubtedly hamper opportunities to improve employment outcomes for Indigenous Australians. However, he emphasises that this accentuates the need for ongoing educational and training investments aimed at ensuring that Indigenous people are in a competitive position when economic growth resumes.

The author emphasises that ‘positive synergies’ between the greater commitment of particular companies, wage subsidies and training tailored to employer needs may well continue to improve Indigenous employment outcomes—with the proviso that this could not be guaranteed within an adverse economic climate. In light of the positive private sector employment outcomes for Indigenous Australians since the mid-1990s, and the Covenant initiative launched in October 2008 which has seen 10,000 jobs promised by employers, he is cautiously optimistic about Indigenous employment prospects—even in today’s unpredictable economic environment.

Boyd Hunter is on the staff of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at The Australian National University.

Nola Purdie, Tracey Frigo, Alison Stone and Wendy Dick, ‘Enhancing Employment Opportunities for Indigenous Victorians: A Review of the Literature’ (research paper), Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), Melbourne, March 2006 (report), 141 pp.

The paper draws on Victorian, Australian and international literature in order to provide an overview of the barriers to, and drivers of, successful workforce participation for Indigenous Victorians. The authors use the term ‘workforce participation’ interchangeably with ‘employment’ and interpret it broadly in the sense of including both initial engagement and ongoing retention in work that is ‘mutually productive’ and ‘satisfying’ for both employer and employee. The paper canvasses the plethora of material on this subject which has appeared over the past three decades.

The literature review undertaken as part of the study identifies eight key factors, attention to which the authors argue, will produce positive employment outcomes for Indigenous Victorians. These are:

  1. A clearly enunciated strategy and energetic marketing of it to all public sector bodies.

  2. Effective consultation and partnerships between Indigenous communities, government and the public and private sectors—the most important of these eight factors, according to the authors.

  3. A focus on creating public sector employment opportunities in regional Victoria, using Indigenous employment brokers who understand how to deal with the public service and who have a close affinity with the area concerned.

  4. A level of financial and human resources needed to implement employment improvement initiatives successfully.

  5. Monitoring and evaluation mechanisms designed to assess progress, that are based on the clear framework set out in the Victorian Government’s Indigenous Employment Strategy, Wur-cum barra, which is centred on six key performance indicators: Capacity Building and Pathways, Recruitment, Induction and Retention, Career Development, Workplace Culture, and Indigenous Community Organisations.

  6. Effective education and training frameworks comprising, for example, scholarships, cadetships and in-service professional development opportunities.

  7. Workplace practices that give appropriate attention to recruitment processes, career development, flexibility and cultural awareness training.

  8. Leadership that is committed to fostering change.

The authors suggest that these drivers can be encased within a ‘3-C’ framework: Coherence, Collaboration, Commitment. They also emphasise that a coherent policy framework and collaboration are needed to prevent fragmentation of effort and unclear delineation of functional responsibilities across public sector agencies which have for so long impeded progress in the area of Indigenous labour force participation.

The report was prepared by the authors on behalf of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) for the Victorian State Services Authority.

Lori Ann Roness Consulting and Mary Collier, ‘Assessing the Effectiveness of Labour Force Participation Strategies’, Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat, (APCFNC), Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, March 2010, 318 pp (Report pp. 1–101; Appendices pp. 102–318).

The report is one of five reports on Aboriginal economic development in Canada released by the Atlantic Aboriginal Economic Development Integrated Program (AAEDIRP) in 2010. The AAEDIRP is a research initiative formed through partnerships between the 38 member communities of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs (APCFNC), the Inuit people, 12 Atlantic universities and four federal and provincial government bodies who provide a substantial amount of funding for the initiative.

In 2008, the APCFNC commissioned the authors to examine the effectiveness of labour force participation strategies directed towards Aboriginal people, with a particular focus on the Atlantic region of Canada. Study outcomes have been organised along the lines of a seven-part conceptual framework: 1) an adequately prepared Aboriginal labour force; 2) a sufficiently prepared employer; 3) outreach, communication, and partnership between employers and the Aboriginal community; 4) recruitment, application and job orientation; 5) employee retention; 6) tracking participation; and 7) government policy and program issues. To achieve goals in these areas, the authors make 40 recommendations for reform (summarised on pp. 4–7) . These include:

  • include a component in all training programs which relates to employer expectations and employee conduct (Recommendation No. 6);

  • provide regular cultural sensitivity and diversity training to all employees, including management (Recommendation No. 11);

  • create a ‘future hiring needs’ plan that identifies anticipated recruitment needs and share it with Aboriginal partners and communities (Recommendation No. 23);

  • establish a centralised Aboriginal human resources recruitment agency and database (Recommendation No. 28);

  • incorporate career planning into performance reviews and include career counselling (Recommendation No. 32);

  • measure and track Aboriginal labour force participation regularly (Recommendation No. 36); and

  • improve equity monitoring and enforcement (Recommendation No. 38).

The study findings are consistent with those revealed in the literature review. Prominent among them is the conclusion that a cohesive definition of ‘labour force participation strategy’ is largely absent from the debate. The authors also conclude that labour force participation strategies are only one element in Aboriginal advancement. A more holistic approach is required if the challenges surrounding Aboriginal employment are to be addressed successfully. Essential elements of this approach are improved training and greater collaboration between Aboriginal communities, government and business to ensure that Indigenous economic, health and social outcomes are achieved.

Lori Ann Roness is a member of the academic staff of Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada.

Robert Vurens van Es and A. M. Dockery, ‘Indigenous Australians in the Labour Market: Exploring the Role of Social Capital’ (discussion paper), Centre for Labour Market Research (CLMR), Curtin University of Technology, Perth, 2008, CLMR Discussion Paper No. 3, 2008, 38 pp.

The paper explores the role of social capital in determining labour market outcomes for Indigenous Australians by using the 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) to test the empirical link—as manifested in networks—between social capital and workforce participation levels. The authors make clear that, although social capital theory is still at a formative stage in terms of its conceptualisation and application in empirical work, it nevertheless provides a useful means of reassessing the disparity between the living standards of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, because it explicitly recognises both the role and value of culture in this process, as embodied in networks.

The authors take as their starting point the OECD definition of social capital—‘networks together with shared norms, values and understandings which facilitate cooperation within or among groups’—one which sets out a clear framework for exploring the key social capital concepts of collective action, forms and scope. So-called ‘macro’ dimensions of social capital include institutions of the state, the rule of law, and governance; ‘micro’ dimensions include local institutions, networks, trust, local norms, and values.

This analysis concentrates on labour force participation rates and mainstream employment levels as the indicators of labour market outcomes. In exploring the role of social capital within this context, three hypotheses, which relate social capital to outcomes at each stage, are examined. These hypotheses are:

  • The quantity of social capital which an individual may utilise is positively related to labour market outcomes.

  • The diversity of the social capital which an individual may utilise is positively related to labour market outcomes.

  • The relationship between social capital and labour market outcomes varies according to the context of (a) geographic location and (b) gender.

While stressing the formative nature of the social capital approach to explaining Indigenous labour force outcomes, the authors argue that it does give unique insights into the performance of Indigenous Australians in the mainstream labour market that are not revealed through more traditional techniques of analysis. In particular, it explicitly recognises the role of culture, as embodied in networks in shaping outcomes.

The authors are on the staff of the Centre for Labour Market Research, Curtin Business School, Curtin University of Technology, Perth.

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