On 9 December 2020, a select group of senior decision-makers invited by WA DEFENCE REVIEW, representing industry, government and the Australian Defence Force (ADF), met over lunch for an informal discussion on how to better assist the employment needs of Indigenous people through the ADF and the defence industry.
The event was sponsored by Sure People Solutions, Spartan First and Quest East Perth, the latter provided the scenic and relaxed surroundings of its renowned rooftop bar, dining room, and luncheon during discussions. Aside of participating sponsors, senior decision-makers and representatives from the following organisations were also present, namely: AIDN-WA, ADF, BRE Engineering, Camco Engineering, Defence West, Henderson Alliance, MDS, RDA-Perth and Thuroona Services.
The discussion group was chaired by Serge DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Founder and Managing Editor of WA DEFENCE REVIEW, who challenged the group to consider the question of “How can Defence and the defence industry in Western Australia better engage with Indigenous agencies, businesses and people to improve economic and employment outcomes?”
As an organisation that has considerable expertise in recruitment and training of Indigenous people the ADF is well- placed to provide advice on direct entry employment and training programs. These topics were a key focus of the convened group discussion.
Participants pointed out that endeavours have been made that require tenderers to Defence commit to an Indigenous Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), but it was noted that some companies embrace RAP wording in order to win work, then fail to follow-through on its provisions. It is vital however that all defence industry in Australia commit fully to the RAP they have agreed to implement.
As such, throughout the discussion a number of areas for conversation were explored at length:
- Direct employment: There are companies that have opted to employ Indigenous people in numbers, especially the resources sector, and defence industry can learn from those companies, Spartan First and Sure People Solutions were two cases in point.
- Preparing businesses to recruit Indigenous people: There are cultural aspects that non-Indigenous recruiters need to appreciate. One example given was while for most non-Indigenous cultures eye-contact in a conversation demonstrates listening, whereas avoidance of eye contact from Indigenous workers or colleagues is a sign of respect and should not necessarily be taken as an insult or lack of confidence.
- Preparing Indigenous people for employment: Assistance is needed in guiding potential Indigenous applicants in the way they present and promote themselves to employers. Role models and mentors were seen to be a useful way to achieve this.
- Workforce planning: As a case in point, the proposed Dry Berth Dock for Henderson, which if funded, will take five years to complete and there needs to be a period of workforce preparation. This would amount to a workforce planning exercise, to determine skills requirements, projected shortages, and a remedial action plan.
Defence West has a Jobs and Skills Centre in Rockingham, whose purpose is to direct people from school age onward toward the defence industry. Its mandate could be extended to support workforce development for the proposed Dry Berth Dock given the current employment challenges, especially for younger people in the Kwinana-Rockingham area.
- Bridge the gap via policy and practices: Ensuring comprehensive engagement towards Indigenous employment throughout all sectors can be achieved by contractually mandating service providers and suppliers to adopt policies that create employment for Indigenous people.
Effective and sustained engagement will provide Indigenous-owned subcontractors a chance to grow their businesses and thus employ more Indigenous people to fulfill their contracts. It is imperative service agreements are reviewed on an ongoing basis to review performance with a view towards achieving improved outcomes.
- Not limited to Defence work: When people train for any trade or profession, they become employable in multiple industries and locations. The aim should be to increase the pool of skills available, rather than to direct trainees specifically to defence industry. That said, there is room for internships and traineeships fostered by Defence and industry. For example, this opportunity has already occurred at the higher education end of the spectrum through the Defence Engineering Internship Program (DEIP).
According to the Henderson Alliance, it is estimated that 75% of WA SMEs that supply to Defence are already working in the resources sector, and therefore supply a broader client base. The aim should be to assist Indigenous people transition into employment in businesses that may have relevance to Defence, rather than to focus too narrowly on that sector alone.
- Support for Indigenous businesses: It was pointed out that Indigenous business equals Indigenous employment, so support for all of these ventures remains important. Finding ways to promote and assist Indigenous businesses to be more ‘Defence ready’ and to enable them to ‘win work’, should prove to be a fruitful avenue of exploration.
- Appointing an Indigenous advocate for defence industry in WA: The idea was advanced of establishing an Indigenous advocate within defence industry in WA, perhaps with support from Defence West and WA’s two defence industry peak bodies: the Australian Industry and Defence Network of WA and the Henderson Alliance.
- Improving outcomes for Indigenous veterans and defence industry: Consensus emerged on the idea of encouraging Indigenous veterans to enter defence industry upon leaving the ADF, and that Defence West and defence industry work in collaboration with recognised agencies that promote Indigenous veteran interests, such as the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Veterans and Services Association (ATSIVSA).
In conclusion, participants agreed to support and seek ways to implement the ideas as postulated above. Participants also concurred that further meetings would be essential to develop these ideas, with a view to building on existing initiatives and creating new solutions.