Businesses Need To Work With Indigenous Cultural Considerations To Improve Staff Retention Rates

In 2013, I attended a conference, Enhancing Indigenous Participation in Resources, and had a brief window of opportunity to ask whether or not organisations had sought the input of qualified career practitioners when designing and rolling out work readiness programs specifically for Indigenous people.


Blank looks and a resounding “no”, followed by a meek “but it’s a great idea”, ensued.


Although they all obviously have sound programs in place that are achieving short-term results, it concerned me that none of the organisations had consulted qualified career practitioners to provide insight into solid career development practices, theories or models of sustainability.


There was no mention of work–life balance, career progression, impact on community (unless the mining site was located in or close by a community), how the individual was received back into community, or whether or not the position the individual was in suited their skill set, followed their passions or benefited the community from which they came.


During the course of the conference I spent one-on-one time with various presenters and attendees, asking each of them what the retention rate of their Indigenous employees was. The average amount of time was six months. Indeed, whenever I have worked with Indigenous people, I have found that the majority are keen to find employment on “the mines” but when drilling down into WHY they want to work “on the mines”, the answer is usually “money” — same with everyone, regardless of race or cultural background.


However, speaking from my personal interactions, money isn’t the be all and end all in life for Indigenous people in remote communities. Community, family and culture are far more important than being away from home two out of every three weeks or so. After approximately six months, the employee becomes homesick and/ or cannot manage finances well enough to make the stint away from their community viable.


By engaging the expertise of a career professional, especially those who have worked with Indigenous people, organisations would understand this cultural hurdle, accommodate the needs of the individual more appropriately and retention rates may increase.


After approximately six months, the employee becomes homesick and/ or cannot manage finances well enough to make the stint away from their community viable.

My favourite speaker was Colin Saltmere in regards to the Myuma Group. Although he didn’t specifically mention career development, he did focus on the need to have community engagement through a traditional custodian model. He spoke about collaborating with a mob to ensure knowledge, skills and wealth are actively managed so as to benefit current and future generations and incorporating the traditional Aboriginal society values such as youth being educated by their extended family and community.


A custodianship model responds to the reality of how deep, and persistent, Aboriginal disadvantage really is and acknowledges that it will take much more than providing one generation with meaningful opportunities to give Aboriginal people the capacity to ‘do it for themselves’.


He spoke of the need for community ‘buy in’. Community buy in motivates the participants, as they know they have the support of their extended community networks and specialist education about Indigenous history and family connections to country alongside (not separate to) vocational training and employment.


They know the strengths of their community members and can guide that individual along the right path for them, not what others ‘say’ is right for them. It was noted time and time again that Indigenous jobseekers are frustrated because training does not necessarily lead to jobs; many report being ashamed and embarrassed by their lack of education, literacy and work-readiness. Many are haunted by criminal records from the past.


This is indeed the case; however, engaging qualified career consultants to assist in matching the individual to the ‘right’ career pathway for them, as well as their family, community and culture, will ease the frustration of gaining qualifications and training for the sake of it. If this time was spent with the individual, the turnover and dropout rate may decrease.


All over, I enjoyed the conference and commend the resource sector for doing what they feel is best in engaging Indigenous people. However, I really feel the majority of them are missing the mark. Career development and the importance of it are constantly overlooked in all industries. It isn’t about where the money is, it is about taking into consideration the broader context of the individual’s life, engaging someone’s passion and finding the right ‘fit’ for them. If these aspects of a person’s life aren’t taken into consideration, then it’s easier to rejoin the unemployment line and start all over again, getting uninspiring training that leads nowhere and getting caught back up in the cycle that so many Indigenous people are frustrated with.


Career development and the importance of it are constantly overlooked in all industries. It isn’t about where the money is, it is about taking into consideration the broader context of the individual’s life, engaging someone’s passion and finding the right ‘fit’ for them.

Although this conference in particular was in 2013, a lot of the same issues are still prevalent today. If you operate a business or organisation that could do with a work culture or mindset shift, give me a call. Your first 20 minutes are on the house.


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