As Indigenous Australians, we belong to the longest continuing culture on Earth. We also have one of the longest histories of economic participation in the world. But despite our credentials, we are also disproportionately locked out of today’s economic opportunities and workforces.
For years, significant effort has been directed towards closing the Indigenous employment gap, yet it remains stubbornly persistent. In fact, it’s barely closing at all; over the decade 2008-2018, the gap is estimated to have closed only one per cent. This is not a reflection of the potential of Indigenous Australians, or our capability to contribute to today’s workforces.
In the past, employment programs and policies have focused almost exclusively on jobseekers, by increasing their training, qualifications and employment-readiness. However, it is self evident that employment disparity cannot be overcome through the efforts of jobseekers alone.
Over recent years, the readiness of employers to take on Indigenous employees has become increasingly examined. Are they ready to employ Indigenous Australians, and are they safe places to work? These are critical questions to answer positively on the journey to true Indigenous employment parity.
For 14 years, Generation One has advocated for, and worked towards Indigenous employment parity. From our very first campaign as the Australian Employment Covenant, amassing 350 Australian employers to pledge more than 60,000 jobs for Indigenous Australians, we have known that goodwill from industry is abundant. However, employers have remained consistent in their calls for help on ‘how to.’ A lack of data and evidence in Indigenous employment has only exacerbated industry’s uncertainty, until now.
Forty-two Australian employers stepped up to participate in the inaugural Indigenous Employment Index and they did so with trust, courage and humility. To these employers, I thank you for sharing with us your successes, challenges, and progress towards Indigenous employment parity. Their participation has allowed us to shine a light on the often invisible Indigenous workforces of Australia, the employer practices that affect parity, and Indigenous employee experiences of this journey.
While this inaugural Index serves as a critical baseline, its biggest impact will be seen in years to come. As more employers participate in the Indigenous Employment Index over time, the evidence base from which to drive true employment parity will only be strengthened, and our collective progress towards parity will only accelerate. With this, I warmly welcome other large employers committed to Indigenous employment parity, to participate in the next Indigenous Employment Index planned for 2024.
I deeply thank our research partners Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre and Murawin, our Expert Advisory Panel, our Indigenous advisors, the Generation One and Minderoo Foundation team, and the many employees who contributed their stories to this research.
I hope this Index is an accurate reflection of the aspirations and challenges you have set, for employers to meet and rise to. We now put the challenge of true employment parity, supported by the guidance of this Index, to the business leaders of Australia.
To achieve Indigenous employment parity in our generation, we need 300,000 more Indigenous Australians in work by 2040. This inaugural Index provides an evidence base, and tangible steps to help employers get there. What contribution will your organisation make?
Shelley Cable is a Wilman-Nyoongar woman from Perth, Western Australia, and the leader of Minderoo Foundation’s Generation One initiative. Shelley has dedicated her career to promoting Indigenous leadership and ending economic disparity for her “mob”, striving for the empowerment of Indigenous Australians through financial literacy, and highlighting that self-determination begins with secure employment.