28.07.2017

Aspire to Aboriginal secretary within five years, says commissioner


Victoria will hopefully see its first Aboriginal departmental secretary in the next five years, says acting Victorian Public Sector Commissioner Elizabeth Langdon.

Launching the VPSC’s new Aboriginal employment strategy Barring Djinang, Langdon explained that the new framework would help to create culturally safe and capable workplaces for Aboriginal staff while strengthening the leadership pipeline.

“It’s all designed to enhance the attraction, recruitment, retention and career development of Aboriginal members of staff across the Victorian public sector.

“We know that Aboriginal staff are under-represented in executive levels. There’s no reason not to aspire to Victoria seeing its first [Aboriginal] departmental secretary in the life of this strategy,” she said.

It’s the product of nearly a year of work by the VPSC’s Aboriginal Employment Unit. This has involved consulting with a wide range of stakeholders — Indigenous staff, departments, Victoria Police, Aboriginal community controlled organisations and leaders in the public and private sectors — to find answers to questions such as: what success would look like; what previous strategies have achieved; what the barriers are to improving outcomes; and how the VPS should measure and be held accountable for improving Aboriginal employment.

“A number of long standing issues persist in relation to Aboriginal employment,” stated Langdon, who is acting in the VPSC’s top job following the departure of Belinda Clark for the New Zealand Law Commission.

“For example, we heard that despite many improvements, employers can still do more to ensure their Aboriginal staff are provided with culturally safe and capable workplaces. We also heard that Aboriginal staff want the same level of access to opportunities for career advancement as their non-Aboriginal colleagues.

“And we heard that the departments are looking to the VPSC for support and advice on a range of topics, such as better quality data on employment, better quality reporting, and consistent approaches to the use of designated positions and confirmations of Aboriginality.”

The framework covers five broad areas: improving attraction and recruitment, creating progressive career experiences, investing in workplace cultural capability, enhancing support for Aboriginal staff, and central oversight and strong governance.

“In response to ongoing attraction and recruitment challenges, with low representation at all levels, a new strategic focus on the employee lifecycle has been identified. Attraction and recruitment will be reimagined and redesigned, focusing on the strengths of Aboriginal candidates,” Langdon stated.

Public sector commission ‘like a personal trainer’

The commission will aim to complement the “tremendous” work already being done around the VPS, such as Aboriginal inclusion inclusion and employment plans, she said.

“Think of us, if you like, a bit like a personal trainer, working with a range of clients. We’re an additional support and resource to departments to help everyone stay on track and reach their goals,” Langdon explained.

“Success is a capable, diverse public sector that benefits from the unique skills and experience of Aboriginal employees and what they bring to our workplaces.”

The VPSC is also mindful of making it easier for staff to move back into community controlled organisations after working for the VPS, as government has traditionally drained staff from the sector.

Barring Djinang includes a 2% representation target across the VPS, up from the current 0.9% figure. The strategy incorporates 15 initiatives, most of which are new:

Improving attraction and recruitment

  • Aboriginal vocational education and training graduate program;
  • Aboriginal undergraduate cadetship program;
  • Aboriginal pathway to the graduate program;

Creating progressive career experiences

  • Online careers tool to support career planning across job families and capabilities;
  • Future leaders pilot program;
  • Provide guidance to departments on use of designated roles;
  • Career development program for mid-career staff;

Creating culturally safe workplaces

  • Aboriginal employment portal;
  • Cultural capability toolkit to help staff and managers improve their understanding;
  • Public entity capacity building program;

Enhancing support for Aboriginal staff

  • Regional Aboriginal staff networks;
  • Culturally appropriate employee assistance programs;

Providing central oversight and strong governance

  • Revisiting employment policies and practices;
  • Reporting and governance to track and measure progress;
  • Implementing a comprehensive communications strategy.

Image: Barring Djinang cover art by Jade Kennedy.