The government has released a five-year workforce strategy to increase and retain Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment across the Australian Public Service.
Launched on Friday, the plan would set the direction for all employers across the Commonwealth, according to APS commissioner Peter Woolcott.
He argued it would “accelerate improvements in closing the gap in social and economic outcomes between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians” by building on the achievements of the previous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment strategy.
“Workplace environments that demonstrate cultural integrity drive better policy development and service delivery outcomes to better meet the needs of the Australian community,” he said.
Workforce data for APS agencies at the end of 2018 has shown that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees were significantly over-represented at the trainee to APS 4 classifications and significantly under-represented at middle management, executive level leadership, and senior executive leadership roles, the report noted.
It called on all Commonwealth agencies to build a “talent pipeline” through direct recruitment, professional development, and decreasing the relative separation rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees.
“Recognising and valuing investment in individuals through internships and cadetships, providing early career pathway opportunities with an option to progress into graduate programs or an alternative pathway, are important contributions to building a future focussed talent pipeline,” it said.
The strategy has three focus areas:
- Cultural integrity — improving and embedding the understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in the workplace to support the development of culturally-safe work spaces and services, and creating a more inclusive Commonwealth public sector.
- Career pathways — diversify and strengthen the pathways into and across the Commonwealth public sector.
- Career development and advancement — individual career development and advancement plans supported by targeted development initiatives and advancement opportunities.
These focus areas would help boost diversity across the APS, according to the report.
“The outcome is for the Commonwealth public sector to have inclusive workplaces with a greater Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce representation at all classification levels and in all business areas,” it said.
The report set a stretch target of 3% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employee representation for the Senior Executive Service by 2024.
To achieve this, the report noted the Commonwealth would need to bring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation at the APS 4 to APS 6 levels (or equivalent) up to 5% by the end of 2022, and 5% at the Executive Levels 1 and 2 by the end of 2024.
“Initially this will be achieved through targeted recruitment with a longer term focus on developing employees within the public sector to enable promotion into the more senior roles,” it said.
Each portfolio should also aim to achieve a stretch target of 3% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation at each classification level in their workforce by 2024.
Indigenous Australians minister Ken Wyatt argued workplaces which attract and nurture Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees would ensure cultural perspectives “become embedded in all aspects of our organisations over time”, while also benefitting future generations.
The report noted that agencies which have “made inroads” into building relationships with Indigenous communities would have a better chance at succeeding under the strategy.
“Agencies should establish strong relationships with communities in regional and remote Australia to better understand the needs, priorities and goals of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their communities,” it said.
An interim evaluation of the strategy implementation will be undertaken in 2022 to measure progress, and identify areas of strengths and future priority needs to achieve the set outcomes. The plan could be refreshed following the evaluation. A further assessment will be undertaken in 2024.