Can Victoria rocket Aboriginal careers into the senior ranks?

By David Donaldson

September 26, 2016

VPSC Aboriginal Employment Unit manager Mason Atkinson launches the Aboriginal career development program and Aboriginal undergraduate cadetship.

Indigenous public servants in Victoria will soon be able to take advantage of a new Aboriginal career development program promising a wider range of opportunities than before.

The plan released by the Victorian Public Sector Commission last week includes professional coaching, a career plan, support for new opportunities and the chance to connect with other Aboriginal bureaucrats.

Indigenous undergraduate students will also be given the opportunity to see what it’s like working for the government, thanks to the Aboriginal undergraduate cadetship program launched at the same time.

The Aboriginal Employment Unit at the Victorian Public Sector Commission has been busy since it was established in January, with Thursday night marking the launch of the cadetship, as well as a career development program for Aboriginal staff from VPS 3 to VPS 5 level.

The office has also been given responsibility to develop a new whole of Victorian government Aboriginal employment strategy, which received endorsement from the Secretaries Leadership Group on Aboriginal Affairs in July, to succeed the Karreeta Yirramboi plan, which lapsed in 2015.

The new programs are in addition to existing initiatives, such as the Aboriginal pathway to the graduate program.

They were created to deal with insufficient progress in Aboriginal representation in the public service, says Victorian public sector commissioner Belinda Clark.

Currently around 1% of VPS employees are Aboriginal — roughly in line with the proportion of the overall population — though representation is much weaker at higher levels.

“These innovative models will serve to ensure the public service is an employer of choice for Aboriginal people, and to open more doors and opportunities in government careers,” Clark told the audience at the launch.

Recognising that progress can only be made by convincing Indigenous people that government is a desirable place to work, the programs aim to “improve the attraction, recruitment and career development of Aboriginal members of staff across the VPS,” Clark said. The VPSC has consulted extensively with the Aboriginal employees and communities and with senior leaders and experts in the public and private sectors.

Over time, the data and analytics the VPSC captures “will provide us with a better understanding of Aboriginal career development needs, opportunities and responses,” she added.

Barriers to career progression

The VPSC is looking at why Indigenous people are getting stalled in their careers and not getting to higher levels.

A recent survey of Indigenous staff by the Aboriginal Employment Unit shows that cultural safety of workplaces, access to opportunities and support from managers remain some of the more prevalent issues.

Systemically, coordination of outcomes and consistency in monitoring and reporting “still remain problematic”, with departments operation in isolation from one another, Unit manager Mason Atkinson said at the launch.

“Work remains, and we must not be satisfied only with our achievements to date,” he argued.

The Victorian government should be acknowledged for showing leadership in developing the Victorian Aboriginal Inclusion Framework, Atkinson said, which all departments have developed inclusion action plans in response to. Several departments have also created Aboriginal employment plans.

Aboriginal career development program

This program will be built around a personalised career development plan for employees at VPS 3 to VPS 5.

The plan will be developed with a career development coach, and the VPSC will liaise with participants and their managers to support the implementation of the plan.

It’ll be focused around providing participants with experiential opportunities, in alignment with adult learning models.

Applications will remain open until October 28.

Aboriginal undergraduate cadetship

The cadetship is designed to support second and third year university students, and is designed to lead to ongoing employment after graduation, said Atkinson.

Each cadetship runs for 12 months, but the centrepiece is a 12-week work placement over the holidays, to give cadets some work experience and a feeling for what it’s like to work in the VPS.

Applications are open now and will run until October 28, and the first cohort will begin in early 2017.

Top image: Mason Atkinson launches the Aboriginal career development program and Aboriginal undergraduate cadetship.

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