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Australian Current Affairs

Australian private sector closing jobs gap as indigenous work rises


Andrew Forrest

Andrew Forrest

Bold policies to close the gap between black and white Australia in employment are working, with new data revealing that employment growth for Aborigines has increased dramatically, mainly in remote areas via the private sector.

A paper to be released by the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the Australian National University offers the first major analysis of the nation’s closing the gap strategy, demonstrating that between 2006 and 2011, the employment rate increased by 13 per cent in remote areas and 3 per cent in non-remote areas for the nation’s first people.

The lead author of the analysis, Matthew Gray, told The Weekend Australian the change in strategy away from welfare and into work over the past five years was showing promising results.

“The evidence is that increases in private sector employment is due in part to the commitment of employers to increase the number of indigenous workers they employ,” Professor Gray said.

“Strategies such as non-standard recruitment strategies, which means that indigenous people who would be screened out be conventional selection processes have the opportunity to win jobs, reducing workplace discrimination via cross-cultural training and providing on-going mentoring and support have been found to be effective.”

One strategy includes miner Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s indigenous jobs plan, which has asked bosses to commit thousands of jobs to Aborigines.

The paper uses census data combined with data from the federal government’s Community Development Employment Project to produce estimates of changes in non-CDEP employment for indigenous Australians between 1996 and 2011. CDEP is the Aboriginal work-for-the-dole scheme that is being slowly phased out.

The ANU analysis of census data shows that for indigenous Australians, non-CDEP employment increased substantially between 2006 and 2011. For indigenous men, non-CDEP employment increased from 38 per cent to 45 per cent and for women it increased from 34 per cent to 39 per cent.

“The biggest increases in non-CDEP employment have been in remote areas, although in non-remote areas there has still been a steady, albeit more modest, increase in the employment rate between 2006 and 2011,” it finds.

Between the 2006 and 2011 censuses the indigenous population count increased by 20.5 per cent partly due to changes in people identifying themselves as indigenous.

The ANU employment paper finds “it is extremely unlikely that changes in identification could explain all of the increases in employment, as the largest increases in employment were in remote areas which had the smallest increases in indigenous population.”

Warren Mundine, the chief executive of Mr Forrest’s GenerationOne, said the figures were very pleasing but demonstrated the private sector needed more help to keep their jobs push going.

“GenerationOne through the Australian Employment Covenant has worked with hundreds of companies and organisations to see a real increase in the rate of indigenous recruitment, placements and retention. The private sector has been the driving force behind the changes in indigenous employment.

” I am cautious not to be marching in the victory parade just yet.

“Until indigenous employment figures match non-indigenous employment figures we will continue to argue that VTEC is the way to support long term unemployed people into jobs.”

Vocational Training and Employment centres are a model Mr Mundine is pushing with Mr Forrest to roll out nationally. They only provide training that is linked to an identified job that’s been promised by a company.

The census analysis finds indigenous employment in the mining sector increased substantially between 2006 and 2011, even if mining employment remained a relatively minor contributor to overall employment. In remote areas the increase has been driven by increases in private sector employment. In non-remote areas the proportion in the private sector did not change.

Professor Gray said there have been increases in indigenous employment in virtually all industries. “The biggest increases have been in health, education and other services, mining, construction, transport, hospitality and retail trade,” he said.

“The increase in indigenous employment is the result of strong economic growth, increasing levels of education and changes to the welfare system which have encouraged those receiving government benefits to find paid employment.”

For both men and women there were substantial increases in non-CDEP employment. For women, the employment rate increased from 26 per cent in 1996 to 39 per cent in 2011. Over this period the employment rate of other Australian women as a whole increased from 49 per cent to 56 per cent. For indigenous men, the non-CDEP employment rate increased from 31 per cent to 45 per cent. For other Australian men the employment rate increased from 65 per cent to 68 per cent.

The increases in non-CDEP employment continued in both remote and non-remote areas, but the increases were greater in the bush. In remote areas the non-CDEP employment rate increased by 13 percentage points to 27 per cent compared to an increase of 3 points to 46 per cent in non-remote areas.

In remote areas, the proportion of employment in the private sector for indigenous women increased from 57 per cent to 63 per cent and 57 per cent to 71 per cent for men.

The percentage of indigenous males and females employed in mining more than doubled in remote areas. Employment in mining also increased in non-remote areas, most likely associated with greater utilisation of fly-in fly-out workers.

The number of indigenous miners increased in both areas from approximately 1400 and 1900 respectively in 2006 to 3100 and 4400 in 2011.

“While this is still a small portion of the overall indigenous workforce in Australia, it is a significant portion of indigenous employment in particular regions.

“Indigenous involvement in mining increased substantially as a percentage of all indigenous employment and is now closer to the percentage of mining employment for overall Australian employment,” the paper says.

And despite the substantial job loss in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries across Australia, indigenous workers in that sector also fared relatively well compared to other Australians.

In remote areas, the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries lost almost 9000 jobs between the last two censuses, but more indigenous people were employed in that sector in 2011 compared to 2006.

Source: The Australian “Private sector closing jobs gap as indigenous work rises”
 
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