Across workplace culture, recruitment, and employment there’s much that public sector workplaces can do to improve opportunities for First Nations staff. Participants of the IPAA ACT 2022 NAIDOC Hackathon tell us how.
The public sector and Australian governments have long prioritised employment outcomes for First Nations people, yet, there still are ongoing disparities between First Nations and non-First Nations employees in the APS, a recent APSC report has shown.
To tackle this issue, during NAIDOC Week 2022, IPAA ACT with the support of the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) and the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) hosted a Hackathon. On the day, 64 First Nations and non-First Nations participants set out to find tangible ways to improve recruitment and retention outcomes for First Nations employees across four specific domains: workplace culture, recruitment, employment, and career pathways.
Using ‘backcasting’ – framing the discussion around an imagined success state set in 2026 – Hackathon participants worked with a scenario in which First Nations employees made up 5 per cent of the APS senior executive service and representation rates had improved across the public service. They then brainstormed how this success rate had been achieved and the barriers associated with this goal.
First and foremost, our participants identified the urgent need for public sector workplaces to prioritise culturally save and inclusive environments to improve outcomes, but also to support the broader work of truth telling in the reconciliation process. Public sector leaders needed to act on this now, to tackle inappropriate behaviours in the workplace and establish integrity.
Make good workplace culture stand out
Building on these principles, here are some of their key recommendations to enhance culture at public sector workplaces:
- Ensure the workforce reflects the community it recruits from by including cultural competency as a key selection criterion in management level positions
- Shift your mindset to Aboriginal by embedding cultural practice and language in workplace processes, such as cultural leave entitlements
- Draw on and value lived experience through the inclusion of cultural intelligence as a formal workplace capability
- Mandate SES employment agreements to actively manage and report on development activities for First Nations staff
- Embed reporting against a workplace’s Reconciliation Action Plan within the formal reporting processes
- Undertake regular reviews of internal staff development programs with input from First Nations peoples
Brush up on the recruitment process
To improve recruitment, participants recommended workplaces should:
- Reimagine merit by valuing cultural understanding and knowledge in the recruitment process and taking into account community level experience
- Give visibility to the employment market through promoting the sector as an employment option at career expos
- Create more selection panels with First Nations members, especially in externally supported SES recruitment processes
- Make greater use of indigenous-specific employment agencies and play a creating and shaping role in First Nations recruitment consulting
- Recognise the culturally specific nature of some job selection processes and put greater emphasis on collective/collaborative approaches that are used in First Nations communities
- Advertise and highlight that many public sector workplaces are independently ranked as ‘Employers of Choice’ and that almost all public sector workplaces have a specific goal of improving employment outcomes for First Nations People
Add value to employment
In the employment space, participants made a further six recommendations, saying that employers need to:
- Use the shift to remote working to decentralise the public service and create more opportunities outside of Canberra
- Leverage remote working to give existing First Nations public servants the opportunity to get promotions without making them move locations
- Invest in mob by supporting internal First Nations networks and build face-to-face forums in regional areas
- Work towards shifting First Nations people employed on contracts to permanent roles
- Acknowledge the informal promotional activities First Nations staff do in their network in their networks and communities
- Value the work of First Nations staff regardless of their level, and broaden selection criteria
Create better career pathways
Finally, participants recommended ways to improve career pathways in the public sector. They said that employers should:
- Make career pathways more meaningful and allow First Nations people to see a path from recruitment process into management
- Provide internal development programs to support career progression
- Offer mobility programs, opportunities to swap jobs to try a new role, and backfill options for higher-level roles
- Build for the future by providing informal mentoring and sponsorship opportunities for First Nations people
- Make having a mentor compulsory in the early stages of employment, and allow First Nations staff to select their preferred mentor
- Increase number of secondment opportunities
- Destigmatise the use of affirmative measures and identified positions
To successfully implement these recommendations within these areas, public sector workplaces will have to first focus on creating a culturally safe and inclusive workplace. This will help overcome the remaining disparities between First Nations and non-First Nations staff.
Read the full Hackathon report here.