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Why creating First Nations employment programs is important for the organisation and individuals

4 minute read
Woodside Energy

First Nations employment programs provide opportunities for professional growth. Image courtesy of Woodside Energy.

First Nations employment programs are designed to bring more diverse workers into an organisation, providing a step up and an entryway into a rewarding career.

However, these programs do not just aid the individuals hired – when a First Nations employment program works well, it can benefit the entire organisation.

Employer and employee alike

According to AIM WA Chief Learning and Development Officer Drew Mayhills FAIM, we are seeing an uptake in First Nations employment programs – and everyone is feeling the benefits.

For a First Nations employee, it can lead to a valuable career.

“From an organisational perspective, First Nations employment programs play a critical role in empowering First Nations people,” Mr Mayhills said.

“They provide opportunities for professional growth and for individuals to contribute meaningfully to their workplaces.

“These programs can also have a significant impact on the wellbeing of the people who are involved.”

Mr Mayhills also highlighted the advantages associated with a workforce that embraces diversity.

“Having a diverse workforce provides several benefits,” he said.

“Not only does diversity enrich the cultural fabric of the organisation, it also provides a distinct competitive advantage.

“When organisations foster greater diversity and have an effective inclusion strategy in place, we see those organisations draw from a broader range of ideas and perspectives.

“This leads to more innovative solutions and better decision making.

“At an organisational level, strengthening diversity through a greater First Nations voice fosters a more inclusive workplace culture.

“This will enhance the company’s reputation in the broader community and possibly open up new business opportunities in First Nations communities.”

Organisational influence

Organisations that work on Country can particularly benefit from a First Nations employment program.

At Woodside Energy, implementing these programs has allowed the company to make sure its work is done in respectful collaboration with the local community.

“In all global locations, we aim to ensure a fair representation of the community we operate in is participating in our workplace,” Woodside Head of Communities and First Nations Sharon Reynolds said.

“Investing in training and development programs is a long-term commitment to ensure a strong talent pipeline into our mid-career and senior leader roles, where currently representation does not reflect the community levels.

“When we are operating on people’s Country, it is important we understand the values and perspectives of traditional owners so that we can respect the lands and waters where we operate, maximise the benefits for the community and minimise any negative impacts.”

Ms Reynolds also found having these programs can help with the internal hiring and promotion process.

“Securing talent in a tight employment market is a challenge for many employers,” she said.

“Developing relationships with people early in their careers helps with ensuring we can promote internally, rather than just relying on the external hiring market.”

A delicately tailored program

However, to reap the full benefits of a First Nations employment program, the programs need to be designed carefully and correctly.

“Occasionally we see organisations decide internally that it would be a good thing to start a First Nations employment program and they overlook the importance of engaging their local First Nations leaders, Elders and community in the design of that program,” Mr Mayhills said.

“It is vital to engage and collaborate with First Nations communities from the very beginning while the program is in its conceptual phase.

“My recommendation is to get everyone in the room together, open dialogue and engage in a genuine process of co-design.

“When you approach the process this way, we are signalling humility and respect. Ask your First Nations stakeholders ‘if we get this right, what does success look like from your perspective?

“By taking this approach, organisations will gain far greater insight into the needs and aspirations of First Nations people, as well as the barriers they face and ideas around how we can work through these.”

Ms Reynolds noted before putting a program in place, it was critical to ensure the workplace was culturally safe, so First Nations employees felt supported and included.

“Make a strong commitment to building the capability of everyone, but leaders in particular need to understand and truly appreciate Indigenous Australian culture, specific to the location they are based in,” she said.

“Create clear symbols and cues that Indigenous culture is valued and appreciated.

“If you do not have a Reconciliation Action Plan, start planning to put one in place.

“Ensure all employees are aware of it and how they can contribute to it.”

Mr Mayhills said implementing a successful First Nations employment program could be a lot of work, but for the employees and organisation, it was well worth the effort.

“These programs are a significant way for organisations to contribute to their communities,” he said.

“They require strong leadership, a long-term vision and an authentic respect for First Nations people.

“Organisations who wish to make a difference in this way are committing to a significant and exciting process of learning and change.

“A willingness to listen, the courage to ask questions and the ability to adjust approaches based on feedback are critical components of success.”

Where to from here?

BEEDIYAR is a culturally responsive program designed to fast-track the career progression of Indigenous managers and leaders across corporate, public, not-for-profit and charitable sectors. 

To find out how you and your organisation can be a part of this unique program, contact Program Director Dr Shaun Ridley FAIM at or 08 9383 8070.