Tell us about Indigenous Workstars?

We’re a majority Indigenous-owned organisation that helps First Nations Australians find work. We came about 11 years ago when we saw a gap in employment services in western Queensland. All of our directors have direct experience of working closely with those communities.

We foster a culture where individuals feel a sense of ownership and empowerment and everyone plays a leadership role. Our working relationships are respectful, collaborative and fun and we openly share our knowledge and successes.

Up until now we’ve been working with CoAct jobactive partners through Vocational Training and Employment Centres (VTEC). These partners would refer Indigenous customers to us for employment support.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for Indigenous jobseekers?

We see the knock-on effects of individuals who have had limited education and qualification opportunities. Some jobseekers don’t have the confidence or resources to get a driver’s licence or tickets to enter the workforce because of their socio-economic background. Some may also come from a family where 3 or 4 generations have been dependent on government assistance and their confidence and family support doesn’t lend itself to achievement. It’s hard for individuals to go out and break the cycle and they often get pulled back by challenges like relocating, reliable transport, education and housing.

How’s your offer different to other employment services providers?

It’s all about the way that we work with a customer and cultural competency.

We look at the whole person – their work and home life, their spiritual life. We ask them – Who are you as an Aboriginal person? Where do you come from and what’s your story? We encourage people to reflect on who they are.

We give jobseekers a lot of encouragement, showing how they’re capable, even if they’ve never felt achievement before.

It can be quite intimidating to be asked – who are you, what’s your story. So, we’ve developed a mind mapping storytelling exercise. This is really successful – it resonates with the oral tradition of sharing information and practices in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and enables individuals to share and reflect on their journey in a visual way.

We’ve always focused on building strong connections with community organisations and allied health professionals such as housing specialists and hospitals, amongst others, to support our mob. We know the importance of safe cultural practices, cultural wellbeing and community connectedness, and the impacts they can have on and for the Indigenous people in our community.

What would you like your legacy to be?

We want to empower long-term social and economic change that breaks cycles such as generational income dependency. We do this by helping people build meaningful personal, family and community connections.

We see the empowerment that employment can bring – how one person’s life can influence so many others. The saying goes – if you raise one person up, you raise the whole community up.

Tell us a story about someone who’s really benefitted from the support you’ve given them?

We’ve been working with a young lady in Gympie, a single Mum who fled from domestic abuse. She relocated to a place where she had no family and friends, just her little one.

We worked with her while in crisis accommodation, supporting her with an interview for a dental traineeship. We coached her prior to interview, supported her in the interview, and she absolutely aced it! She’s now full time and the team are training her up to work in theatre. She sees her future as a nurse.

We managed to find her housing too, after she’d submitted around 20 unsuccessful applications on her own.

We also found work for a man in his late 50s who’d never had a steady income before. When he received his first pay cheque he went home to his family and said, “Right, kids, I’m taking you out to McDonalds. I can because I’m working now.” They were thrilled.

The improvement in his mental health from having work has been phenomenal. He now goes to work every day and makes it count. He’s shown to his children that with a positive attitude and drive to work you can achieve and create better circumstances for yourself, family and community.

Another young woman we’ve supported has found a new family at her work. She worked as a casual cleaner and couldn’t see where she could go from there. We saw sales potential and encouraged her to move into a new role. She’s now the second top salesperson in the business and making more money than ever before.

When she tested positive for COVID, her employer went to her house to check she was okay and her colleagues dropped round containers of food for her and her child. They’ve become her closest friends.

Tell us about an employer you’ve worked with?

We’ve built a strong relationship with a major warehousing organisation who’s turned the business around with increased Indigenous participation.

In our early conversations we asked them, “Do you have a policy around Indigenous engagement and employment?” They had no idea what we were talking about and asked us to help them.

We talked them through the process, showing them diverse ways of advertising vacancies and an alternative application process. We organised walk-throughs for candidates, giving them an informal peak into job opportunities. They’ve also started to pilot work trails where new recruits can try a role out for 6 to 12 months. The business now has around 70 Indigenous employees, in a growing number of stores.

We offer employers guidance on how to create a culturally safe environment too, encouraging policies that ensure personal accountability. We make sure staff are aware of key Indigenous events and that they treat each other with respect. We deliver cultural awareness training to support this.

To you, why is Reconciliation Week important?

For us, it’s a way of connecting with community and showing commitment to reconciliation. We support events locally and encourage the team to go out and participate in the week. There are always things we can learn and apply from within the community.

It’s also a reminder of the good things that we’re doing, and our contribution to reconciliation.

What’s your message to others, given this year’s theme – Be Brave, Make Change?

The message is different for everyone. For our team – make more connections, have more conversations. For our customers – step forward and don’t be afraid to break the cycle. For employers – look at your diversity, develop policies, increase engagement, do things differently. For us all – call out racism. It isn’t right.

Find out more about Reconciliation Week.

If you’d like to talk to CoAct Connect + Indigenous Workstars about Workforce Australia employment services, give us a call on 1800 860 770 or fill out our online form.

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