Indigenous employment strategy 2012-16

Last updated: 28 Oct 2013

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What is the Australian Public Service Indigenous1 Employment Strategy?

The Australian Public Service Indigenous Employment Strategy (the Strategy) consists of a range of strategies to support and enhance APS agencies’ 2 Indigenous employment strategies. It is managed by the Australian Public Service Commission (the Commission) and is a key platform to support Australian Public Service (APS) agencies to improve their Indigenous employment outcomes. The current Strategy will be in operation from 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2016.

What is the background to the Strategy?

Under the auspices of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), all Australian governments have committed to the Indigenous reform agenda, known as “Closing the Gap”, to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians. As part of that reform agenda, in 2008 the Federal government along with all state and territory governments (except Tasmania) committed to increase Indigenous representation in the public sector to 2.6% by 2015, to reflect the projected Indigenous share of the working age population. The federal government increased the target to 2.7% for the Commonwealth public sector, including the APS.

The Strategy has been operating in various iterations since 2005, and was previously known as the APS Employment and Capability Strategy for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Employees. The Strategy was launched by the Commission in response to a critical business challenge facing the APS—a trend of declining recruitment levels and falling retention rates for Indigenous Australians. Although the Strategy was initially established prior to COAG’s “Closing the Gap” agenda, it is now an integral part of that agenda.

Why is the Strategy important?

The APS is committed to the principles of equity and diversity and to ensuring the public service workforce is representative of the broader Australian community. This commitment is enshrined in the Public Service Act 1999 and its subordinate legislation. Diverse workforces also make good business sense. Serious action is required to increase the representation of Indigenous employees in the APS. This effort is needed to both recruit and retain Indigenous employees in order to meet the government’s 2.7% target.

At 30 June 2012, the representation rate of APS employees who identified as Indigenous (both ongoing and non-ongoing employees) was 2.3%, which equates to 3,749 Indigenous employees. This representation rate was the same at 31 December 2012 indicating that representation rates have stabilised since June 2011. Figure 1 illustrates the steady decline in the proportion of Indigenous employees from 2002 to 2012.

Figure 1: Proportion of APS employees identifying as Indigenous Australians 2002–2012

Title: Chart - Description: Shows how proportions of APS employees identifying as Indigenous Australians has dropped since 2002.

At 31 December 2012 the overall separation rate for Indigenous employees was 12.3%, almost double the rate of the APS overall (7.1%). Not only are Indigenous employees leaving at a greater rate, they are leaving earlier in their careers. For example, in 2011–12 almost a third of all Indigenous employees who separated had been with the APS for less than three years. This trend has continued for some years.

Each year APS agencies provide workforce data, including employees’ diversity data, to the Australian Public Service Employment Database (APSED)—more information about APSED can be found on the Commission’s website. At the end of June 2012, Indigenous status was not available for 22.7% of all ongoing APS employees. This means that 34,927 ongoing APS employees had either chosen not to provide this information or their agency did not capture and store this information in their human resource information systems (There was no significant change to these figures at 31 December 2012). This is a significant gap in agency—and APSED—data. As Figure 2 illustrates, this data gap has been steadily increasing since 2002.

Figure 2: The proportion of ongoing APS employees for whom there was no data on Indigenous status 2002– 2012

Title: Chart - Description: Shows how the proportion of APS employees for whom there is no Indigenous data has grown since 2002.

What has the Strategy achieved?

Since 2006, the Strategy has successfully recruited (on behalf of agencies) over 700 Indigenous Australians into the APS through its Pathways to Employment program for Indigenous graduates, cadets and trainees. The Pathways to Employment programcontributes significantly to the number of Indigenous employees recruited by APS agencies each year. In 2011–12, over 45% of all ongoing Indigenous employees engaged by APS agencies were recruited through Pathways. The Strategy has also provided targeted learning and development programs to over 1,700 Indigenous APS employees from all over Australia. An independent evaluation of the 2009–2011 iteration of the Strategy—conducted in mid-2011—found that the Strategy had resulted in a:‘…substantial reduction in the gap between the growth rate of APS staff overall and that of Indigenous APS staff.’ The evaluation also found that:‘…if the pre-[Strategy] average growth rate differential between Indigenous and overall employment in the APS had continued, Indigenous representation in the APS in 2009–10 would have been 1.9%. Given that actual representation in 2009–10 was 2.2% [revised APSED data indicates that Indigenous representation in the APS in 2009–10 was actually 2.3%], this analysis indicates that the [Strategy] has been effective in increasing the representation of Indigenous staff in the APS....’

What are the key initiatives of the current Strategy?

The current Strategy continues some initiatives that have been in operation over recent years, but has an increased focus on retention and targeted career development for Indigenous APS employees. These initiatives include:

Attraction and recruitment

  • The APS Pathways to Employmentrecruitment program for Indigenous graduates, cadets and trainees.
  • Promote APS employment to Indigenous Australians, by:
    • using specially developed, Indigenous-specific communication tools
    • coordinating whole-of-APS approaches at tertiary institutions across the country
    • harnessing the influence of established networks of stakeholders.

Retention and career development

  • An Indigenous-specific talent development system—designed around the APS Knowing/Doing/Being Framework, and aimed at addressing the current underrepresentation of Indigenous Australians in key APS leadership and policy shaping roles. More information about the Knowing/Doing/Being Framework can be found on the Commission’s website.
  • The APS Indigenous Employment and HR Forum—a quarterly forum for HR practitioners that explores a range of issues and emerging trends affecting Indigenous employment in the APS.
  • APS Indigenous cultural capability framework—a strategic, whole-of-APS benchmark of cultural capability and understanding for APS agencies, leaders and employees.
  • An APS-wide entry and exit survey—to collect APS-wide benchmarking data that will enable the Commission to identify what attracts Indigenous employees to the APS, the employment value proposition the APS can offer, and the factors that influence Indigenous employees to leave significantly earlier in their APS careers.

Research, engagement and sharing good practice

  • Indigenous Liaison Officers—access to culturally-sensitive support and advisory services for agencies, Indigenous employees and Indigenous jobseekers, including (but not limited to): advice on Indigenous recruitment and Indigenous Employment Strategies; and pre- and post-recruitment support and advice for candidates and employees.
  • The 3rd Census of Indigenous APS Employees—building on the results from the 2012 employee census published in the State of the Service Report 2011–12, the 3rd Census of Indigenous APS Employees will identify emerging trends for agencies and help to further define the challenges faced by Indigenous employees during their APS careers.
  • Support the work of the APS Diversity Council to improve employment outcomes for Indigenous Australians in the APS.

What is the role of the APS Diversity Council?

The APS Diversity Council was established by the Secretaries Board in early 2012 as a subcommittee of the Board. The Council is a whole-of-APS initiative to strengthen the APS as an employer of people from diverse backgrounds, and reinforce and reinvigorate the commitment of APS leadership on diversity issues. It is chaired by Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, with the Public Service Commissioner serving as Deputy Chair. Council members comprise selected departmental Secretaries and agency heads.

The Council has an initial focus on improving APS employment outcomes for Indigenous Australians and people with disability, as representation rates for both groups have been in steady decline since the late 1990s.

The Council oversees the implementation of the initiatives under the Strategy, and informs the ongoing design, development and evaluation, of the Strategy’s initiatives. The Strategy supports the Council in monitoring, assessing and reporting on Indigenous employment outcomes in the APS.

More information on the Diversity Council can be found on the Commission’s website, or by contacting diversitycouncil@apsc.gov.au.

Where can I find more information?

The Commission’s website includes information about the Strategy, as well as announcements updating information on relevant policies and programs.

The Commission’s Building an Indigenous Employment Strategy information kit (to help Commonwealth agencies develop their own strategies) is available on the Commission website.

APS agencies and their employees who require further advice and assistance should contact the Commission’s Indigenous Liaison Officers, in the Centre for Leadership and Learning forLeadership, Learning and Development Group. The phone number is (02) 6202 3888 and the email is indigenousliaisonofficer@apsc.gov.au.


1. In this document the term ‘Indigenous’ refers to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians.

2. APS agencies are those covered by the Public Service Act 1999.