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Agency support to encourage retention

This chapter considers three aspects that are related to Indigenous employees’ views regarding their agency’s support to encourage the retention of Indigenous staff:

  • general perceptions regarding agency support
  • access and use of formal support measures
  • whether various support mechanisms could contribute to retaining Indigenous employees within the APS.

General perceptions regarding agency support

This section examines Indigenous employees’ general perceptions about their agency’s support for the employment of Indigenous Australians.

Active support by agencies

Almost six in ten Indigenous employees (57%) agreed that their agency actively supports the employment, development, retention, and promotion of Indigenous employees.

  • This is up from the 49% of Indigenous employees who agreed that this was the case in 2005.
  • Almost one in five Indigenous employees (18%) disagreed with this statement; however, this is an improved result compared with the 22% recorded in 2005.

Indigenous employees were more likely to agree that their agency actively supports Indigenous employees if:

  • they were working in medium sized agencies (76% compared with less than 60% of employees in other agencies)—20% of employees in large agencies disagreed
  • they were at higher or lower classification levels (agreement levels declined from a high of 71% among apprentices/trainees/cadets/graduates to 51% for APS 5–6 level employees, and then increased to 62% for EL2/SES employees)—the highest levels of disagreement were recorded at the middle management levels (23% for EL1s and 20% for APS 5–6 staff)
  • they were aged less than 25 years or over 54 years (64% each)
  • they did not hold graduate qualifications (58% compared with 50% for employees with graduate qualifications)—more than one in five employees with graduate qualifications disagreed (21%)
  • their agency had short- to medium-term workforce planning strategies in place (58% compared with 39% of employees in agencies without such strategies).27

Working effectively and sensitively with Indigenous Australians

Almost three-quarters of Indigenous employees (73%) agreed that their colleagues work effectively and sensitively with Indigenous Australians—up slightly from 69% in 2005.

Levels of agreement regarding most staff, (i.e. other than immediate colleagues in the agency) working effectively and sensitively with Indigenous Australians remained stable at 58%—15% of Indigenous employees disagreed that this was the case.

Indigenous employees were more likely to agree that their colleagues and/or most staff in their agency work effectively and sensitively with Indigenous Australians if they:

  • were at the APS 1–2 level (80% for colleagues and 74% for most staff in their agency)
  • were aged over 54 years (81% agreed that their colleagues and 70% agreed that most staff in their agency did so)
  • worked in small and medium agencies
  • worked outside the ACT (75% compared with 67% inside the ACT for colleagues and 61% and 47% respectively for most staff in their agency)
  • did not hold graduate qualifications
  • were working in service delivery roles (77% for colleagues and 65% for most staff, compared with 62% and 35% respectively for colleagues and most staff in policy roles)
  • were working in an agency that has short- to medium-term workforce planning strategies in place.28

Almost one quarter (24%) of EL2/SES and 19% of EL1 staff disagreed that most staff in the agency work effectively and sensitively with Indigenous Australians.

Other comments in relation to working with people include:

Since I have been here I have seen a real difference in the way staff deal with Indigenous customers. The whole office has really stepped up, and are more open to issues affecting customers and show more respect and understanding for the culture . This kind of attitude has decreased a lot of extra rework and built stronger relationships with community. Now the Indigenous worker is mostly used for complex situations only, by both the other staff and customer, but more for supporting staff.

Because of the lack of cultural competency training within my office and on a national scale, Indigenous issues are not commonly known. There are no training or education tools provided to non-Indigenous staff to better their knowledge of Indigenous people. Although, they seem to be interested, which is a positive aspect.

Have regular training sessions (more than half day) in regional areas for mainstream staff when dealing and working or visiting with Indigenous communities, cultural protocols, sensitivities etc. Too many mainstream staff do not possess any knowledge on how to deal with Indigenous people and when I try to discuss the protocols, sensitive issues etc with them, they do not listen or want to know—they just ‘want to get on with the job’.

I think that there should be a bit more depth to their understanding of Indigenous people and issues. I think that they only know the surface of what affects Indigenous people…

I feel some of my work colleagues are employed within an Identified area for the ‘job status quo’ and lack understanding of cultural issues and empathy. They show no interest in Indigenous events or interest in learning of Indigenous culture that pertain to the position they are employed in.

I feel that some staff in my agency who do not work directly with Indigenous Employment Programs do not have any idea or concept of how to work effectively or sensitively with Indigenous Australians.

Awareness of Indigenous employment strategies

Almost six in ten Indigenous employees (57%) thought that their agency had a formal Indigenous Employment Strategy (IES)—up from 51% in 2005. Over one-third of Indigenous employees (36%) were unsure whether their agency had a formal IES and a further 7% did not think that that their agency had such a strategy.

Just over one-quarter of agencies reported in the 2009 State of the Service Agency Survey that their agency had an IES. Large agencies were most likely to have an IES (65% compared with 20% of medium and 12% of small agencies).

A moderate proportion of Indigenous employees working in agencies that had a formal IES29 were uncertain about whether their agency had such a strategy (31%, compared with 52% of employees working in agencies without an IES). Just under two-thirds of Indigenous staff (64%) working in agencies with an IES said that they were aware of the strategy.

Indigenous employees were more likely to be uncertain about whether or not their agency had a formal IES in place if they:

  • were at lower classification levels (53% for APS 1–2 employees compared with 8% for EL2/SES staff)
  • were working in small agencies (64% compared with 51% of those in medium and 33% in large agencies)—employees in large agencies were most likely to agree that their agency had a formal IES
  • were working outside the ACT (39% compared with 28% inside the ACT)
  • did not hold graduate qualifications (39% compared with 26% of employees with graduate qualifications).

Knowledge of Indigenous cultural awareness training offered by agency

Almost half of Indigenous employees (49%) said that they knew of Indigenous cultural awareness training being offered by their agency to employees in the last 12 months.

  • This is up from the 33% of Indigenous employees who were aware of such training in 2005.
  • The increase in 2009 may in part reflect a slight change in the question wording and response options used in 2005 and 2009.30

Indigenous employees were more likely to know about Indigenous cultural awareness training offered by their agency if they:

  • were at higher classification levels (80% of EL2/SES employees compared with 42% of APS 1–2 level staff)
  • aged less than 25 years (58% compared with 35% of employees aged older than 54 years)
  • were working in small agencies (65% compared with 53% in large and 21% in medium agencies)
  • were working in the ACT (62% compared with 45% outside the ACT)
  • held graduate qualifications (56% compared with 47% for employees without graduate qualifications)
  • were working in policy roles (66% compared with 34% of those in regulatory roles).

Access to and use of formal support measures

Indigenous employees reported that there was a range of easily accessible formal support measures in their agency, most notably leave to attend National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) celebrations (77%), Indigenous staff networks (63%), and special leave provisions for ceremonial leave (60%).

  • Figure 26 shows that leave to attend NAIDOC celebrations and Indigenous staff networks were also the measures that employees were most likely to have used.
  • It also shows that for all other measures (except special leave provisions for ceremonial leave) less than half of employees felt that the measure was easily accessible, and less than 40% of employees had used it.

Figure 26: Access to and use of formal support measures

Base: All respondents

% easily accessible in the agency % used support measures
Leave to attend NAIDOC celebrations 77.37 60.68
Indigenous staff networks 63.27 57.70
Special leave provisions for ceremonial leave 59.51 25.27
Encouragement to participate in the Indigenous APS Employees' Network (IAPSEN) 44.42 33.35
Indigenous specific training programs 43.24 35.88
Targeted learning and development opportunities 41.87 28.36
Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP) 40.48 34.19
Mentoring 40.23 22.58
Coaching 39.89 27.25
Encouragement to participate in Indigenous-specific events, e.g. the national Indigenous APS conference 38.14 21.78
Indigenous specific study awards (e.g. scholarships) 37.19 8.89
Indigenous HR Coordinator 31.62 19.55
Placement and/or mobility options 23.94 8.80
Buddy Scheme 22.75 13.89

Some groups of Indigenous employees were more likely to believe that support measures were easily accessible in their agency; for example, differences occurred based on classification, age, and location:

  • APS 1–6 employees were more likely than EL/SES staff to think that support measures such as coaching, buddy schemes, special leave provisions for ceremonial leave, and Indigenous-specific training programs were easily accessible in their agency. EL/SES employees were generally more likely than APS 1–6 staff to report that most of the other measures were easily accessible.
  • Employees under 25 years were more likely to think that mentoring was easily accessible, and they were also more likely to have used it. Employees aged over 54 years were less likely to find that a range of measures was easily accessible and were generally less likely to have used these measures.
  • Employees working in the ACT were more likely than their colleagues working outside the ACT to report that nine of the fourteen measures were easily accessible.

Impact of support measures on retention

At least three-quarters of Indigenous employees said that measures such as leave to attend NAIDOC celebrations, Indigenous staff networks, and targeted learning and development opportunities could assist in retention (see Figure 27). For other measures, at least 60% of Indigenous employees thought that each measure could contribute to retention. Employees were least likely to agree that Reconciliation Action Plans could contribute to retaining Indigenous employees (46%).

Figure 27: Impact of support measures on retaining Indigenous employees

Base: All respondents

Chart showing impact of measures

Strongly agree Agree Neither agree nor disagree Disagree Strongly disagree NA/Not sure
Leave to attend NAIDOC celebrations 30.19 45.95 16.25 1.36 0.70 5.56
Indigenous staff networks 31.41 44.10 14.92 1.487 0.94 7.15
Targeted learning and development opportunities 30.17 44.99 15.83 1.69 0.71 6.60
Special leave provisions for ceremonial leave 28.14 45.35 18.33 1.21 0.57 6.40
Indigenous specific training programs 28.62 44.83 17.03 1.83 0.61 7.08
Indigenous specific study awards (e.g. scholarships) 29.62 42.86 17.17 1.98 0.70 7.66
Encouragement to participate in Indigenous-specific events, e.g. the national Indigenous APS conference 28.15 43.71 17.44 1.87 0.78 8.05
Mentoring 26.74 44.59 17.75 1.80 0.65 8.48
Coaching 24.18 45.38 19.30 2.05 0.71 8.38
Encouragement to participate in the Indigenous APS Employees' Network (IAPSEN) 26.25 42.64 20.14 2.03 0.91 8.02
Buddy Scheme 21.29 43.62 22.35 1.80 0.72 10.22
Placement and/or mobility options 23.77 39.66 23.59 1.40 0.88 10.70
Indigenous HR Coordinator 21.48 39.14 23.68 3.22 0.96 11.53
Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP) 12.82 33.33 31.78 6.03 1.55 14.51

Indigenous employment strategies and Reconciliation Action Plans

An Indigenous Employment Strategy (IES) details what the agency is doing to improve the way it employs and retains Indigenous staff. Its focus is on agencyspecific workplace environment, recruitment, development and retention issues affecting Indigenous employees.

A Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), on the other hand, is a tool to help organisations build positive relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. A RAP represents a framework for identifying specific actions and realistic targets to contribute to the improvement of the lives of Indigenous Australians in a wider sense, not solely focussed on agency business. Many agencies have developed, or are in the process of establishing, a RAP to formalise their contribution to reconciliation.

While there are distinct differences between IES and RAPs, there are also some common objectives. The more extensive each framework is, the more similarities are likely to be found. Commitment from agencies to the implementation of their own RAP in concert with an IES is likely to result in substantial improvements in Indigenous employment outcomes in general and improved staff retention for the agency in particular.31

Very few Indigenous employees provided comments about any other support mechanisms that they had used in their agency. Some of their comments included:

I have used the local Indigenous Network and found it has been useful for items such as upcoming training opportunities.

Indigenous representation on the National Consultative Committee. This ensures that Indigenous specific issues/views are brought to the table when discussing policies relating to HR and the workplace.

Networking within new recruits, apprentices and grads. When I started my colleagues would meet during the lunch to discuss issues, etc.

Some groups of Indigenous employees were more likely to agree that certain measures could be effective in retaining Indigenous employees; for example, differences occurred based on classification, location and educational attainment:

  • EL/SES employees were more likely than APS 1–6 level employees to agree that measures such as mentoring, coaching, and placement/mobility options could be effective (see Figure 28 and Figure 29).
  • Employees working outside the ACT were generally more likely than those working in the ACT to agree that each of the measures could be effective.
  • Employees with graduate qualifications were more likely than those without graduate qualifications to agree that measures such as coaching, buddy schemes, Indigenous specific study awards, and placement and/or mobility options could be effective in improving retention.

Figure 28: Impact of support measures on retaining Indigenous employees by classification—higher rated measures

Base: All respondents (% agree)

Leave to attend NAIDOC celebrations Indigenous staff networks Targeted learning and development opportunities Special leave provisions for ceremonial leave Indigenous specific training programs Indigenous specific study awards Encouragement to participate in Indigenous-specific events
APS 1-4 74.35 73.08 72.04 72.77 71.74 69.83 68.80
APS 5-6 78.04 78.05 79.42 74.08 76.06 75.82 75.93
EL 1 78.24 77.41 76.92 76.35 74.04 74.88 75.99
EL 2/SES 82.88 87.36 82.34 73.47 75.58 79.37 74.74
Overall 76.14 75.51 75.16 73.49 73.44 72.49 71.86

Examples of employee comments in relation to support for Indigenous APS employees to encourage retention include:

The (agency Indigenous staff support program) needs to be put into action and [not] . put on the shelf collecting dust – otherwise we will be waiting a long time for this to change in the way of keeping staff in positions.

Most of the initiatives can contribute. The question is do they. I believe more could be done if there was genuine support as opposed to being seen to be doing the right thing…More ‘damage’ is done when words and actions do not match.

Whilst a lot of Indigenous people want to work in Indigenous programs within agencies there are just as many Indigenous employees that need to try out their skills in the ‘mainstream’ programs and areas of APS agencies and not just pigeon holed into Indigenous client service delivery areas. They are truly an untapped resource that could be utilised more effectively in attracting ATSI people to the APS.

Figure 29: Impact of support measures on retaining Indigenous employees by classification—lower rated measures

Base: All respondents (% agree)

Mentoring Coaching Encouragement to participate in the Indigenous APS Employees' Network (IAPSEN) Buddy scheme Placement and/ or mobility options Indigenous HR Coordinator Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP)
APS 1-4 66.88 67.11 68.37 63.67 57.83 60.37 46.75
APS 5-6 74.75 69.96 69.60 65.60 68.11 58.68 44.29
EL 1 82.94 78.91 66.73 69.79 79.49 70.32 49.72
EL 2/SES 86.17 85.03 75.80 67.97 76.31 61.25 46.04
Overall 71.32 69.56 68.90 64.92 63.43 60.62 46.15

Key chapter findings

Over the last four years, there have been improvements in Indigenous employees’ perceptions regarding their agency’s active support for Indigenous employees, and for their colleagues’ ability to work effectively and sensitively with Indigenous Australians. Although the improvement in the latter area builds on very positive results in 2005, there appears to be scope to improve agency support and ensure that all agency employees are working effectively and sensitively with Indigenous Australians. Indigenous employees who were least likely to be positive about these issues were those working in large agencies, outside the ACT, with graduate qualifications and/or at the EL1 classification.

There is scope for considerable improvement in the promotion and provision of cultural awareness training for all employees.

  • Only half of Indigenous employees were aware of the availability of such training in their agency.
  • Developing, embedding and sustaining an organisational ethos within which all employees are attuned to cultural differences are critical components in creating supportive workplaces, not only for Indigenous staff but all APS employees as well as external stakeholders.

The 2009 Indigenous Census results demonstrate that there is an opportunity for agencies with an IES to promote them more effectively to staff. It is of concern that moderate proportions of Indigenous employees working in agencies with an IES are not sure whether such a strategy exists in their agency.

Indigenous employees reported that there was a range of support measures that could contribute to retaining Indigenous staff in the APS.

  • In some cases, the measures most likely to be nominated as effective in improving retention were also the ones that were easily accessible in agencies (i.e. leave to attend NAIDOC celebrations, Indigenous staff networks, and special leave provisions for ceremonial leave).
  • However, there appears to be an opportunity for agencies to place a greater focus on improving accessibility and encouraging Indigenous staff to make use of a wide range of other support measures such as targeted learning and development opportunities, Indigenous-specific training programs, and Indigenous-specific study awards (e.g. scholarships).
  • Encouragement to participate in Indigenous-specific events and mentoring may also assist in improving the retention of Indigenous employees.

Given employees’ views about support measures varied by classification, consideration should be given to targeting particular measures to different groups of Indigenous employees (e.g. placement and mobility options for EL and SES staff).


27 In the 2009 State of the Service agency survey, agencies were asked whether they had policies, strategies and/or frameworks in place that aim to ensure they have the workforce skills and capabilities needed for the next 1–5 years.

28 In the 2009 State of the Service agency survey, agencies were asked whether they had policies, strategies and/or frameworks in place that aim to ensure they have the workforce skills and capabilities needed for the next 1–5 years.

29 As reported by agencies in the 2009 State of the Service agency survey.

30 In 2009, the term ‘general employees’ was used and respondents were not offered a ‘not sure’ option, whereas in 2005 they were asked about ‘employees’ and 12% provided a response of ‘not sure’.

31 For more details regarding RAPs, check the Reconciliation Australia website at <http://www.reconciliation.org.au>.