In response to the 2015 Review of Indigenous Training and Employment Programmes, chaired by Andrew Forrest, the Government agreed to an Indigenous employment target for all Commonwealth agencies of 3 per cent by 2018.
To support the Commonwealth public sector achieve its target representation, the Australian Public Service Commission, after extensive consultation, developed the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy 2015- 2018.
The Strategy, and target, applies across the entire Commonwealth public sector, including the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Federal Police with a total reach of over 300,000 employees. The Strategy focuses on four key action areas:
- Expand the range of Indigenous employment opportunities
- Invest in developing the capability of Indigenous employees
- Increase the representation of Indigenous employees in senior roles
- Improve the awareness of Indigenous culture in the workplace.
The Strategy addresses the priority to build Indigenous employment within the Commonwealth public sector, and it is due to expire at the end of 2018.
The APSC has conducted a formative evaluation to report on progress of the actions within, and to assist in informing future direction prior to, and after the cessation of the strategy. High level findings and areas for future focus are below.
- At 30 June 2017, the Australian Public Service Workforce has 3.2 per cent Indigenous representation, or 4,821 employees. This is both the highest number and highest proportion of Indigenous employees the APS has had over the last 15 years.
- Over the lifetime of the Strategy, the representation of Indigenous employees in the Commonwealth public sector has increased from 2.2 per cent at 30 June 2015 to 2.7 per cent at 30 June 2017. This is an overall increase of 1,332 employees, or 19.4 per cent.
- This is a positive indicator of the success of the strategy given that the overall size of the Commonwealth public sector has decreased by 1.1 per cent, or 3,271 employees, over the same period.
Source: APSED, Employee Census, Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy Survey. Note: Data from the Employee census is anonymous.
- So far, 17 agencies have achieved their individual Indigenous representation targets of 2.5 per cent or higher. However, at 30 June 2017, 43 Commonwealth agencies had no employees that identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. Eighteen of these agencies had less than 50 employees; 11 had 50 or more employees but less than 100; and 14 agencies had 100 or more employees.
- The Strategy aims to not only increase representation of Indigenous employees overall, but also to focus efforts to increase representation of Indigenous employees in senior roles specifically. APS agencies have seen improvements in this area, with the number and proportion of Indigenous employees at Senior Executive Service classifications having increased to 0.6 per cent, or 27 employees, at 30 June 2017.
- 69.3 per cent of Indigenous respondents to the 2017 APS Employee Census feel secured within their current role and almost 75 per cent reported that they enjoy their work and are satisfied with their current job.
- Currently, the APS relies heavily on entry level recruitment to increase the representation of Indigenous employees. As a result, 86.6 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were engaged at or below the APS 4 level in 2016-17.
- There has been a steady decline in the proportion of Indigenous staff at the APS 5-6 Classifications across the APS. At its highest point in 2011, 26.7 per cent of Indigenous staff in the APS were employed at the APS 5-6 Classifications. This figure has now dropped to 23.1 per cent at June 30 2017.
- Alongside this, the number and proportion of Indigenous staff at the Executive Level is also declining. In 2011, 12.3 per cent of Indigenous staff in the APS were employed at the Executive Level classifications - a number which has fallen to 9 per cent currently.
- APSED data shows that Indigenous employees accounted for 3.1 per cent of all promotions during 2016-17. Almost half (49.9 per cent) of promotions of Indigenous employees were at or below the APS 4 classification.
- In the 2017 APS Employee Census, 1 in 5 Indigenous employees reported being subject to bulling and harassment.
- In the 2017 APS Employee Census 31.9 per cent of Indigenous employees have reported discrimination in their current or previous agency.
- The median length of service for Indigenous employees is 7 years. This is 4 years lower than the APS wide median length of service of 11 years.
Whilst the Strategy has had a significant impact in increasing employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, a collaborative and strategic effort is still required to continuously improve the outcomes of diversity groups within our workforce.
Without a shift in mindset from measuring success only through representation, Indigenous staff will continue to be disproportionality represented across the Commonwealth. Between now and the cessation of the Strategy, Commonwealth Public Sector organisations are encouraged to consider the following recommendations and give careful consideration to areas highlighted for future action. These areas can be a useful starting point for agencies to examine and understand their own specific areas for improvement.
- Agencies should engage with their portfolio Department when developing, reviewing and implementing initiatives to progress the actions with the Strategy. Portfolio Departments and their senior leaders should make an ongoing commitment to drive sustainable change to improve the overall representation and employment outcomes of Indigenous employees.
- Agencies are encouraged to continually re-assess their targets and action plans to ensure that they are not only increasing the number of Indigenous employees, but are effective in strategically improving the opportunities afforded, to ensure the engagement, satisfaction and retention of Indigenous employees is maintained.
- Agencies need to build internal reporting and data capability to better understand their workforce demographics. This will assist in embedding diversity and inclusion into everyday work practices.
- Agencies that make a strategic commitment to using data to inform policy are likely to see improvements in overall representation and ultimately progress long term outcomes that will be sustainable in the future. To this end further consideration should be given to job classifications and job functions where Indigenous representation is disproportional within individual Agencies.
- Agencies should not rely solely on entry level recruitment as a means of improving Indigenous representation. A concerted effort is required to increase the representation of Indigenous Australians in senior roles within the APS. More innovative and flexible approaches to recruitment, retention, and development need to be utilised to bring about meaningful and lasting cultural change.
- It is paramount that agencies consider lateral recruitment opportunities, internal mobility and contemporary recruitment practices to attract, engage, and retain Indigenous employees.
- Culture change needs to continue to be at the forefront of an agencies agenda to improve awareness and capability across agencies. This will assist in reducing bullying and harassment whilst ultimately providing a culturally safe environment for Indigenous employees.
- Safety mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure that those who report bullying and harassment are protected, and to address unintended discrimination across all aspects of business.
- Manager capability is a foundational APS issue which needs to be broadly addressed within agencies to improve outcomes for people from diverse backgrounds. Agencies should consider ensuring all managers are culturally competent and trained in addressing bias in decision making processes.
The APSC will conduct a full summative evaluation at the cessation of the Strategy. This process will involve detailed consultation with agencies, Indigenous employees, and the Indigenous SES network to understand the perception of the effectiveness of targets and the overall success of the strategy. The consultation process will assist shape the Commonwealth Public Sector’s future agenda relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment.
Agencies should celebrate their successes thus far, but also acknowledge areas where they can improve and take action to do so. In this way, the Commonwealth Public Sector can reaffirm our commitment to not only increasing representation but also driving meaningful and lasting cultural change to improve employment outcomes and opportunities for Indigenous Australians.