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Bringing the APS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce strategy to life

Edition: 6

Rachael Jackson certainly knows the value of HR. An AHRI-Certified HR Practitioner with many years of experience and a member of the Stream’s SES Working Group, she knows exactly what HR can bring to the table and how it can influence an organisation for the better.

When she was named the inaugural Chief Operating Officer of the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA), which celebrated its first birthday in July, Rachael knew HR would be a key focus. ‘My focus ranges from making sure we are getting the basics right (setting up policies and procedures for the new agency) – to supporting organisational reform,’ she said. ‘As someone who has led HR functions in other agencies, I am keenly aware that the role of HR is crucial to supporting organisational performance and culture.’

One piece of work that Rachael and the NIAA has made a priority is partnering with the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) to implement the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Workforce Strategy 2020-2024. The Strategy aims to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples employees play a greater role in contributing to and building a diverse APS workforce – one that reflects and responds to the needs of the Australian community.

Importantly, the Strategy covers the Commonwealth, not just the APS. ‘Portfolio collaboration is going to be essential in ensuring the full coverage of the Strategy,’ Rachel emphasised. This includes partnering with other agencies – like how the NIAA is collaborating with Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies on the review of the APS cultural capability framework – but also with HR staff at every level. ‘It doesn’t matter if you have the best strategy in the world,’ Rachael explained, ‘if staff don’t take action on it. So I’m happy to share tips that can help HR staff live the strategy – no matter what area they work in.’ 

The first thing Rachael would like to see is increasing the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples employees at all levels in the APS. ‘But particularly increasing the representation in middle management, the executive levels and in senior leadership roles,’ Rachael said. ‘At NIAA, we’re fortunate to have 50% Indigenous representation in our senior leadership (SES Band 2s and Band 3s). We have more to do, increasing representation at EL levels, to support the pipeline to SES Band 1 and beyond.’

Rachael has clear reasoning as to why this is so important. ‘Diverse workplaces celebrate the range of thoughts and ideas to achieve innovation. As HR professionals, our central functions give us the opportunity to provide advice and influence the considerations of the business to ensure their work incorporates a cultural context and understanding. This means decisions are made through a cultural context lens, including recruitment decisions.’

Of course, this work should be facilitated and supported by appropriate training that is culturally sensitive and aware – for both HR professionals and other staff. ‘Part of the challenges involved in this include ensuring the systems are in place to support and encourage cultural integrity; that the employees in an organisation have an awareness and knowledge of Indigenous cultures and are supporting culturally safe workplaces where Indigenous staff can be heard. The role of Indigenous staff networks is crucial in this regard.’

Practical actions HR professionals can take to overcome the obstacles to embedding cultural integrity into everyday life include: undertaking learning experiences to build self-awareness, and developing programs that help staff understand cultural integrity and how it can be practiced in everyday work life.

For example, the NIAA has the Footprints program which embeds cultural awareness and capability into all business areas across the agency. ‘The Footprints program takes a professional standards learning approach, which encourages staff to undertake flexible learning activities that increase their knowledge and understanding of cultural histories of all backgrounds of all NIAA staff,’ Rachael explained. ‘All staff are on a cross-cultural learning journey through Footprints and are able to track their progress in attaining 100 continuous professional development (CPD) points. They can do this by participating in interactive learning activities like cultural immersion, self-guided learning activities like CORE: Cultural Learning Training, or reflective activities like attending official events or reading articles and facilitating a discussion session.’

But if there’s one thing that Rachael wants us as HR professionals to remember, it’s this: ‘Our remit as professionals goes beyond the conventional HR. We need to be expansive in our approach to all aspects of the employee journey within an organisation. The advice we provide and the expertise we bring can positively uplift and affect the experience of employees, particularly when we incorporate deeper understanding of our cultural awareness in everything we do.’

You can check out the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Workforce Strategy 2020-2024 on the APSC website.

Last reviewed: 
17 November 2020