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Indigenous employment

In July 2012, a new iteration of the APS Indigenous Employment Strategy was launched, with the support and endorsement of the Diversity Council and Secretaries Board. The new strategy, which the Australian Public Service Commission (the Commission) led on behalf of the APS, supports agencies to increase Indigenous representation through a range of targeted activities. It included the Pathways to Employment programs for Indigenous graduates, cadets and trainees, provided a whole-of-APS approach to entry-level recruitment, and complemented agencies' own Indigenous recruitment activities.

In 2012–13, the Commission worked in partnership with more than 40 agencies to provide employment pathways for 117 Indigenous Australians through the APS Indigenous Pathways Program. The program promoted the APS as an employer of choice to Indigenous job seekers and provided entry-level opportunities for Indigenous trainees (64), cadets (24) and

graduates (29).

The APS Indigenous Employment Strategy also strengthened the role of the Commission's Indigenous Liaison Officers to include pre and post-recruitment support and advice for Indigenous candidates, regular interaction with agency HR areas and the creation of partnerships with Indigenous employee networks across Australia, including in regional areas.

The Commission also focused on coordinating Indigenous engagement and employment by providing a strategic view on the intersection between Indigenous policies, programs, administration and Indigenous culture. In particular, the Commission sought opportunities to partner with agencies to develop an ongoing and sustainable approach to Indigenous employment in the APS, by engaging directly with senior leaders, agency heads and Secretaries and assisting them to build their internal capabilities on Indigenous employment.

In 2009, under the auspices of the Council of Australian Governments, the Australian Government committed to increase Indigenous employment in the Commonwealth public sector—including the APS—to 2.7% by 2015, to reflect the projected national Indigenous working age population share.3 This commitment forms part of the broader ‘Closing the Gap’ agenda, aimed at halving the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 2018.

At 30 June 2013, 2.3% of the total APS workforce identified as Indigenous on their agencies' HR systems, the same as at 30 June 2012. Over the long term, representation of Indigenous employees in the APS has declined from 2.8% in 2002.

In absolute terms, the number of employees identifying as Indigenous increased by eight, from 3,838 in June 2012 to 3,846 in June 2013. This is due to an increase in ongoing Indigenous employees, with the number of non-ongoing Indigenous employees declining by 38 from 519 in June 2012 to 481 in June 2013. Table 5.1 shows the changes in Indigenous representation from 2009 to 2013 for ongoing and non-ongoing employees.

Table 5.1 Representation of Indigenous ongoing and non-ongoing employees, 2009 to 2013
Employment type June
2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Source: APSED
Indigenous employees (ongoing and non-ongoing) (%) 2.4 2.5 2.3 2.3 2.3
Indigenous employees (ongoing) (%) 2.3 2.3 2.2 2.2 2.2

Indigenous Australians in the broader community have a much younger age profile than the Australian population, with the median age of Indigenous Australians 21 years, compared with 38 years for non-Indigenous Australians.4 While this age difference is less pronounced in the APS workforce, Indigenous employees in the APS are still, on average, younger than non-Indigenous employees (39 years compared with 43 years).

The APS Indigenous workforce is predominantly female, with Indigenous women comprising more than two-thirds (67.1%) of ongoing Indigenous employees. This representation is higher than the representation of women in the broader APS workforce, with women comprising 59.1% of ongoing non-Indigenous employees. This is consistent with workforce data from 2011–12, when 67.1% of Indigenous and 58.8% of non-Indigenous APS employees were women.

Jawun Indigenous partnerships

Jawun is a not-for-profit organisation managing secondments from corporate and government partners to Indigenous organisations, where APS employees share their knowledge and expertise. The Jawun Program is managed by the Commission on behalf of the APS.

For APS agencies and secondees, the secondments have resulted in:

  • positive outcomes for the Indigenous communities
  • increased cultural awareness and personal and professional development for the secondee
  • increased cultural awareness and broader awareness of Indigenous matters within the agency.

During 2012–13, 38 APS employees from 17 agencies undertook secondments in Indigenous organisations under the Jawun Program.

Engagements and job attraction

The number of ongoing Indigenous employee engagements remained relatively stable this year, with 380 Indigenous employees engaged (consistent with 382 engagements in 2011–12). However, Figure 5.2 shows that as a proportion of all engagements, Indigenous employee engagements increased from 3.4% in 2011–12 to 5.0% 2012–13.

Figure 5.2 Engagements and separations—Indigenous employees, 2004 to 2013

Source: APSED

The majority of Indigenous employee engagements (87.1%) over this year were at entry levels (trainees, graduates and APS 1, 2, 3 and 4 classifications), which may reflect the focus on entry-level recruitment through the Pathways to Employment programs introduced in the past year. Two per cent of engagements at APS 5 to 6 levels were Indigenous and 0.7% at Executive Level (EL).

In the employee census, employees are asked what factors attracted them to their current job. Sixty per cent of Indigenous employees indicated that the opportunity to provide service to diversity groups was important, and 65% indicated that service to the general public was important. There is a marked difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous employees on these aspects of APS employment. Twenty-four per cent of non-Indigenous employees indicated that service to diversity groups was an important attraction to their current job and 52% indicated service to the general public.

These results may reflect the concentration of Indigenous employees in agencies responsible for delivering services predominantly to, or working with, Indigenous communities. Table 5.2 shows that the five agencies with the largest proportion of Indigenous employees all have significant Indigenous responsibilities.

Table 5.2 Agencies with the largest proportion of Indigenous employees, 20135
Agency Indigenous employees (%)
Source: APSED
Aboriginal Hostels Ltd 73.1
Torres Strait Regional Authority 62.0
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies 23.2
Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs 9.6
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations 6.0

The employment experience

Figure 5.3 shows that, consistent with last year's results, Indigenous employees were slightly more engaged than non-Indigenous employees, suggesting the employment experience for Indigenous Australians is similar to that of other APS employees. The employee census also shows that the highest proportion of APS Indigenous employees were employed in service delivery roles (33% compared with 18% of non-Indigenous employees). Given the importance of service to diversity groups and service to the public as attraction features of APS employment for Indigenous employees, employment in service delivery likely has a positive impact on Indigenous employee engagement.

Figure 5.3 Employee engagement—Indigenous and non-Indigenous employees, 2012 and 2013

Source: Employee census

The high representation of Indigenous employees in service delivery roles is due, in part, to the large proportion of Indigenous employees based outside of the Australian Capital Territory (70.7% compared with 59.5% of non-Indigenous employees).

Indigenous employees are also more likely to be employed at lower classification levels, with around 58.0% at APS 4 or below. Just 1.8% of APS 5 to 6 employees, 1.0% of EL and 0.7% of the Senior Executive Service (SES) identify as Indigenous. The reasons for this lower classification profile are complex and likely a mix of historic factors, agencies' reliance on entry-level recruitment, Indigenous employees' tendency for shorter APS careers (discussed in more detail in the next section), disclosure rates, location and job type.

Many agencies have recognised the importance of Indigenous cultural awareness training to improve the understanding of traditional and contemporary Indigenous cultures and the lived experience of Indigenous Australians today. The majority of agencies (62%) have indicated that they had or were developing Indigenous cultural awareness training. The training that was provided was through face-to-face activities (39% as part-day and 29% as one or more days of training) or e-learning platforms (32% of agencies).

Almost 74% of APS agencies encouraged employees to participate in cultural events as a measure to improve the retention of Indigenous employees. Cultural events included Reconciliation Week and National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week.

Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC)—building Indigenous cultural awareness

DIAC developed its Indigenous cultural awareness e-learning program to build employee understanding and awareness of contemporary and traditional Indigenous cultures. The program was developed in-house after extensive consultation with Indigenous employees and relevant external parties.

It combines text, audio, interactive elements, video and story-telling. The program incorporates Aboriginal waterholes artwork to represent the learning journey and focuses on celebrating Indigenous cultures.

DIAC recognised that providing cultural awareness training through an e-learning platform would be more cost and resource-effective than face-to-face training and enable the department to make the training mandatory for all employees—including SES—regardless of location. At 30 June 2013, almost 70% of DIAC's workforce had completed the training.

In a collaborative effort to build Indigenous cultural awareness across the APS, DIAC has committed to share its e-learning program with other agencies. DIAC currently has a memorandum of understanding with two APS agencies for use of the program and negotiations with other agencies (including a range of small agencies) are underway.

Intention to leave and separations

As with the APS overall, separations of Indigenous employees slowed in 2012–13. Encouragingly, unlike previous years, the number of such separations this year did not outweigh the number of Indigenous employee engagements. Last year, the overall separation rate for Indigenous employees was nearly double that of the APS rate. During 2012–13, there were 332 separations of ongoing Indigenous employees, representing an overall separation rate of 9.9% compared with 6.3% for the APS overall. As a proportion of all ongoing APS separations, Indigenous employee separations dropped to 3.5%, down from 4.2% in 2011–12. Resignation continues to be the most common separation type for Indigenous employees, representing 64.5% of Indigenous employee separations (compared with 46.3% for the broader APS). This was followed by retrenchments, with 17.5% of Indigenous employees separating in this way compared with 27.9% for the APS overall.

To maintain diversity during periods of workforce restructure, the Diversity Council recommended that agencies establish processes to monitor retrenchments to ensure particular groups are not disproportionately represented, and provide redeployment options and tailored support. Where previously Indigenous employees were disproportionately represented in retrenchments, this year they represented 2.2% of all retrenchments, which more closely reflects Indigenous representation in the APS.

While the overall gap between Indigenous employee separations and APS separations has narrowed, Indigenous employees continue to separate earlier in their careers than do non-Indigenous employees. During 2012–13, 20.5% of Indigenous employees who separated from the APS did so less than one year after engagement, almost four times the rate of non-Indigenous employees (5.9%). It is concerning that this rate increased from 16.5% last year.

In light of this, the Commission's Indigenous Liaison Officers are giving increased priority to providing support to new Indigenous employees and establishing partnerships with employee networks, including in regional areas, to ensure new recruits have the support and peer networks they need.

Despite the difference in separation rates, Indigenous employees are no more likely than non-Indigenous employees to indicate an immediate or short-term intention to leave their agency. The marked difference in intention to leave and actual separation rates for Indigenous employees suggests further research is needed.

In early 2013, the Commission, endorsed by the Diversity Council, rolled out APS-wide entry and exit surveys to collect valuable attraction and retention information from new APS employees and those leaving the service. The surveys are available to all agencies through the Commission. While the surveys collect data from all employees who choose to participate, they also help the APS to better understand the underlying factors influencing some critical employment trends for Indigenous employees and employees with disability. The information collected will help the APS to develop targeted approaches to attracting and retaining employees in a number of workforce segments, including diversity groups. To date, 49 agencies have requested information on including these surveys in their entry and exit processes and 196 completed surveys have been received. The completed entry surveys span 16 agencies and completed exit surveys have been received from 17 agencies.


3 Council of Australian Governments, National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Economic Participation, (2009), http://employment.gov.au/national-partnership-agreement-indigenous-economic-participation.

4 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Census of Population and Housing 2011, Community Profile, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2001), http://www.abs.gov.au/.

5 Of agencies with more than 100 employees.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018