A vision for Indigenous employment 

Leon Morris

A man who has spent his life working in Indigenous affairs in government and non-government organisations shared his vision for a skilled Indigenous workforce during the Charles Darwin Symposium in Alice Springs on Friday.

Mr Leon Morris advised that his views did not necessarily reflect government policy, but were based on his current role and understanding as Director of Indigenous Economic Development, Department of Business, Economic and Regional Development, Northern Territory Government.

Mr Morris said the NT had particular challenges in finding productive economic activity for 28,641 of the 33,304-strong Indigenous population aged between 15 and 64.

In the NT urban area, 11,249 Indigenous people were of working age, of which 2751 were employed, he said.

Some 22,055 Indigenous people of working age lived in the remote areas of NT, of which 1912 were employed.

Mr Morris said that in considering the question of increasing employment rates in Indigenous communities, it was important to remember that a one-size-fits-all approach would not be effective.

An important starting point was to recognise and acknowledge difference, and to concentrate on developing a range of choices and opportunities for business and employment in urban and remote areas.

Mr Morris urged people involved in developing Indigenous employment to: Work in partnerships, be involved in two-way listening, build on strengths, foster role models, celebrate success, be prepared to take risks (and fail), learn from success and failure, and be flexible.

The current skills shortages in the thriving Australian economy created many mainstream opportunities for Indigenous communities, including in the retail and service industries, construction, mining and pastoral industries and in small business.

New and innovative approaches to Indigenous business needed to be adopted, particularly where there was a competitive advantage based on land ownership, intellectual property and motivation to work. Significant opportunities should be fostered in natural resource management, knowledge and research and the arts, he said.

He suggested that business and government acknowledge and explore alternate labour practices such as part-time work, seasonal work, consultancies, and labour pools, including investigating mixed or multi-sector suites of employment and productive economic activity.

Mr Morris urged the adoption of systematic frameworks for maximising Indigenous employment outcomes from government procurement and private sector activity.

Training should be linked to job outcomes. He suggested that the approach to Indigenous employment should involve “Backwards Mapping” in which job opportunities were identified and skill sets defined, skills audits were conducted, training was tailored to meet the skill gap, and a transition-to-work plan included on-going support and mentoring.