12/11/2008 - 22:00

Indigenous work focus

12/11/2008 - 22:00


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TAPPING into the unemployed local working age population is an option being explored by Western Australian businesses to ease the skills shortage.

TAPPING into the unemployed local working age population is an option being explored by Western Australian businesses to ease the skills shortage.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA chief executive James Pearson said the current working age population that was not employed could almost cover the 150,000-worker shortfall forecast by CCIWA for 2017.

"If we are able to lift the female participation in the Australian workforce to the average level of the top 10 OECD economies' female participation rates, halfway in the top 10, we would probably find 100,000 workers," Mr Pearson said.

And he said there would be great social and economic benefits to be had by including some of the large population of currently unemployed indigenous Western Australians in the workforce.

"Let's think about the longest and the hardest problem, indigenous Western Australians. I am told that there are probably around 20,000 or so of working age, but by no means work-ready indigenous Western Australians," Mr Pearson said.

"They [businesses] need to work closely with government; the social benefits would be fantastic. One of the best things you can do for someone is to lift them out of poverty."

IR and HR manager for BHP Billiton Iron Ore, Dave Sproule, said businesses were trying hard to involve more indigenous Western Australians in their operations.

"We have plenty of programs but there are limits to what the employers can do,'' he said.

"There's a whole range of issues; there's health, literacy, the very fact that a Western workforce and a Western management structure doesn't really suit an indigenous culture...it's a complex issue."

There have been several successful programs in the past year.

Brandrill managing director Ken Perry has been working with the not-for-profit organisation, Clontarf Foundation, which uses football in an effort to keep young indigenous boys in education, preparing and helping them to find full employment.

Clontarf recently received more than $300,000 from Alcoa of Australia to open a new academy in Kwinana, with numbers having grown from 25 in its first year to 1,380 in 2008.

"We're working with them about taking those guys in steady employment," Mr Perry said.

Clontarf also works with Alcoa to establish long-term relationships, which help to put its students in full-time employment.

In July, the Perth engineering company Macmahon Holdings announced the formation of a new Aboriginal contracting business, Doorn-Djil Yoordaning Mining and Construction, designed to tap into the indigenous workforce.

Newmont Asia Pacific has implemented indigenous employment programs at the Jundee Gold Mine, near Wiluna.

The company introduced the program while working in partnership with the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations on the Future Leaders Program, and achieved its target of 100 additional indigenous employees across Australia over two years.

BHP Billiton's commitment to an indigenous contractor-operated mine by June 2008 has come to fruition, with Ngarda Civil and Mining managing and operating the Yarrie Iron Ore Mine since April.


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