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Closing the Gap Report highlights employment challenge for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

February 13, 2018

Yesterday the Prime Minister released the Closing the Gap Report 2018 highlighting the significant challenge ahead in providing employment opportunities to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders that in turn provides them with a livelihood and advancement in living standards.

In 2016, the unemployment rate for Indigenous people of working age was 18.4 per cent, 2.7 times the non-Indigenous unemployment rate (6.8 per cent). The unemployment rate is unfortunately an increase from 15.6 per cent in 2006 and 17.2 per cent in 2011.

In short the Report confirms that we are not on track in meeting the official Closing the Gap employment target of:

Halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade (by 2018)

Progress against this target is measured using data on the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders of workforce age (15-64 years) who are employed (the employment-to-population ratio).

Disappointingly the Indigenous employment rate fell over the past decade, from 48.0 per cent in 2006 to 46.6 per cent in 2016. Over the same period, the non-Indigenous employment rate was broadly stable, around 72 per cent. As a result, the gap has actually widened by 1.5 percentage points to 25.2 percentage points over the past decade.

The employment target is complicated by the cessation of the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP).   CDEP was a Commonwealth employment program in which participants were paid CDEP wages (derived from income support) to participate in activity or training. CDEP participants were previously classified as being employed, overstating employment outcomes.

The report states that by focusing on changes in the non-CDEP employment rate over time we can get a more accurate sense of labour market developments. If CDEP participants are excluded from those employed in 2006, the Indigenous employment rate falls by 5.6 percentage points to 42.4 per cent. Given that the 2016 employment rate was 46.6 per cent, this represents a 4.2 percentage point improvement over the past decade.

Regardless of methodology though the gap remains the size of the Simpson Desert for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders which is truly sobering as they represent a fantastic and very capable workforce.

Benefits that the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Employ Outside the Box Report lists are considerable and include:

  • Employing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander may open up a growing market for products and services.
  • Pre-employment training provided for Indigenous workers can be beneficial to non-Indigenous workers as well.

  • In regional areas, the connection with local communities can be strengthened and Indigenous Australians can be more committed to working locally.

  • Respond to the changing ethnic profile of your customers and the need to reflect this in the workforce.

  • Market your business as an employer of choice by promoting diversity in the workforce and enabling an inclusive and socially responsible work environment.

  • Demonstrating strong corporate citizenship may assist in gaining a market edge with key clients and enhance the public reputation of your organisations.

  • Organisations will gain new skills and knowledge from training and working with Indigenous employees.

  • Youthful workforce with the potential to be long term employees.

  • Build cultural diversity in your workforce.

  • Access to government funding and assistance with regards to training, recruiting and retaining Indigenous employees.

In summary, the Queensland economy is slowly transitioning from excess labour capacity to a period whereby skill and labour shortages will start to emerge again.  It would be great to see this transition smoothed by the uptake of employing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.  True Closing the Gap at its foundation has to rely on employment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders that provides them a livelihood and ability to bridge this divide.

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