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Can construction industry training partnerships drive sustainable change for Indigenous communities?

Learn how targeted pre-employment programs are helping to build brighter futures for First Nations people in NSW’s Hunter Region

 

A bespoke pre-employment training program has equipped members of Indigenous communities in the Hunter Region of NSW with valuable skills, qualifications and experience working in the construction industry.

Fulton Hogan led the recent three-week program following its appointment to design and construct one of the region’s largest public infrastructure projects. The training was partly funded by the NSW Government’s Smart and Skilled Prevocational and Part Qualifications program, and delivered in partnership with Coates, a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) and accredited Smart and Skilled provider, the Aboriginal Resources Group (ARG) and its sister company, Goanna Services.

“The program initially focused on work health and safety and risk management, before developing hands-on skills and competence working with small tools and equipment, heavy equipment like rollers and skid-steers, and working at heights,” says Coates Training Manager, Paul McDonough. “All nine of the participants are now working on the bypass project, with five directly employed by Fulton Hogan and four engaged by subcontractors.”

Can training programs help to close the gap?

To foster Indigenous economic development, Australia has adopted state and federal Indigenous employment policies like the NSW Aboriginal Procurement Policy (APP) and the National Indigenous Procurement Policy (IPP). These and other policies set goals for Indigenous employment, procurement, training, engagement and consultation on major government projects.

Through the creation of Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP), many Australian businesses are also committed to increasing procurement from Indigenous-owned businesses, and delivering education and employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Beyond meeting these goals and delivering on diversity and inclusion commitments, pre-employment training programs are an important tool for driving sustainable social impact. “Through targeted upskilling, this program provided gateway opportunities for nine Indigenous workers to enter the construction industry,” says Paul. “Longer-term, this type of program can also help to create new career pathways and other development opportunities.”

Designing targeted programs for sustainable change

The construction industry is uniquely positioned to support the social and economic growth of Indigenous-owned businesses, First Peoples and their communities. Andrew Craig, Workforce Development and Training Manager for Fulton Hogan, believes the current infrastructure boom provides the ideal climate in which to do this.

“Many aspects of construction require highly skilled workers, but there is also a significant need for entry-level programs to train people to enter the industry. Large infrastructure projects allow construction businesses to get new boots on the ground and drive Indigenous skills development and job readiness,” says Andrew. “These projects can also create targeted opportunities for new workers to learn from others in the industry, and to continue building the experience they need to become the next generation of highly skilled workers.”

While skills development is important, the ability to transition into paid employment is critical for long-term outcomes. “Although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are often highly trained, they remain over-represented in unemployment figures,” says Andrew. “People are the heart of our business, and we understand how important it is to have a highly trained and diverse workforce. But to avoid delivering training for training’s sake, these types of programs must be closely linked to employment outcomes.”

“When we provide training, we try to look further than the needs of any particular project,” says Andrew. “We also try to think more broadly about finding people that can emerge from these programs and thrive working in this environment.”

Building partnerships for success

Industry alliances are another important ingredient for delivering successful training programs, and it was important for Fulton Hogan to choose partners with connections to community, experience working across industry and the ability to deliver the right people and the skills.

“Training isn’t just about high participation rates. It’s about finding individuals who are well-suited to working in this industry, and we need to lean on our partnerships to do this,” says Andrew. “With deep connections to local Indigenous communities, ARG and Goanna Services did most of the heavy lifting to find the right people and to apply aptitude and pre-employment testing for a good long-term fit.”

“Partnering with Coates then allowed us to train these individuals and pass on the necessary skills and experience for nationally recognised qualifications,” Andrew continues. “Not everyone who wants to work in construction suits a classroom environment, but Coates managed to deliver the training in an engaging way that kept everyone interested in what they were learning.”

Partnerships also allow Indigenous service providers like Goanna Services to work alongside industry, supporting customers in meeting their Indigenous participation goals, delivering on their values and securing diverse and work-ready employees.

“Over the past decade we have assisted hundreds of Aboriginal, local and youth cohorts to start their career working on a range of projects and we continue to work with Coates to upskill a diverse range of construction industry workers,” says Corey Robertson, Managing Director for Goanna Services. “These programs help construction businesses to meet their diversity and inclusion aspirations. They also create career pathways and other important opportunities for Indigenous Australians and their communities.”


Call Coates on 13 15 52 to discuss your training needs, or find out more about Government funded training opportunities near you.

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