Words by Margarita Escartin
Manager of Social Performance at QCoal Group
QCoal has always worked with its Aboriginal stakeholders to create and sustain employment and training opportunities across the business, since our very first operating mine commenced over a decade ago.
But when a pipeline of new projects crystalised the need to embed Indigenous participation across the business, it proved an ideal opportunity for stakeholders to revisit these initiatives, assess the successes and failures, and put in place a new and improved plan going forward.
We never could have imagined back then that our efforts would see us take out the award for Best Company Indigenous Employment and Training Initiative at the 2019 QRC Indigenous Awards.
It was through a participatory co-design process between QCoal Group and Jangga Operations that this new employment and training initiative was developed and implemented – the Thida Bullaroo One Foot After the Other program (thida bullaroo literally means ‘one foot after the other’ in Jangga language).
The design process commenced in 2013 and was implemented that same year, with a number of key goals in mind. To bring geographically dispersed Traditional Owners back to country through sustainable long-term employment opportunities; to create pathways from pre-vocational assessment to training and employment outcomes for work-ready
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates; and to sustain employment by facilitating a culturally safe and competent environment across all sites and business stakeholders.
Even in those first two years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment at the Northern Hub increased from less than 2% to 14% by December 2015. That’s nearly three times the Bowen Basin industry average.
The key? Using a people-centred, strengths-based approach to identifying and assessing potential Indigenous candidates through an intense pre-employment screening process and support program.
How the program works
The pre-employment screening process was undertaken by Jangga Operations – an Indigenous owned business that is a registered cultural heritage body, providing cultural heritage and environmental services, as well as supporting the Jangga People and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities with pre-vocational support, career guidance, job placement and workforce mentoring. The Thida Bullaroo program includes one-on-one interviews and development of career plans; works to identify prior experience, training and qualifications; and puts candidates through preliminary health, drug and alcohol checks to assess suitability for moving into the next phases of the program.
Another important element was working with the candidates and their immediate families to help them better appreciate and understand the reality of a DIDO lifestyle, for those not residing in towns close to operations. Because we know mining rosters and the DIDO life can be difficult for some people and doesn’t suit all family circumstances.
The rationale behind putting such a strong investment into a rigorous pre-employment process was that candidates who were motivated, socially stable, healthy and suitability qualified would be identified quickly. And these candidates would then receive further individual support to prepare resumes, undertake mock interviews and be fully prepared for presentation to recruiters for site contract operators to give them the best chance at success.
This also provided a long lead-in time to employment opportunities for those candidates requiring further training, more practical experience and personal support.
Candidates were then put forward to site contractors for roles for which they were suitably qualified – and they were given preference over non-Indigenous applicants, as long as they met all the position description criteria.
As well as this stringent pre-employment screening process, QCoal worked closely with existing and new site contractors to understand their current and future workforce requirements and they were notified of our commitments to employing Indigenous candidates.
Any training investment also did not rely upon government supported programs. The Jangga Byerwen Bursary, established by QCoal Group, was used to support identified candidates through medicals, site training and induction requirements and any further training needs.
Social and economic outcomes
As of 28 February 2019, QCoal sites employ a total of 53 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander personnel from a construction and operations workforce of about 1090 people. That equates to 5% of the total workforce – both above the ABS Mining (Qld) figure of 4.1% and above national parity. And once construction is completed and sites revert to an operations workforce only, this figure will increase.
We can also proudly share that over 16% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce has been in employment for 5 years or more and 37% for one to three years. And with an average annual wage of $120,000, yearly earnings of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander personnel across the business is $6,360,000. This is important because those wages are now flowing back to their families and into the community.
While the qualitative and or social impacts of sustained income on families and communities more broadly is difficult to determine, when assessed holistically against the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030 as a global blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all people, the achievements and impact of the initiative are significant – contributing to goals such as No Poverty (Goal 1), Zero Hunger (Goal 2), Health and Wellbeing (Goal 3), Quality Education (Goal 4) and Reduced Inequality (Goal 10).
The Thida Bullaroo saw about 40 participants complete training at various levels. Of those, 20 have moved into full-time employment outcomes – with some working on QCoal sites and others in full-time employment on other mine sites, infrastructure projects, local governments or service-related businesses.
A journey well worth pursuing
Looking back on the journey of developing and implementing this program, it has taken years of hard work and dedication both in the background and at the coal face to achieve the amazing outcomes we have today.
It’s wonderful to go to site and see traditional owners working on their country. They walk proud. People absolutely feel the joy because they’re on their land, whether they’re working on machinery or in cultural heritage work. It’s wonderful to see them so happy and succeeding as part of our workforce.
It takes a lot of time to bring all the pieces together. And without doubt it’s the strength of our relationships with stakeholders that has been integral to the program’s success – that enable us to navigate the peaks and troughs, and handle the sometimes robust but important discussions that need to be had.
And considering most of our mine sites are contract operators, we do rely on the buy-in and goodwill of our contractors to come along for the ride with us, and they do have to be a great cultural fit to make that happen.
At the end of the day, people are at the centre of all of this. And collectively, we’re working towards a common goal to offer a holistic approach and effect change by providing information, resources and a supportive environment to help local Indigenous community members move towards their own goals when it comes to gainful employment.
I think it’s really important that we turn to these success stories and share our learnings to create more successes like this elsewhere.
Yes, it takes time. But it’s a journey that is so worth pursuing.