One of the most prevalent concerns I hear from employers is this:
“We can’t find any Aboriginal applicants”
“I’ve never had any Aboriginal people apply for our vacancies”
I see and hear this at many of the forums I attend, and short talks I give across Sydney, the Hunter, and the Central Coast. Employers advertise jobs. They don’t get any Aboriginal applicants, even when they would happily accept Aboriginal applicants. This happens job after job, vacancy after vacancy.
I know most Australian employers want to do more for Aboriginal employment but just don’t know how. They don’t know what they’re doing, or not doing, that is getting them such poor results. And, it certainly isn’t helping them make progress against their Aboriginal employment goals. How, they ask me, can they grow their Aboriginal staff numbers if they can’t find any applicants?
The good news is that it doesn’t need to be this way. There are things you can do that will help you get applications from Aboriginal people. Smart, qualified, experienced Aboriginal people, as well as keen whipper snappers looking for a start.
But before we talk about how you can get on the right track, it’s worth looking at the problem a little closer to see what is really going on; what’s happening that is holding you back from finding Aboriginal applicants.
How do you find Aboriginal applicants?
You advertise a job vacancy as per usual, place it on Seek, maybe the paper (does anyone use the paper anymore?), advertise on your website, maybe your social media pages, and…*crickets*…you don’t get any Aboriginal applicants.
Some times an employer needs to fill a ‘targeted’ job with an Aboriginal person. This job’s purpose is to service Aboriginal clients, so they advertise for an Aboriginal person, but don’t get any Aboriginal applicants.
They’re left with a decision to either leave the job vacant indefinitely, or fill with a non-Indigenous person. Both of these options have impacts on servicing for Aboriginal clients and communities, and the employer’s reputation in local Aboriginal communities.
If the job is left vacant, the rest of the team picks up the workload. Clients get under serviced and community members notice. If, on the other hand, the job is filled with a non-Indigenous person then servicing is also compromised. All of this can make attracting Aboriginal applicants even harder next time.
It doesn’t work, so you try harder
So at some point, the manager makes a decision that they must fill this vacancy with an Aboriginal person. They call, email, send up smoke signals to every Aboriginal person they know. They ask them if they’re interested in the job themselves, if they can make any referrals. Do they know anyone who can do this job?!
The manager attends forums (often for the first time) to tell people about the vacancy. They mention how important Aboriginal staff and community are to the organisation. They spend time and money on finding some (any!) Aboriginal applicants. They try the things they know. The things they’ve seen others do.
Employers try lots of things. Some are obviously more effective than others. Maybe they copy what other organisations are doing and advertise the vacancy with some Aboriginal art on it. Dots, red, black and yellow… Maybe they try something else. Maybe they get some joy.
Some employers can afford to contract a recruiter to find someone for their roles. Some turn to employment services - jobactive and disability employment services - with their vacancies.
Even if you're super committed to this, happy to run around and use your own networks, what happens when you leave the organisation? What if no one else wants to do what you've been willing to do. Nothing happens. Nothing changes.
It’s not us, it’s you
Because chasing people who don't know you or don't want to work with you won't get you very far with Aboriginal employment. It'll be a constant slog, job after job.
But that’s the problem. And, let me be clear here. If Aboriginal people aren’t applying for jobs with you, it’s not, as some people may think, that Aboriginal people don’t want to work. It’s not that we don’t live where you do. And, it’s not that we’re hanging around waiting for a job to drop in our lap.
If we’re not applying for jobs with you, it’s most likely because we don’t want to work for you. Either because we don’t know you, or we don’t know you as a supportive employer of Aboriginal people. The good news is both of these are completely fixable.
Aboriginal staff are a hot commodity. There are increasing community demands and government expectations around corporate social responsibility. Reconciliation Actions Plans, Indigenous employment, procurement and participation policies are all growing in popularity. Not least because people and employers across the country are recognising the business and social benefits of improving employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
But, some employers, in their efforts to recruit Aboriginal staff, repeatedly do the same thing over and over expecting a different result. They run around and spend precious time and energy trying to fill one vacancy. And, at best, they find a handful of Aboriginal applicants, but more than likely just one or two.
And they have to do it all over again. Every time they want to recruit another Aboriginal staff member.
And, if they don’t, if they follow their standard recruitment processes, their Aboriginal staff numbers go down. And they never reach their goals.
Does this sound like a smart way to work towards your Aboriginal employment goals? Does this sound like it will change our workplaces and our nation for the better? Will this deliver long term results? The kind of results that will change lives?
Not to me it doesn’t.
You need a system
If you want to find Aboriginal applicants - or better yet, have them find you - you need to change the way you approach finding Aboriginal staff.
Call me a nerd, if you wish (really, I don’t mind), but I’m a big believer in systems. Work hard, once. Then tinker until you get an optimum result.
I believe in setting up systems and structures that will deliver consistent results. Consistently good results. Consistently better results. Until you nail it.
Good systems don’t come easily, but it’s not as hard as many people think. And, it’s certainly not as hard as the alternative. Anyone who works with any kind of system knows that you need to design it, set it up, and then make changes to improve the system and the outputs. Then you can enjoy the benefits.
Think of your local book shop. When you want to find a book (as I’m prone to do), you go to your local (online?) bookshop. As long as you’re clear on the kind of book you want, you can find those kind of books easily. Once you find the right section, you can browse and use your own selection process to decide on the best book for you. This is simply because the books are organised. The books are where you expect them to be, based on a system. This system has taken many years to design, and it took someone time initially to set up in your book shop. But now it’s done, it’s easy for you to find the right book. If no one had taken the time to set up the system, either the entire method (whether that’s by author or the Dewey Decimal System) or arranging the physical books on shelves, it would be difficult to find the book you want. Systems make finding things easier.
In this case, what employers need is a system that delivers Aboriginal applicants for vacancies. They need to know that when they advertise a role, whether it's just for Aboriginal people or not, that Aboriginal people will see the job ad and apply. That Aboriginal people are likely to see the job ad, and then think 'I'd like to work there', and 'I'm going to give that a go’, and even better, “I’ve heard wonderful things about that place and I want to be a part of it.”
5 Basic Principles
Here’s five basic principles that will help you create a system to consistently deliver Aboriginal applicants for your vacancies.
1. Start earlier
By the time you have a vacancy - it’s too late. You need to start looking for candidates well before you have a vacancy. Otherwise it’ll continue to be urgent, a rush to find someone. When you start thinking about how to get Aboriginal applicants before you need them, you have a chance to be smart, strategic about how you do this. You can consider options, test and refine based on what works. In fact, the best time to start is right now. You want to start now so that when you get a vacancy you already have some hot leads for candidates.
2. Why should we work for you?
You’ll need a message. A pitch. This pitch needs to resonate with Aboriginal people in your target market. It needs to clearly set out what you as an employer offer. Not just to employees, but to us as Aboriginal employees. You need to clearly articulate why we should work for you. One of the best ways to do this is by communicating your purpose and values in a way that connects with ours. What do you offer the community, and why would we want to be a part of it?
This shouldn’t be a hard sell, but a clear message about what you offer, what we can be a part of if we choose. You’ll also have to be willing to listen to our feedback. What you think might be attractive to us, won’t always work. You’ll need to be patient to find a message that works.
3. Start where we are
Even when you have a pitch, you need to start where we are. It’s no good standing on a corner shouting about the wonderful offer you have if the street is empty. You can have the best pitch in the world, but if it’s not reaching your intended audience it’ll be ineffective. You need to find where your potential candidates are and then be there too. With your message, willing to listen and learn.
Some employers really struggle with this part, they simply don’t know where to find potential applicants. On the other hand, other employers know where their market is but they never talk about what kind of employer they are until there’s a vacancy. Both are mistakes, and both are easily fixed.
4. Demystify the process
Employers need a pathway to lead potential employees through a process that grows the relationship, builds trust and rapport. These pathways need to start where the market is, and give them options of how they can learn more about you, the work you do, your values, and the different ways they can be involved. All the while leading them towards your vacancy and your workplace. There can be no secret expectations, no unexpected hurdles, no surprises at all; just a clearly laid out process.
5. Measure the results
I’ve written about this before, and I’ll write about it again. You have to measure how many Aboriginal applicants you’re getting. Without this number, you can’t measure the efficacy of the system or any changes you make. And without that, how do you know if it’s working? This measurement needs to be separate to the parts of the application to be used in selection to avoid any appearance that you will be discriminating for or against Aboriginal people in your selection process. The way you ask about this can also be the difference between a good response rate, and absolute rubbish. How you measure this can make or break any trust and rapport you’ve built to this point. Add this measurement to other key result measures and you’ll know where to put your time and effort for Aboriginal employment.
Know Better, Do Better
Most Australian employers want to do more for Aboriginal employment but just don’t know how. They don’t know what to do, or even what they need to make it work.
The above elements cleverly put together in line with your current workforce plan and recruitment strategy will help you find Aboriginal candidates again and again. Without trying so hard.
Does it take time and focus to set up? Of course it does. But it’ll be worth it. If you put in just three months building this system and the relationships you need to pull it off, you can significantly increase the number of Aboriginal applicants. More applicants means more chance of appointing Aboriginal people, and this will help you reach your Aboriginal employment goals much quicker.
Now that sounds more like how clever employers approach recruiting Aboriginal staff. That sounds like a way to improve Aboriginal employment for the employer, and our communities, and the future.