2.2 Building professional pathways and responding to community need

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The Panel’s vision is:

The higher education sector needs to take an active role in: Producing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates across the spectrum of academic disciplines who are equipped to enter professional practice, build the capacity of their communities and revitalise professions through their involvement ( DEEWR 2011n, p. 2).

This vision is underpinned by the Panel’s strong view that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals have great potential to both respond to the high-priority needs of their own communities and to make a deeper contribution to the wellbeing and prosperity of the nation through their diverse views, professional expertise and knowledge. Achieving these two complementary objectives will involve concerted efforts by schools and their communities, universities, professions and employers.

The Panel is aware of good collaboration already taking place across these sectors and notes that, in the health and education sectors in particular, there are various government and other strategies that include specific targets to increase the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professional workforce.62

Building on these efforts, faculties within universities will need to play a central role in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students graduating as professionals in their chosen disciplines. Professional bodies connect into universities through the faculties, rather than through specialised Indigenous Education Units. Therefore, the faculties are well placed to provide appropriate professional support and teaching for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Professional bodies can drive demand for more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals and can support students to excel in their fields of study. They can also work closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professional networks and bodies that have been emerging and growing over the past few decades to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to complete their studies.

Increasing the number and breadth of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals will potentially provide benefits to all Australians through a larger and more diverse pool of professionals driving research, ideas development and professional services as evidenced in the work of the Indigenous Master of Applied Epidemiology (MAE) scholars at the Australian National University.63

At the same time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals will benefit through improved career choices and career pathways leading to greater economic and professional empowerment. The broader Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population will also benefit through recruitment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals into specific high-priority fields responding to community needs and reflecting the COAG targets.

Anderson, in his research paper, provided evidence and strong argument to the Panel on the benefits of growing the number and breadth of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals. He proposes that strategies to deliver this outcome need to be conceptualised within a ‘broader framework of Indigenous social and economic development and as a part of a comprehensive Indigenous human capital strategy’ (Anderson 2011, p. 26). He argues that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals can support the ‘development and realisation of social policy objectives, Indigenous political leadership and the development of the Indigenous economy’ (Anderson 2011, p. 8). However, he acknowledges the contributions already made to Indigenous development by non-Indigenous professionals and highlights that they will continue to play a major role going forward. Working collegiately with them, growing numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals can ‘deepen and extend’ those contributions and can help to reform existing professional practices to deliver high-quality services to Indigenous clients (Anderson 2011, pp. 8–9).

Anderson also highlights the ‘many examples of Indigenous people with professional training who have made significant contributions to Indigenous development ... [before] moving on to make significant and enduring political and social contributions more broadly in Indigenous affairs’ (Anderson 2011, p. 9). The Panel agrees with Anderson’s analysis of the importance of supporting the growth of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals and looks forward to their future contributions in leadership roles across political, social, economic, academic and other fields of endeavour.

Current situation

In commissioned research provided to the Review by the Australian National University’s Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research ( CAEPR), Taylor et al. defined professions ‘as essentially the knowledge-based category of service occupations that usually follow a period of tertiary education and vocational training and experience’ (Evatts 2006, p. 135, cited in Taylor et al. 2011, p. 1). They go on to note that the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) ‘include a requirement for a skill level commensurate with a bachelor degree or higher qualification as part of their definition of the skill set necessary to be classified as a professional or manager’ (Taylor et al. 2011, p. 1).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals are growing in number

Taylor et al. provided the Review with an analysis of recent trends in the growth of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals and managers and also compared their characteristics with those of non-Indigenous professionals. On a per capita basis, in 2006, 4.8% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults aged 20 to 64 were in professional occupations compared to 15.4% of non-Indigenous adults (Taylor et al. 2011, p. 2). Interestingly, the research by Taylor et al. shows that between 1996 and 2006, there has been a significant increase (74.3%) in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals, although from a relatively low base, increasing from 8,033 to 14,002 (based on ANZSCO) (Taylor et al. 2011, p. 2). Also of note is that Indigenous females are ‘now far more likely than their male counterparts to be in a professional job’ (Taylor et al. 2011, p. 2).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals enjoy economic and social benefits

There are a range of positive economic and social benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals and their families. Not surprisingly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals (including managers) have a much higher personal income ($943 per week for females and $1,082 for males) than those employed in non-professional occupations ($509 per week for females and $682 per week for males) (Taylor et al. 2011, p. 15).

In addition, home-ownership rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals and managers is much higher than for other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (Taylor et al. 2011, pp. 14–15).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals and managers are more likely to report that their work allows them to meet their cultural obligations. The same applies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees in workplaces with high concentrations of professionals (such as the public service) where cultural obligations are recognised in workplace agreements (Taylor et al. 2011, p. 16).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals are clustered at lower levels and in certain fields

Notwithstanding these positive impacts of the growing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professional workforce, the CAEPR research highlights that the clustering of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education enrolments in limited fields of study identified earlier, flows through into similarly limited professional occupations, a point also made in submissions to the Review.64 It also restricts their access to possible higher-paying and/or managerial positions that tend to be associated with more scientific-based professions (Taylor et al. 2011, p. 21).

Further, the CAEPR research, based on earlier analysis, noted the relative status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals. They ‘tended to occupy lower prestige jobs than their non-Indigenous counterparts ... [This may reflect] a lag in work experience and seniority, but it may also reflect an older age at completion of tertiary qualifications for Indigenous students’ (Taylor et al. 2011, p. 21).

Lack of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation across professions limits access to alternative perspectives and knowledge

The lack of presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates and postgraduates across the spectrum of professions limits the professions’ access to alternative perspectives, knowledge and skills held by these graduates. Anderson observed that outside of Australia, Indigenous health professionals contributed to Indigenous policy and social development more widely and that there exists a remarkable historical depth of contribution in countries like Canada, the United States and New Zealand (Anderson 2011, p. 8).

What needs to change?

A coordinated approach to professional pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Anderson argues that there are several strategies that must be put in place to develop professional pipelines and a number of these have been picked up earlier in the report with reference to schools, the VET sector and developing mathematics and science capabilities.

He advocates stronger partnerships among universities and their faculties and schools, the VET sector, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and professional bodies; the Panel has made a similar proposal earlier in the report. In discussing the good practice partnership example involving the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association, the medical colleges and the medical professions, Anderson reflects:

it is the role of Faculties that seem to be important—and Faculty leadership may be a significant reason why some Universities have led the field in terms of Indigenous students and others have not (Anderson 2011, p. 12).

This further underscores the Panel’s view that faculty leaders and other senior leaders within universities must drive the institutional change required to deliver the kind of transformation that Anderson and others note has already occurred within the medical profession.

The Panel believes that there must be a coordinated approach involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their communities, universities, the professions and employers all working together to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are:

  • better prepared for professional careers through appropriate course selection in secondary school
  • encouraged to enrol in a broad range of disciplines at university leading to a broader range of professional career options outside the current ones of health, education, and arts and society
  • able to see a career pathway from university into a profession
  • able to fully contribute and pursue more senior and prestigious professions within their chosen fields.

Professional bodies are in a powerful position to both promote the presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the professions and to promote their professions to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

The Panel believes that professional bodies and peak organisations also have a responsibility to ensure the appropriate provision of quality services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.

There is scope for the professions to engage more closely with universities to explore and map professional developmental pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. The Panel would like to see a focus on those disciplines where there is a current underrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals and on those disciplines that will support the Closing the Gap agenda.

A concerted effort to recruit professionals into these and other areas will need to take account of the market-driven environment that the higher education sector operates within. The Panel notes that the demand for courses from students and professions may not always match community need and Closing the Gap targets. Planning processes will need to involve communities working with universities to plan future needs for professionals such as teachers, social workers, environmental managers and businesspeople. Working together, universities can be responsive to community needs and communities can learn how universities can be an important vehicle for building capacity.

Professional bodies could work with employers and encourage their professions to set goals for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ representation across their disciplines or specialisation. Such representation should be from all geographic areas and across positions at all levels. This representation should also be built up among researchers within a profession.

Building on existing efforts

The Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne has been exploring opportunities through its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Workforce and Staff Exchange Project to improve the support that they provide to Aboriginal students of nursing and midwifery and to increase their Aboriginal workforce (submission no. 32, Royal Women’s Hospital, p. 5).

The Panel notes the work of the Expert Working Group on Indigenous Engagement with Sciences (as part of the Inspiring Australia strategy), which has identified a clear need to employ more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians as scientists, engineers and doctors and increase the capacity of the Australian science workforce (IAEWGIES 2012, p. 6).

Another recent initiative has been the Accounting and Architecture Discipline Leaders Forum held on 30 March 2012. The forum produced draft national accountant and architecture-specific strategies for addressing the shortfall of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in higher education and the professions in both disciplines. In addition, the forum was designed to help coordinate efforts, share knowledge and promote successes.

The draft strategies from the forum build on existing activities in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education and employment sectors and work with existing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous groups such as the Aurora Project and Students in Free Enterprise. Strategies include:

  • national student ‘camps’ to build national networks of learning and support in professions
  • the creation of virtual networks
  • work integrated learning programs
  • professional mentoring programs
  • paid cadetships and internships.

Better connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professional networks into professional bodies

The Panel found that there is a growing emergence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professional networks or organisations, but they are not yet well connected with national professional bodies. For many professions, this means that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals are absent from the elite levels of a profession and professional bodies.65 Anderson suggests that bodies such as Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association, the Council of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and others have ‘proved to be important for the embedding and advocacy of reform within professional systems and structures’ (Anderson 2011, p. 12).

In the Panel’s view, greater connection between the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professional networks and these bodies could increase opportunities for network members to:

  • inform the profession’s education and workforce development strategies
  • advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people considering or pursuing careers in the profession
  • highlight issues relevant to those who should be able to benefit from the services that the profession offers.

In its submission to the Review, Victoria University suggested that professional associations could also provide mentoring, scholarships, cadetships and work placements to Indigenous students to support them to secure employment (submission no. 11, Victoria University, p. 2).

Building on existing efforts

While not yet common, there are examples of success in this area and the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA) could provide a model for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professional organisations in other sectors.

Since 1998, AIDA has developed into a strong and influential national body representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors and medical students. AIDA developed a strategy for the recruitment and retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students into medical education, which AIDA has subsequently used to frame its collaborative engagement across the health sector and the Committee of Deans of Australian Medical Schools.

Since 1998, there has been a five-fold increase in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors, with the number reaching 150 in 2010. In 2011, there were 160 medical students enrolled in medical schools across the country (AIDA 2011, p. 44).

Building on existing efforts among public and private sector employers to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students

Given the benefits that ultimately flow to employers from access to larger pools of trained professionals, the Panel welcomes the strong engagement of public and private sector employers. The Panel notes particularly the work of the mining sector and more recently financial services, law, retail and other sectors, in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education.

The Panel wants to encourage employers to continue to build partnerships with professional bodies and universities to consider ways to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, as suggested by Victoria University.66

Many employers have included cadetships, internships and graduate programs within their Reconciliation Action Plans.67 Further, the Business Council of Australia has supported its members’ efforts to share best practice in Indigenous employment through its Indigenous network.68 The Minerals Council of Australia submission to the Review outlined the minerals industry’s longstanding engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and with supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education. They emphasised the need for whole-of-education pathways as is demonstrated, for example, through The Aspiration Initiative (submission no. 21, Minerals Council of Australia, p. 7–8). The BHP Billiton Iron Ore Scholarship programs includes 30 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university students studying in a range of fields, including mechanical engineering and commerce and finance, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been underrepresented.

Building on existing efforts

Lend Lease is offering internships to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university students through a partnership with CareerTrackers. The law firm Ashurst Australia has partnered with the University of New South Wales to provide financial support for a range of activities that have contributed to the growth of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in degrees (including engineering and business) from 211 in 2010 to 276 in 2012. The Commonwealth Bank also aims to provide two to four cadetships to university students each year.69

The University of Western Sydney and the University of Newcastle both engage industry in developing the academic workforce by partnering with industry, government and the community on projects which improve opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research. Both universities commented in consultations that working with industry contributes greatly to the success of their programs.

Recommendation

Recommendation 12

That universities, professional bodies, employers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professional organisations better support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities by:

  • refining university planning processes to take account of the likely future needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities for a professional workforce
  • developing innovative local partnerships to drive and support demand for growing the number and breadth of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals
  • encouraging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander membership of professional bodies and the establishment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professional and student associations within professions.

62 As cited in Anderson (2011, pp. 10–12) with reference to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy ( DEEWR 2011m); the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan 2010–14 (MCEECDYA 2010); the National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (NATSIHC 2003); the National Indigenous Health Equality Council (NIHEC 2010); the Australian Congress of Deans of Nursing with the Indigenous Nursing Education Working Group exemplified in their report Gettin em n keepin em (2002); and the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association with the Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand (Mackean et al. 2007).

63 A key output of the work of Indigenous MAE scholars is their contribution to scientific publications and conferences, with scholars contributing to one book chapter and 27 peer-reviewed publications directly emanating from projects completed during their enrolment (submission no. 53, Australian National University – National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, p. 5).

64 For example, the Law Council of Australia argues that ‘the disparity in access and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at universities and technical colleges is almost certainly reflected in the proportion of Indigenous people who are recruited into professional careers’ (submission no. 70, Law Council of Australia, p. 1).

65 The Indigenous Lawyers Association of Queensland argues that the Australian Government should ensure that there are Indigenous-led professional organisations to liaise with government on improving Indigenous outcomes in higher education and the professions (submission no. 52, Indigenous Lawyers Association of Queensland, p. 2).

66 Victoria University suggested that professional associations could also provide mentoring, scholarships, cadetships and work placements to Indigenous students to support them to secure employment (submission no. 11, Victoria University, p. 2).

67 For example, NAB, ANZ and Lend Lease Reconciliation Action Plans, based on information provided to the Review Secretariat by the Business Council of Australia.

68 Three years ago, the Business Council of Australia (BCA) established a network of people from within member companies who are responsible for Indigenous engagement efforts. The network meets five times a year to share experience and best practice, and conduct workshops on areas of shared interest or concern. Network membership has grown significantly in the last 12 months and now numbers 54 (almost 50% of BCA member companies).

69 Based on information provided to the Review Secretariat by the Business Council of Australia on its members’ activities.