Indigenous participation.

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Indigenous participation in construction industry

(Skilled labourer and fire sprinkler apprentice Jerome Smith has been with Perfect Labour Hire since April 2019.)

By Daniel Green.

In our national construction industry, for all government funded projects there is currently a minimum 2.5% Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander participation quota – with financial repercussions if this target isn’t met. Indigenous Australians have always been under-represented in Australian society, and whilst we iron out the bugs in our approach, what can’t be denied is that more Indigenous Aussies in the workforce is a good thing – for all of us.

Diversity in business has been proven to be advantageous: it can bring new solutions to problems thanks to different trains of thought; it can bring an increase in sales and marketing opportunities; it allows innovation of normally insular work groups and practices because of different world views and it generally opens us up as humans. If you think these arguments don’t apply to a construction site then ask yourself if you’ve ever been in a bind [problem] that needed an unusual fix [solution] that you needed to convince [sell to] the Supervisor to get it done. Diversity isn’t without its challenges. Not at all. But even with those challenges diversity is still worth it. Like short term pain for long term gain when learning a trade. Or choosing salad over pizza to lose a few pounds. Or admitting to your partner that you were wrong. About everything.

Those in opposition will argue that a job should be awarded solely on merit – not because of a government issued mandate. And they do have a point. A system like that could allow unsuitable workers to take the place of suitable ones. This could result in productivity losses or bad blood between workers or opening up the system to be taken advantage of. Of course this doesn’t even consider the fact that the Indigenous worker might also feel strongly about being awarded the role based solely on merit and not on a government issued mandate – an argument rarely thrown into this conversational mix.

But what if we could honour our Indigenous participation requirements, award a job based on merit and increase workplace diversity all at once? Go home article writer guy, you’re drunk. But am I? On the premise that nothing on earth can stop a person with the right mental attitude and nothing on earth can help a person with the wrong mental attitude, surely we as right thinking individuals can find this solution if we open ourselves up to it? If humankind can eradicate smallpox, map the human genome and put a plane in the sky then why can’t we successfully diversify our workplaces?

I work in a business that isn’t just open to diversity – it welcomes it with open arms. Perfect Hire is a labour hire provider that specialises in rail workers and tradespeople that, alongside Perfect Contracting and Perfect Concrete Care comprises the Perfect Group. I work here because out of the thirty businesses I’ve worked in this is the greatest of them all. I work here because I work amongst thirty-three different nationalities. I work here because it’s real.

At the time of writing Perfect Hire’s Indigenous participation is 16%. Across the entire group it’s 5%. Not bad for a ten-month-old startup grown from the roots of a decade-old unrestricted demolition and hazmat removal company. We didn’t set an Indigenous participation quota when we opened doors back in January. Heck, we barely set any goals other than to break even. But we had our heads in the right place – and that was merit-based employment regardless of background, sex or orientation. That 16% proportion has occurred naturally. It occurred because we were open to it.

We’re not perfect [no pun intended]. We don’t always get it right. And prejudicial assessment is a natural human trait based on self-preservation. But as humankind grows and evolves surely we can allow ethnic evaluation to fall by the wayside. No longer do we need to buy into the old structures and beliefs we inherited. We can think for ourselves.

And who knows, we may even build stronger and more profitable workforces along the way.