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Building confidence, skills and inclusive futures in rural Australia

Taking on the challenge of unemployment among marginalized communities with targeted training

Within Australia, Indigenous people face barriers and challenges when it comes to securing sustainable employment. Creating long-term solutions to historical barriers takes innovative thinking, passion and commitment. Qualities that the team at Chandler Macleod have in abundance.

Staffing services have always been uniquely positioned to help people change their lives. This is especially important for those that face economic and social issues transitioning to employment. As part of Chandler Macleod's Employment Equity team, Cynthia Andrews works to shift marginalized groups into meaningful employment.

"I'm really passionate about using my skills and experience in the staffing industry to help create an inclusive culture that embraces diversity," she says. "At Chandler Macleod, we are in a position to create positive outcomes for people who have traditionally faced barriers to employment as well as the companies we work with."

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Participants in a program, offered by Chandler Macleod

Laying foundations for long-term careers

The challenge of unemployment among Indigenous communities in Australia is a complex one that is impacted by a wide range of historical, social and cultural factors. Figures from the Australian Government* show that Indigenous people are 2.7 times as likely to be unemployed as Non-Indigenous people. This issue is even more pronounced in rural areas, where unemployment rates for both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people tend to be higher as well.

"The barriers that people face are multifaceted," says Cynthia, "particularly in regional towns where youth unemployment among marginalized groups can exceed 40%. You have households with long-term unemployment across multiple generations. Education is an important part of it, but so is opportunity. Many employers are still not prepared to give people with limited education or employment experience a chance, so the cycle perpetuates."

To address this, Chandler Macleod created bespoke, employer led training programs to work with employers to create long-term solutions to these issues. The program looks to provide education, employment and training that creates a link between the needs of local communities and the strategic goals of employers operating in the area. The programs are written 'in-house' by Cynthia Andrews, across several industries including Renewables, Logistics, Warehouse, Food, Distribution, Manufacturing and Customer Service.

Training focuses not only on a core value of safety but vocational aspects which include confidence building, a work/life balance, time management and health. For candidates that may have not been in the workforce for an extended period of time, building their tolerance is a key component and simple things like creating menu plans, daily walks, budgeting their weekly finances, managing child care arrangements, creating a daily routine directly contribute to this. But physical resiliency is also important as working on the solar farm often requires the physical strength to walk a long distance in the sun. To help prepare people for this, the training also includes active components, such as long walks in work boots.

* 2016 Data published by Australian Government / Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

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The participants working in a solar farm, after finishing the training

Inclusive solutions to complex challenges

One area which has created some amazing results is the six solar farm projects it has conducted alongside BeON Energy SolutionsTo an external site in rural locations across Regional Victoria and New South Wales (NSW). Beginning in 2018, Cynthia and her team have been the Diversity and Inclusion workforce management provider for the projects, tasked with recruiting marginalized cohorts from local communities. A two or four-week training program provides applicants with the skills and confidence they need to move into the workforce. The sourcing strategy is based on the identification of key behavioral traits and not the resume, that align with our host sites. These can include a willingness to work, communication skills, team-work and resilience. From a personal welfare perspective, this training also provides a forum to create a bond with fellow participants and a nucleus of support upon commencement.

"We want to maximize the benefit to the local community through a targeted employment and training program," says BeON Energy Solutions' General Manager, Glen Thomson. "One of the best ways to achieve this is by targeting those people who - for whatever reason - face barriers to employment. And this is exactly what this program does."

Working on solar farms has proved to be a winning opportunity for many local people. It gives them the chance to work outside instead of in an office, build technical skills and contribute to a more sustainable future. "The program has given me stability and a set routine as well as helping me to save for items I would never have been able to afford before."BeON Energy Solutions solar farm worker dispatched through this program says.

The projects have been a huge success, exceeding the target of 70% of employees coming from the local community. But for Cynthia, it is often the personal stories that are the real measure of success. "I always think of Chloe, who joined one of our projects at 17 years of age after getting into a bit of trouble," she says. "She is 20 now, working on her fourth project with us and is managing a crew of six people. I cannot think of a better ambassador for what we are trying to achieve."

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Chandler Macleod is also committed to supporting women in workforce

However, entering the program is not always a guarantee of success on its own. So post-placement care is also an essential part of helping people establish financial security for both themselves and their families and the provision of this wrap around support is a key to retention. This support is provided for their entire employment journey with Chandler Macleod.

Creating solutions for a changing society

The results Chandler Macleod has achieved have created real benefits for both local communities, employers and Chandler Macleod. But the team is not done yet. The goal is now to expand the program out of Victoria and NSW into every State the company has a presence in. For Cynthia, the project has been a huge personal, as well as professional, success. "The feeling of being involved in this is indescribable," she says. "I've been working in diversity and inclusion for 12 years and we are now in the position to help a huge amount of people and contribute to a more inclusive and productive society."

The benefits of the initiative have the potential to reach far beyond the lives of individuals and the communities they are part of. Chandler Macleod estimates that the impact of getting Indigenous employment levels up to the national average could grow the Australian economy by 1.15%. This would be a gain of approximately $24 billion.

But economics is only one part of the story and, like the rest of the world, Australia is changing fast. With passionate people like Cynthia and the Chandler Macleod team guiding companies and individuals through the good times and the bad, "The next 5-10 years are certainly going to be interesting in terms of social and technological change," says Cynthia. "For us, it is all about helping people and organisations gain the resilience and confidence they need to face tomorrow head-on. Sure, there will be challenges but a huge amount of opportunity too."

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Cynthia Andrews

General Manager, Employment Equity at Chandler Macleod

Cynthia joined Chandler Macleod in 2014. Her role is to transition people who face barriers across all cohorts into employment through sustainable and meaningful long-term career opportunities.

Sep 17, 2021

This article is based on information available at the time of publication.