Indigenous skills: let market forces triumph
Competition in corporate Australia has always been fierce. Everyone wants the best people, systems, products and services.
But behind the smiles and claims to the contrary, everyone from the Chairman down wants to get one up on their direct competitors on every metric that matters.
At stake are bonuses, bragging rights and most important of all, continued survival in the corporate jungle.
This competitiveness hasn’t been checked at the door when it comes to corporates developing strategies for engaging with Indigenous Australians.
Contributing to reducing Indigenous disadvantage and having a bigger and better Reconciliation Action Plan is the newest game in town and competition is hot as big business marks out its territory.
For Indigenous Australia, this is a great thing. Rivalry will drive corporates to be innovative, develop relationships, attempt to solve complex problems and create new ways of doing business.
It will also keep everyone on their toes because you know the competition is breathing down your neck trying to leapfrog you the first chance they get.
Corporates will be forced to stick to their knitting, play to their strengths and do what they do best.
Cookie cutter, unsustainable cheque book charity will be relegated to scrap heap. Relationships will replace sponsorships and ‘learning by doing’ will become the norm. Sure there’ll be some mistakes, but not on purpose and rarely the same mistake twice.
But despite the good intentions, another culture clash is in the air and it’s not a clash of traditional Indigenous cultures.
Rather it’s the result of Governments’ increasing preference to tackle Indigenous issues collaboratively, and the tension that results when natural corporate enemies are asked to work together.
“Working together”, “partnerships” and “coordination” have become the war cries of collaborative Indigenous affairs.
In the corporate world, collaboration among direct competitors is rare. Indeed it is often the role of government to regulate against collaboration because it leads to less competition and choice which is bad for consumers.
Yet there seems to be a growing smorgasbord of government sponsored networks, roundtables, councils, panel discussions, focus groups, think tanks and information sharing days where natural corporate enemies are encouraged to attend and share ideas, contribute feedback and collaborate with each other regarding their Indigenous strategies.
For corporates it’s a surreal experience. Kinda like being forced to share answers with the kid who hasn’t done their homework while holding hands and singing Kumbayah. It’s supposed to be a good thing, but you still feel icky about it.
Governments argue that facilitating collaboration opportunities will fast track improvements to corporate Indigenous strategies. However, what corporates really want is to work with Government to grow their points of difference from their natural enemies.
Indigenous employment is a noticeable exception. Twiggy Forrest’s ambitious 50,000 jobs target has transformed Indigenous employment into a compliance issue so corporates are currently driven by fear of being left behind.
However natural competitive tension will soon reassert itself and transform Indigenous employment into a more self-serving business outcome. It will shift from quantity to quality as corporates compete to attract the brightest and the best young Indigenous minds to come, and more importantly stay, in their companies.
Some may decide it’s easier to have lots of Indigenous trainees; other may go straight for Indigenous university graduates; and some may crack the whip on the education system to deliver better educated kids.
Whatever the case, competition will heat up and social outcomes will merge with sound business principles. As this inevitably gains traction, corporates will become less willing to share their recruitment secrets and competition will replace collaboration.
One outcome is assured – if you’re a young Indigenous university graduate, you can pretty much name your price, because you are the hottest property around.
Competition is not a bad thing and neither is collaboration – both have their place. However, to date fierce competition has been sadly missed from Indigenous affairs as big corporates seeking to invest their significant resources to do good.
For the average Indigenous family the benefits are likely to be many - real jobs, real business opportunities and a toehold in the real economy for starters.
This may cascade into intergenerational wealth creation opportunities like home ownership.
Improved health outcomes may even see the 17 year life expectancy gap reduce enough to see most Indigenous Australians live long enough to collect their superannuation cheque.
So with these spoils at stake, let the competition begin and may the best corporate win. I look forward to the innovation and change that will surely come to Indigenous Australians as a result.
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