Issue 3
Tuesday, 05 May 2020
Charles Darwin University
PhD candidate Janet Skewes
PhD candidate Janet Skewes

Flexible jobs model advances work hopes in outback

By Patrick Nelson

A Charles Darwin University study has confirmed that a unique training and employment model used in outback Australia has important implications for the design of workplace programs in Indigenous communities.

Northern Institute PhD candidate Janet Skewes has spent the past four years analysing the structure and features of an employment model in the remote Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands.

“The research shows that this employment model, which differs significantly from standard human capital approaches seen in most mainstream workplaces, has proven quite successful,” Ms Skewes said.

“Candidates are often targeted and are recruited to a position before they receive training and on-the-job upskilling. Generally, it’s the other way around, where an investment is made in training and skilling before someone is employed. Essentially what we have in the APY Lands is an example of an alternative approach to supporting Aboriginal job seekers in remote Australia.”

Ms Skewes, who has had a long career in the tertiary sector, said the project grew out of a need to understand why unemployment remained high even though training was available, and jobs existed in communities throughout north-west South Australia.

“It’s an environment where training was not considered a pathway into employment.”

Ms Skewes said the overarching question was to establish how to realise the work aspirations of the Anangu people.

“My focus was to understand Anangu aspirations for employment and training from their point of view,” she said.

“The mainstream workplace where the conditions of employment and structures reflect the Western market economy doesn’t reconcile with their perspective on employment and training.

“The research found that what did work was a whole-of-community approach to job recruitment and training that encompasses Anangu work aspirations with their cultural views.

“Collaboration and support were key characteristics of the workplace as was flexibility to allow the workers to attend to family and community priorities or cultural obligations.”

Ms Skewes said the research was relevant to policymakers who might re-imagine employment and training practices in remote Aboriginal communities.

“The findings present an alternative approach for supporting Aboriginal job seekers in remote Australia and the implications for training providers and employers is huge,” she said.