First Nations people who have done some form of IT study are less likely than non-Indigenous Australians to work in a related field, according to new government report that highlights the need to close the gap in the technology sector.
The First Nations People Workforce Analysis report looked at the percentage of people who are working in occupations relevant to their studies, comparing the outcomes of First Nations and non-Indigenous Australians.
For fields like education and engineering, around 70 per cent of First Nations people with qualifications end up in their chosen field.
But only 21 per cent of First Nations who chose to study IT qualifications are working in IT, compared to 46 per cent of non-Indigenous people – the greatest disparity of all sectors mentioned.
The report from Jobs and Skills Australia highlighted IT for this very reason and pointed to a relatively lower level of attained qualifications.
Where 62 per cent of non-Indigenous people who studied IT completed bachelor’s degrees, the same was true of only 18 per cent of First Nations Australians.
Richard Ridge is director of DidgeNet, an Indigenous-owned IT services company. He told Information Age the report’s finding were not what he expected.
“Our experience as an Indigenous business, which has always had an aim to recruit and develop first nations IT graduates and staff, is that it is quite a hard thing to accomplish,” Ridge said.
“From what we have seen, the competition for First Nation IT graduates makes it hard for a smaller business to attract these graduates and professionals.
“Most of these candidates, from what I have seen, are quickly snapped up by the big four banks and other enterprise businesses.”
Indigenous business database Supply Nation features 87 IT services companies – each of which will, like DidgeNet, be competing for First Nations workers in an area where they are vastly underrepresented.
ACS Australia’s Digital Pulse 2022 – which incorporated data from the 2016 census – found that less than 0.6 per cent of technology workers identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander compared with 3.3 per cent of the general population.
Bring the work where people live
Worimi man and army veteran Kieran Hynes is aiming to expand his managed IT services and cyber security business Willyama out of Australia’s capital cities and into the regions.
“The principle we’re looking at is dislocating services from the CBDs to where the under-employed and predominantly Indigenous communities are,” he said.
“We've got to get employment back to where people live, not forcing people to relocate to get a job.”
Career is an important concept for Hynes. He has a modest view of his own IT story that all started in 1983 when his parents bought him a Commodore 64.
“I mucked around with that, then I mucked around with computers, and one day I turned around and realised I was in a career,” he told Information Age.
A career is not just a job, for Hynes, nor is it something you earn with a single qualification. Rather, a career requires continuous learning of a type that is essential in the IT world where tech moves quickly and qualifications go stale or become obsolete almost overnight.
As a result, he’s looking to create a pipeline for cyber security talent through Willyama’s front-line support arm.
“Our managed security services is way more than a service desk, and we created that from scratch two years ago to give entry level employment to people who are normally underrepresented.
“We’ve got Aboriginal staff, we’ve got people from the Pacific Islands, we’ve got veterans.
“These were people who weren’t as represented in the sector that now come through our managed security services arm. They get the experience, and they get employment while gaining a clearance to work with government.”