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Real Empowerment – not just number crunching

For Lanny Edey, the Business Development and Operations Manager for the new Brisbane Office of the Aboriginal Employment Service, finding careers for his mob, is about more than just numbers.

“I’m an electrician by trade and I remember the old set-up of social security where you’d go to look at the job boards. I was 17 and fresh out of school and was looking for a job when one of the jobs people there asked if I’d do an apprenticeship. So I did and I became an electrical apprentice and did my time with a wonderful company. After that I set up my own business called Murri Power – it took me a while to learn how to be successful but at end of it, I had 30 full time admin staff – all Indigenous and 80 contractors. We had 15 offices around Australia and we did a lot of mining work. We were a busy company and were very successful and then one day my first apprentice ever to be put on came up to me and said ‘hey boss you must be getting tired of this’ and he approached Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) and they put their heads together and bought me out.”

It was this success story that made Lanny even more determined to give back to his mob and he believes jobs are one of the best ways to empower people.

“I want to see some of our young ones say yes to an opportunity and run with it because someone gave me a go and I want to do the same thing for our mob. I’m a firm believer that once you’ve got the financial freedom and the power to pay your bills then you can create your destiny. Being job ready provides opportunities you’ve never had before. I want our mob to say yes to me, to say, ‘I want to have a job, I want to have a career’ and then I will do whatever I can to help.”

As the leader of a dedicated Indigenous team at the new AES office in Brisbane, Lanny believes that Aboriginal agencies are best placed to not only find jobs but to offer the cultural support necessary to enable people to thrive in their new careers.

“We found that there was a lot of our mob that wasn’t getting represented properly or culturally when it came to career centres. Having this new centre in Brisbane means we can now represent not only our youth but a diverse range of ages. Being 100 per cent Indigenous managed we can culturally connect with employers and encourage them to diversity their staff and we’re proving that our mob are just as smart, talented and career focused as anybody who is out there.”

While many employment services are youth focussed, Lanny says it is important that all ages be fully represented when it comes to job services.

“People above the age of 45 in particular seem to be grossly under-represented when it comes to the total workforce. A lot of people have been given all the promises but we have the passion and the cultural drive to go deeper than just a job and to understand people’s cultural commitments, their family commitments and their social structure and that can all really count towards their strengths.”

Lanny believes it is important to be realistic about the competitive nature of the job market and to ensure every career-seeker is prepared to step-up when it comes to their careers.

“As Aboriginal people we know that before we walk through the door for any job we are most likely going to be judged by the colour of our skin, the way we dress. How we present and talk to people needs to enable us to compete with other applicants who may be the same calibre as we are. Unfortunately a lot of us don’t have that confidence so we try and build that confidence up because at the end of the day what we want to do is get our people into satisfying and fulfilling careers.”

When it comes to culture however, Lanny says it is important that it is a two-way street which is why the AES works with employers to ensure they understand cultural issues when it comes to hiring new employees and assessing existing employees.

“We’ve had employers saying to us that our applicants didn’t look at them during interviews and that they found that quite rude and we’ve had to explain to them that in our culture looking someone in the eyes is a sign of disrespect, so when that happens they shouldn’t see it as meaning that the interviewee is shy or not confident, but rather that they respect them a lot.”

Aboriginal employment is a niche market which Lanny says the AES is well placed to serve and understand, especially when it comes to job longevity.

“We don’t treat anybody here as a number, some agencies just find you the job, get their commission then move on but we find the most fragile part of employment is the first 6 months and beyond. Some people don’t want to talk to their employers about family things so we touch base on a regular basis about how they are going culturally and financially. They may have had sorry business. We can advise employers about those scenarios and help them to understand family and cultural commitments.”

After spending years in private enterprise, Lanny says he is passionate to make a difference and believes that the AES is well positioned to make long lasting change for Aboriginal people, families and their local communities through brokering careers.

“How we break the cycle of unemployment in the Aboriginal community is to make sure that every person we put forward for a job is job-ready. They need to be committed and I’m not afraid to tell people ‘at this very point in time we can’t help you’, but to also let them know there is always a way. If we don’t believe someone is job-ready we will put them in contact with someone who can help them, whether they need help learning how to present themselves or with mental health issues, or if it’s a cultural matter we’ll put them in touch with Elders. Being an Indigenous organisation we can sense that sort of thing and by the time they’ve done that work then we can refresh, rewind and say ‘right, now you’re prepared, now you are ready’.”

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