Alumni News

Increasing employment for Aboriginal people

Deanne Hanchant-Nichols

Associate Diploma of Arts (Aboriginal Studies)
Bachelor of Arts (Aboriginal Studies)
Consultant: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment and Development
University of South Australia
Deanne Hanchant-Nichols

Deanne Hanchant-Nichols is determined to increase employment for Aboriginal people. Her driver for change is her intention to see real transformation and growth within Aboriginal communities, which is why she is developing such effective strategies that embrace culture and history.

Deanne was recently recognised for her outstanding work in the community and equal contribution to UniSA, receiving one of the Gladys Elphick Awards ̶ the Shirley Peisley− which is awarded to an Aboriginal woman leading positive change for Aboriginal people in the workplace.

“I’m not really big on awards, but I am really honoured to have won the Shirley Peisley Award, knowing what it stands for,” says Deanne.

“It’s really nice to be recognised for all of my work in the community, but I certainly didn’t expect to win it! I was sure another nominee had, so it was such a wonderful surprise.”

Deanne is a Tanganekald/Barkindji Aboriginal woman who has worked in various capacities over the years, primarily in education, but also as General Manager at the Old Adelaide Gaol − with many ghost stories to tell − and now enjoys the diversity of her role as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment and Development Consultant for UniSA, where she is integral in developing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy.

UniSA is committed to increasing Aboriginal employment, by utilising talented staff such as Deanne, who are in touch with the complexities and needs of Aboriginal people.

“In my role, the reality is that there are significantly low numbers of Aboriginal people in employment, even within UniSA I am one of 1.3%.”

“I have a real challenge on my hands to reach the new national target of 3% as per Federal legislation, but I am on a mission to do so”.

Her current position incorporates cultural safety and awareness, strategies to increase employment, but also broadens to Aboriginal media and arts projects such as the Blue Wren video series, produced in conjunction with the School of Engineering. As Consultant, she was also engaged in relation to the Acknowledgement of Country which will take pride and place in Pridham Hall, anticipated to open early 2018.

“One of the concepts created to increase Aboriginal employment was an Aboriginal exemption, permitting applications for previously ‘internal only’ positions, encouraging access to a wider variety of jobs.

“Another being the ‘Mark your Identity’ campaign, increasing Aboriginal visibility on paper, assisting with targeting necessary initiatives and improving future programs and policies.

“However more work needs to be done to achieve success in employment application and interview processes. We want to implement a program which will allow the University to utilise the bank of people who have applied for different roles over the years, and create an annual day or series of ‘CV, interview and cover letter’ workshops, which will provide guidance on UniSA’s preferred application style.

“Whilst the Strategy has been successful thus far in creating significant change within UniSA, there is still room for improvement.”

Deanne has been working alongside Professor Peter Buckskin, Dean of Aboriginal Engagement and Strategic Projects on the proposed Yaitya Warpulai Tappa, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Plan for 2017-2019.

While Deanne is modest about her professional achievements and would rather focus on the overall positive change she has helped create within UniSA, she has in fact brought about noticeable advances in relation to cultural education and awareness.

“Getting so many people through cultural safety training, I have seen attitudes shift, people are thinking before they say and do things.

“Seeing the university mature in that sense has been amazing. I feel really proud.

“When I came to the university, even Reconciliation Week was not recognised and we pulled together something for every single campus - it was amazing.”

Cultural awareness is a vital component of UniSA’s Reconciliation Action Plan, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy as abovementioned, and the overall ambition to be ‘university of choice’ for Aboriginal people.

Cultural safety training at UniSA is predominantly introduced via workshops that not only raise awareness, but begin the process of developing a working understanding of Aboriginal Australia. This enables participants to engage in genuine cross-cultural communication and to identify strategies for working together across cultures.

“I believe that as awareness and understanding of Aboriginal culture increases at UniSA, especially with regular cultural safety training in place, focus has been shifting to Aboriginal employment within the university.”

After recently attending a forum in Sydney for university employment officers Deanne feels both hopeful and hesitant about the proposed new target.

“Aboriginal people are 1.67% of the population in South Australia, so this target is challenging to say the least.

“With limited numbers to begin with, and academic education out of reach for many Aboriginal people when we are still struggling to get our young people through high school −in parity with non-Aboriginal Australians, we really need to have strong strategies in place to entice Aboriginal people to study, to then retain students and to make them feel supported throughout. This will create word of mouth that University is a feasible option, an enjoyable and worthwhile experience.”

UniSA and its antecedent institutions, have over four decades of increasing inclusion of Aboriginal students, by creating an environment where they can learn and grow, and one which respects and learns from Aboriginal wisdoms, highlighting their commitment to being the ‘university of choice’ for Aboriginal people.

UniSA is conscious of the factors, identified by Universities Australia, that contribute to Aboriginal students’ premature withdrawal, namely: financial pressures, insufficient academic support, as well as cultural or social alienation caused by the demands of study.

“This is important to UniSA that prides itself on overall Aboriginal engagement, which in turn benefits both Aboriginal people and their opportunities, their respective communities, as well as society in general, as we become more united Australia.

“As discussed in Dean Peter Buckskin’s article, this ripple effect of higher education within Aboriginal communities will in time impact health and general wellbeing, and ultimately increase mortality rates. This is a significant reach stemming from engagement with higher education – provided retention rates continue to improve” says Deanne.

“I’m optimistic about success in increasing Aboriginal employment and moving forward in general with Aboriginal engagement.”

Unlike Deanne’s experiences with ghosts at the Adelaide Gaol, Aboriginal visibility in employment is ever increasing, as is society’s understanding of the complexities of Aboriginal history and culture, thanks innovative thinkers such as Deanne.

*Throughout this article, the term “Aboriginal’ refers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, collectively.

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