Developing Future Public Sector Leaders – International Day of the World’s Indigenous People

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August 9th is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, a day to promote and protect the rights of the world’s Indigenous populations. This is particularly relevant this year as the theme for 2016 is “Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Education”.

In June we featured examples from schools across Australia, Canada and New Zealand and the work that they are doing to engage Indigenous students and promote Indigenous businesses including an Aboriginal EMBA at Beedie School of Business; a programme to support Indigenous Entrepreneurs at Gustavson School of Business; the Indigenous Programmes Unit at University of New South Wales; contextualizing the MBA with an Indigenous focus at the University of Waikato; promoting accounting as a career choice with Indigenous students at Deaken University; and mentoring a new generation of Indigenous leaders at University of Wollongong.

Here we introduce another innovative programme focused on developing future Indigenous business leaders, La Trobe Business School in Australia’s partnership to develop future leaders in the Public sector. I spoke with Dr Suzanne Young, Head of the Department of Management and Marketing and Dr Geraldine Kennett, Professor of Practice, Department of Management & Marketing about their new programme.

What is the programme for public servants (provide an overview)

La Trobe Business School developed a new Graduate Certificate in Management (Public Sector) in partnership with the Institute of Public Administration of Australia (IPAA), and in consultation with the IPAA Indigenous Advisory Committee. Initially enrolling 32 Indigenous public servants, the course has now expanded to be a combination of Indigenous and Non-Indigenous public sector professionals learning together. The course takes 1.5 years full-time or 2 years part time.

This innovative course uses a partnership approach; the participants study leadership, entrepreneurial business planning, financial management and accounting with the University and public policy making with the Institute of Public Administration of Australia. The students develop a plan for an entrepreneurial business or policy idea in their first subject and then build on this plan in subsequent subjects, cumulating in ‘A Pitch’ to senior public sector leaders. This practical form of assessment builds their confidence to get strategic buy-in for their business and/or policy ideas. Many of the students have used their new learning and skills to achieve higher level positions in the public sector. Four students are also continuing their studies with the La Trobe University MBA programme in 2016.

As academics, we have gained knowledge about Indigenous culture and how to integrate social identity into learning styles which has enabled us to develop supportive pedagogy for teaching. Our course ensures that the learning outcomes support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with the capacity to straddle their leadership obligations in the workplace as well as in the Indigenous community.

How did it come about?

In 2010 the Australian government highlighted the social, political and economic gap between Indigenous Australians and the rest of the community. The Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (2012) argues that improving higher education outcomes among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will contribute to nation-building and reduce Indigenous disadvantage.

The need for a postgraduate qualification for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander public servants was seen as important in a study that IPAA Victoria commissioned with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The study highlighted the barriers to, and enablers of, career advancement for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders employed in the public sector, including the need for professional development opportunities. Indigenous public servants experience a higher turnover rate than their non-indigenous peers. The 2012-13 Australian Public Service found that 20.5% of indigenous employees left the APS after less than one year —almost four times the rate of non-indigenous employees (5.9%). This is another challenge the programme aims to tackle.

IPAA approached La Trobe Business School to develop and conduct a postgraduate course due to its expertise in providing higher education for Aboriginal people, its status as the United Nations Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME) Champion Business school in Australia and the ability for regional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander public servants to continue their higher education at La Trobe University’s regional campuses. 

What have been some of the successes?

From the feedback loop it is clear that the project produces measurable impact for Indigenous peoples (including students and community), La Trobe University (including staff), IPAA, and the higher education sector.

Achievements to date include:

  • Initial enrolment of 32 students into the course
  • Strong retention rate with 22 students continuing into their 3rd subject
  • Employers contributing to student fees
  • Orientation programme and guidelines for delivery of Indigenous education
  • Second cohort of programme began in late 2015 consisting of Indigenous and Non-Indigenous students
  • Students’ management skills enhanced in entrepreneurship and innovation, accounting and leadership
  • Students’ leadership skills enhanced in communication and team work
  • Peer and collaborative learning enhancing cross-cultural learning between students and staff and in the future between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous students.
  • Four students progressing through to enrolment in the MBA

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students it provides an educational experience and improved educational outcomes and opportunities for employment and career advancement. A specific Indigenous course enables Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to bring their culture and identity into the learning experience, thereby making the teaching relevant for their needs. Also for Indigenous communities, it supports economic development, assists in closing the gap and provides mechanisms for breaking the cycle of Indigenous disadvantage.

Advice for other schools thinking of doing something similar?

It is important to develop and work in partnerships with those organisations and people in the community who are legitimately recognised with expertise by Indigenous peoples. It is also important to have orientation programs for teaching staff in Indigenous culture and nurturing this in the teaching environment. Flexibility of approach, and assessments that are meaningful and authentic to the Indigenous students are also important.

Next Steps for La Trobe in this area?

The course is now open for non-indigenous students as well to provide a culturally safe learning environment for students to be able to learn together. This enhances the learning of non-indigenous students who are all practising public servant professionals and so builds their knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the importance of culturally safe practices. This also provides an environment where cross cultural knowledge is exchanged and others’ perspectives are more fully understood

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