• General Manager and former RAN officer Hayden Surrao. (Supplied)
    General Manager and former RAN officer Hayden Surrao. (Supplied)

The objective of the Commonwealth's Indigenous Procurement Policy (IPP) is unambiguous: "To stimulate Indigenous entrepreneurship, business and economic development, providing Indigenous Australians with more opportunities to participate in the economy."

The IPP aims to achieve that objective through the kind of heavily quantitative methods you'd expect to see in a government document. Each government portfolio has an annual target it must reach; a 'mandatory set aside' allows Indigenous enterprises to bid pre-market for projects worth between $80,000 and $200,000; and participation targets are mandated for contracts wholly delivered in Australia worth over $7.5 million.

The measures of success are similarly unambiguous: an increase in the number of Indigenous enterprises contracted to the Commonwealth, and an increase in the volume and value of contracts awarded to Indigenous enterprises.

These numbers tell a clean story, but they don't tell the whole story – something that Indigenous-owned and veteran-owned and managed consultancy firm JLB-Yaran is trying to change.

"In the last few years, Defence programs began requiring more resourcing and professional services," General Manager and former RAN officer Hayden Surrao said to ADM. "There was an opportunity for Australian SMEs to provide professional services and since then we've grown from a couple of consultants working on maritime programs in Adelaide to over 30 consultants – mostly Defence veterans – working across domains in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Newcastle and Canberra."

The Major Service Provider model brought in by Defence, which mandates 30 per cent outsourcing to SMEs, has also helped the company bring the experience of its veterans back into the Defence ecosystem.

"It's allowed us to develop our niche capability," Surrao said. "The quicker we grow, the more we can give back to Defence. The growth of SMEs is crucial to the long-term sovereignty and viability of Australian defence industry. And as an Indigenous-owned company, that money also flows back into Indigenous employment opportunities we are creating."

Whilst the company's main business is providing veteran expertise to Defence programs – including the Future Submarine Program, Air 6500, Land 200, Maritime and Land Systems Divisions, ISREW branch, and much more – nurturing Indigenous talent is central to JLB-Yaran's ethos. The company runs the Indigenous Development and Employment Program (IDEP), which brings talent into entry-level positions in Defence and mentors them onwards through their career, with Indigenous APS employees also in the program.

"IDEP is creating opportunities for Indigenous talent that will remain with Defence for the next 30-40 years," Surrao said. "The Defence workforce needs to increase whether they're Indigenous or non-Indigenous – but we think there's a real opportunity to help increase Indigenous representation.

"To grow a diverse workforce, we need more women in Defence, we need more Indigenous people in Defence, and if we can engage those different skillsets the industry will create a stronger sovereign capability. It makes sense to look outside what we've done historically."

This is where JLB-Yaran diverts from the metric-based approach of the IPP – moving away from ticked boxes and into a tailored approach that aims to lift Indigenous talent into leadership positions.

"Metrics can be misleading," Surrao said. "It's not necessarily how many, it's where are they, what levels of management, what levels of influence, whether they're developing and growing careers. We don’t run an employment program – we run a professional development program. We want to see more managers, more leaders, more executive-level directors.

"The IPP is a great thing. It's been fantastic for creating opportunities for Indigenous people. But what we'd like to see is companies saying, 'we want to have an Indigenous director in the next 10-15 years', and growing that internally. If you're going to create generational change, you need to grow your people."

For Surrao, that generational change means more than simply complying with the IPP.

"You meet the intent if you create employment opportunities, but only if those employment opportunities include career development," Surrao said. "Indigenous representation to us is pretty simple. It's people in jobs, building careers, building communities and building Australian sovereign capability."

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