After investing $15.6 million with Aboriginal subcontractors and suppliers, SHAPE Australia has learnt some valuable lessons about Indigenous procurement. We asked CEO Peter Marix-Evans and general manager Michael Manikas for their tips.
In 2009, SHAPE Australia was spending around $100,000 a year with Indigenous businesses – a laudable effort and one well above the industry average at the time.
Last year, that figure topped $6 million as SHAPE Australia used its purchasing power to grow Indigenous employment and opportunities.
It is an exceptional achievement – and just one of many for a team determined to deliver lasting change.
In 2016, SHAPE Australia, spearheaded by former CEO Michael Barnes, established a majority-owned Indigenous business, DLG SHAPE, with Indigenous business owner David Liddiard AO.
Since then, DLG SHAPE has engaged Indigenous subcontractors and suppliers to deliver $40 million in commercial fitout and construction projects. A large percentage of DLG SHAPE’s work is with federal and state governments, but it has a growing list of private sector clients too.
Michael Manikas’ ancestors, on his mother’s side are the Biripi and Worimi people from the Great Lakes region of coastal New South Wales. His surname comes from his Greek father, who moved to Australia as a teenager.
“I grew up in an era where it was not accepted to be Aboriginal, so part of my personal learning journey is to bring Indigenous people on board as part of DLG Shape and help them grow their businesses,” Manikas explains.
What has SHAPE Australia learnt from its leadership in social procurement?
- Cast a wide net
SHAPE is a member of Supply Nation, for instance, which offers Australia’s largest database of verified Indigenous businesses. Manikas says Supply Nation “gives us additional search capabilities and offers business matching”.
But Marix-Evans is concerned that some companies are securing quotes from Indigenous businesses, without ever following through and hiring Aboriginal people.
“It’s a tokenistic way to meet targets. If you are serious about Indigenous procurement, request quotes from several Indigenous contractors and then pick the best one,” Marix-Evans says.
- Invest in the next generation
People who identify as Indigenous make up just three per cent of Australia’s population. This means there is a small pool of workers from which to draw.
SHAPE released its first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) in 2015, “and we’ve still got low numbers of Indigenous employees – not because we aren’t trying,” Marix-Evans explains. People who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander only account for three per cent of the population.
“There are a minute number of students studying property and construction,” Manikas adds.
“Of 1.5 million students, the Indigenous cohort is 225. I’m one of two Aboriginal quantity surveyors that I’m aware of in the country, and there are under 20 registered architects. The numbers are extremely low.”
SHAPE Australia has developed a student award program called SHAPE Connect, which grants Indigenous students a cash prize and paid internship, with the option of transitioning to the SHAPE Cadet Experience Program. Two students have been awarded so far, and the first of the two has accepted a permanent position as a SHAPE cadet. “It’s been great success story,” Manikas adds.
CareerTrackers, a national non-profit that creates paid internship opportunities for Indigenous students, is playing an important role. But Manikas says more work is ahead to articulate to talented Aboriginal students why they should choose careers in property and construction.
“Indigenous students are going into law or health because they feel they can give back more to their mob that way. We need to show how, by choosing our industry, they can add value to their communities,” he says.
- Lead from the top
Marix-Evans, who leads SHAPE’s RAP working group, says commitment to diversity and reconciliation starts from the top.
“The best way to do something is to start – but it has to start with business leaders.
“We constantly challenge ourselves. Are we doing enough? Are we making a difference? The answer is: absolutely.”