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Sean O'Toole

Year of Award: 2012 Award State: New South Wales Policy > Industrial Relations, Trade Unions Work Safety
Social Welfare > Indigenous
To strengthen the capability and career options for Aboriginal people working in the human services sector - New Zealand, USA, Canada

This project aims to strengthen the capability and career options for Aboriginal people working in the human services sector by identifying best practices internationally in learning approaches and career development. Ultimately, this means the human services sector will have a workforce with greater cultural intelligence and a better understanding of how to address the needs of Aboriginal children and families they work with so that they, in turn, can lead safer, healthier and more resilient lives.

The predominant theme of this research project is the parallels that exist across cultural and geographic boundaries among the indigenous peoples of the western world. An understanding of cultural differences is at the heart of good organisational education and career development programs that have a meaningful impact on indigenous employees. The importance of family and community to their lives must be understood and integrated into the workplace and the learning experience. This encompasses the role of elders; recognition of traditional knowledge and life experiences; and, the importance of mentoring and peer support. The oral/visual learning style; use of humour in teaching and learning; group or collective learning experiences; and, the value of silences are also common themes. The concept of a traditional learning space crosses all cultures. The role of honouring and valuing the learning experience via ceremony, prayer and celebration is important for both participants and their family and community.

This research provides some key insights and new ideas to re-shape our approach to developing careers and life-wide education opportunities for Aboriginal people. It encourages links with local elders; and a change to the style of delivery to Aboriginal participants, creating a learning environment where they feel more comfortable.

Beyond the dissemination of my findings to key groups, decision makers and human resources professionals I am fortunate to be able to implement many of the recommendations in my role as Director of Learning & Development with the NSW Department of Family & Community Services. I have access to extensive Learning & Development (L&D) networks in the public and private sectors across the country. I will actively promote these findings and provide support and advice where it is requested.

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