One innovative program in Queensland is showing the power of building partnerships outside of traditional sectors, and the benefits it can have, providing opportunities for young indigenous people.

When Ipswich Jets rugby league coach Keiron Lander reached out to management from our Utilita JV earlier this year — little did both parties know the journey that had just kicked off.

Twelve months later, Utilita's pilot Indigenous engagement program, which aims to provide holistic career opportunities for young Indigenous people, has been a great success - with much more to come. 

Prior to Keiron reaching out in early 2020, management at Utilita had been discussing practical ways to improve its indigenous participation across the business.

We had been thinking for a while about indigenous participation and how we could do more," said Rebecca Byrnes, Utilita Human Resources Manager. 'We wanted to ensure that we developed a program that was relevant for our business and a bit more hands on.

Lander, who in addition to being Jets coach is a Deadly Choices employee, had recently taken on two new recruits to the team from Lockhart River and Doomadgee - both remote indigenous communities in Queensland. 

"Keiron is someone who is known to the business and he reached out to talk about employment opportunities for the young men," Rebecca said. 

Both Utilita and Lander had a view of the opportunity as more than just providing a job, however rather than developing a detailed program there and then, they all took a learning approach to how it would unfold.

"Keiron is a well-respected community leader so we really valued his input. 

"We had a view of what we wanted to achieve and really we just thought let's do this and see how things pan out," Rebecca said.

"The first guy that we were introduced to was Isaac and our initial interaction was really positive. He talked about how he wanted to be a role model for the people in his community and we knew that was something we could help with. A few weeks later Dominic joined us."

Both boys were initially placed into entry level roles and paired with an experienced employee in order to learn on the job.

"The work they do is in the civil scope of work and can be done by people with no previous experience in the water industry," Rebecca said. 

The idea is to give them exposure to a wide range of activities, ensuring that if they want a career path, then we can provide that.

Supporting the adjustment to city life

The Utilita team also provides additional support where required, as they help the boys adjust to life outside of their home communities. 

The Ipswich Jets play in the Queensland Cup competition, a feeder to many NRL clubs, so the boys have plenty of training commitments which they're able to fit in alongside their work responsibilities. 

Whilst the boys have been on a steep learning curve, adjusting to city life, full-time employment and combining work with semi-professional sport, the team at Utilita have also learned a lot over the past year.

"We've all learned a lot more about the complexities of indigenous culture," Rebecca said. 

With the format of the program much clearer than it was 12 months ago, the Utilita team are keen to grow it over the coming years, whilst ensuring they can continue to provide the level of support to the trainees that is required.

Part of this growth process will be the potential for the young men to become mentors themselves. They also hope to extend the program out to young women as it grows and just recently expanded the scope of the support to the Jets netball club. 

"We've got two new players who have just joined us and we think that as Isaac and Dominic get more comfortable, they can take on a mentoring role themselves, if that's something they want to do." 

Utilita is a joint venture between Downer and Ventia and delivers a range of work for Urban Utilities including preventative, corrective and responsive maintenance, inspections and renewals for mechanical and electrical assets and civil maintenance for a range of assets including:

  • 123 water reservoirs
  • 39 water pump stations
  • 8,967km of water transfer and distribution pipelines 
  • 105 water boosters
  • 336 wastewater pump stations
  • 9,152 km of transfer and distribution wastewater pipelines
  • 28 wastewater treatment plants