Business School Topics
Companies working with Indigenous contractors need to invest not just in hiring such contractors, but in their ongoing training and development, according to Atlas Iron founder David Flanagan.
Mr Flanagan, formerly the miner's managing director and now non-executive chairman, spoke at the Indigenous Business, Enterprise and Corporations Conference held at The University of Western Australia's Business School recently.
In a presentation titled What worked, what didn't, what we learned, Mr Flanagan shared Atlas Iron's experiences of hiring Indigenous contractors, saying it was important for companies to commit adequate resources both to the hiring process and to contractors' ongoing development.
In one case Atlas Iron hired an Indigenous contractor through a competitive tender process, only to find the contractor's safety performance slipping and poor management practices. Additional training, emphasised Mr Flanagan, may be needed to support inexperienced contractors.
"What have we learned? We didn't have the capability in our business to enforce that contractor to maintain capability and leadership in their management team ... they didn't know what they didn't know," Mr Flanagan said.
In a second case, however, Atlas Iron found that an Indigenous contractor's willingness to learn overcame a lack of business knowledge.
In fact, this Indigenous contractor got so good that a rival company "snaffled them up and they were gone" - which led to Atlas Iron's second lesson: ensuring contracts were strong enough to keep good Indigenous contractors.
A third lesson, Mr Flanagan said, was to recognise when to seek help - a lesson learnt when Many Rivers Microfinance, a not-for-profit organisation, demonstrated an ability to support Indigenous business start-ups by lending them money.
"There's often someone better to do what you're doing so don't be too proud to go outside," Mr Flanagan said.
He said research by Many Rivers Microfinance showed "One in 20 people in any community ... have the capacity to run a business if you get them at the right time." Many Rivers Microfinance had the ability to find those one in twenty people.
"They [Many Rivers Microfinance] ran a study in the Pilbara and they were looking for someone to kick in and be the first WA corporate partner ... and I'm really glad they came to us first."
Many Rivers Microfinance has now assisted 292 Indigenous business owners, with a 90 per cent repayment rate - a figure which, Mr Flanagan said, would make most banks envious.
The Indigenous Business, Enterprise and Corporations Conference, was convened by the Centre for Social Impact at the UWA Business School.