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How a new partnership is elevating First Nations' expertise

Elevating Indigenous engineering
In an industry-first partnership arrangement, Aurecon has teamed up with Elevate Consulting Engineers to create business, employment and sustainable development opportunities for First Nations communities across Australia.  

With this years’ Close the Gap Day (17 March) promoting Indigenous-led transformations in achieving health equality for First Nations communities, the partnership stands as an example of how the professional services sector can support the livelihood of Indigenous peoples and genuine development for communities.

Aiming to couple best-in-class engineering expertise with cultural insights to meet the unique needs of Indigenous communities, the partnership includes an ongoing trainee program to provide opportunities for employment and professional development to emerging engineers with Indigenous backgrounds.

Proud of his own Indigenous heritage, Elevate Consulting Engineers co-owner Sean Whitfield said the goal is to build a sustainable business that values diversity and places a premium on Indigenous employment and training opportunities.   

“Indigenous focus is in our business DNA. There is a lot of eagerness from Indigenous communities, but not a lot of opportunities, especially for the technical aspects of engineering,” he said. 

“This partnership means we’ll be able to expand our work in Brisbane to a much broader scope in the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Victoria, helping create employment and training opportunities for Indigenous people who want to have a career in STEM.” 

Working together 

Initially connected via Indigenous procurement company Supply Nation, Aurecon and Elevate are now working in-step to bolster Indigenous representation and to foster greater cultural awareness within the sector.

Aurecon Property and Place Industry Leader Jared Lillywhite said the partnership provides Elevate with guaranteed engineering and design work, supports them in their growth through providing access to Aurecon technology, people and systems, and allows both companies to share knowledge and succeed together.

“From the outset, it was always intended that there’d be three-way benefits – benefits for Aurecon, benefits for Elevate and benefits for the broader community, particularly the Indigenous community,” Lillywhite said. 

“Our partnership with Elevate is one of the important initiatives reflected in our Reconciliation Action Plan – it’s about supporting the Indigenous workforce. Professional services can be a tough industry to get ahead in. It’s competitive and there are a lot of firms out there that are very well established. It can be hard to compete.

“By partnering with Elevate, we can help them set up their business. In return, they help us by providing cultural awareness for our staff. 

“We are now treating Elevate staff as Aurecon employees. We set them up with all of our systems and resources. Elevate established their own office in Brisbane, but they’re completely connected to Aurecon’s system so that they can work seamlessly with us on projects.”

Elevate co-owner Jason Marshall said the support from Aurecon has helped the start-up plan further initiatives to support Indigenous employment within the sector.

“Aurecon came to us with a plan and were very proactive and open about building a partnership with us. Essentially, our recruitment began through that partnership and we’ve been welcomed onboard at Aurecon,” he said. 

“We now have four staff and are welcoming two Indigenous trainees this month. While Elevate has certainly won its own work in various places around Australia, getting to the next level and being able to take on trainees – we couldn't have done it without Aurecon.”

Lillywhite said there are also plans to develop an Indigenous cadetship, which would see young Indigenous people trained and mentored in a variety of different professional services tasks within Aurecon’s offices.

“This is about exposing cadets to the professional services environment, and supporting them in undergoing any further study or training they might need to pursue a career in the sector,” he said. 

Indigenous-led focus 

Aside from supporting Elevate to expand, bolstering cultural awareness within Aurecon, and providing pathways and opportunities for Indigenous people within the sector, the partnership also has plans to begin Indigenous-led development projects within communities, Marshall said. 

“At Elevate, we’re very passionate about supporting Indigenous communities. There are plenty of young Indigenous people who could be interested in working in STEM and engineering, and we are providing a viable, open-door option for that pathway,” he said. 

“But it’s also crucial to give Indigenous people the opportunity to develop and achieve what they want in their own communities.

“We are still in early stages, and this certainly isn’t going to be an easy task. There are challenges ahead in terms of how we navigate development partnerships with the community, but there are also heaps of opportunities.”

Lillywhite said the plans to support Indigenous-led developments within Indigenous communities is exciting, and marks a clear shift away from business-as-usual. 

“A lot of attempts to support Indigenous communities hasn’t been Indigenous-led, and a lot of it hasn’t really worked out. We want to flip that on its head and support community-led initiatives,” he said. 

“We want to help communities navigate their own development and create this value.

“Aurecon has town planners, environmental specialists and engineers – we can bring a lot of technical expertise to the table to help Elevate, and to support projects that are created by and for Indigenous peoples and their communities.”