Coates launches innovate reconciliation action plan

In collaboration with Reconciliation Australia and on the heels of implementing its first ‘Reflect’ reconciliation action plan (RAP), Coates has launched its second RAP – the Innovate RAP.

Group manager organisation effectiveness Jay Kattel is responsible for recruiting new talent, as well as overseeing organisational development which includes building on Coates’ culture of diversity and inclusion. In this interview, Jay explains what the key focus areas and targets of Innovate RAP are and why it is important to Coates that these actions are made public and achieved in the two-year lifespan of the plan.

Why are reconciliation outcomes important to Coates?

“Firstly, because we want to develop a workforce that appreciates the history of our First Nations people,” he said. “There are so many lessons we can learn from their teachings and insights. Secondly, we want our people to have pride in appreciating country. And when I say country, I mean the traditional lands in which our people live and have connection with their community.

“As one of Australia’s iconic brands, and a business of almost 140 years, with an extensive national footprint, Coates is in a position where we can make a significant difference in the advance towards reconciliation. Our vision for reconciliation is that by implementing the Innovate RAP we will build an organisation that advocates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities and respects traditional lands and Owners.”

Coates group manager organisation effectiveness, Jay Kattel.

How significant was it to have this plan endorsed by Reconciliation Australia?

“Having our RAP endorsed by Reconciliation Australia is important because it underlines the significance of our commitment to do better. Having this plan made public also makes us accountable because that is what Innovate RAP is. Like its namesake, the first plan ‘Reflect’ involved a lot of thought and consideration as to what reconciliation means to us as an organisation and how we might proceed on that journey. The Innovate RAP is clear on action and will focus on developing and strengthening relationships with First Nations people, engaging our employees and stakeholders in reconciliation, and developing and trialling strategies that empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

“Before creating our Innovate RAP, which officially commences March 2022 and finishes March 2024, we consulted with Reconciliation Australia as well as our key external partners including the NSW Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, Kinaway Chamber of Commerce in Victoria and the Noongar Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Western Australia, the Clontarf Foundation and our own internal RAP committee.”

Can you tell us about the first plan – Reflect RAP – and what this achieved?

“Our first RAP was largely about communication – we appreciated that we needed to approach this journey with sensitivity and patience. Engaging with our people and the First Nations community was vital to the process. Establishing trust and making sure our people were comfortable about the topic was also incredibly important. You cannot force an outcome in this journey because it is a personal journey at both an individual and community level. That was a key learning for us as an organisation – to perhaps prompt people into action but give them the space and time they need to go on their own journey.”

What actions does Innovate RAP involve?

“This plan will involve numerous actions which will come under three key focus areas: cultural education, employment and increasing the First Nations supplier pool,” Kattel said.

“The first focus area involves improving the cultural competency within our organisation. Our target is to deliver formal cultural awareness training to over 90 per cent of the workforce by 2024. For this goal, we see it as a two-fold educational experience. There is the formal training side and then there will be the more informal learning, where we can leverage our partnerships to connect people. For example, having our employees visit Clontarf academies is a wonderful way in which they can learn and develop a personal connection with those school communities and build cultural awareness. It will also reinforce the formal training they have received.

“The second focus is employment and increasing our employee representation for First Nations people. We have a target participation rate of 10 per cent of our apprentices to identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and a 2.5 per cent employee overall participation rate – both by 2025. We’ve made progress in this area since our first RAP and have increased our employee participation rate by over 200 per cent, with 34 employees currently identifying as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“And then the third focus area is about increasing our supplier pool as well as supporting new Aboriginal enterprises by targeting specific business categories. We are committed to achieving business procurement targets by 2024 with a target of five per cent of non-capital annual spend across three business categories.

“With these areas of focus, it is our intention to collaborate with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in locations where we operate to ensure these commitments develop respectful relationships and create meaningful opportunities that are sustainable. The targets are important because they drive practical and tangible outcomes.”

Can you tell me about the partnership with Clontarf Foundation and what this involves?

“We have a national partnership with the Clontarf Foundation which is a not-for-profit educational organisation that aims to improve the life skills and employment prospects of young First Nations men. Across Australia there are more than 10,000 young men enrolled with Clontarf. Since we’ve partnered with this organisation, we’ve placed five young men from Clontarf into Coates roles, which shows just how valuable this relationship is and will be as more people within our organisation engage with the academies. This really speaks to what we want to do in our reconciliation journey, which is to create opportunities and employment pathways, as this has a flow-on effect for whole communities.

“Also, our employees benefit greatly from our partnership with Clontarf. Our national footprint aligns well with the Clontarf Foundation national footprint. Clontarf currently have 137 academies across the country, 93 of these co-existing in locations with 71 Coates branches, so there is a lot of opportunity for staff to get involved with an academy, spend time with the young men and organise work experience opportunities with Coates. This gives our employees more exposure and experience as well as they form and let these relationships develop – this is central to our Innovate RAP vision.”

How aligned is the Coates Innovate RAP with National Reconciliation Week?

“The theme for this year’s National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is ‘more than a word’ implying the need for action. I believe our Innovate RAP is very action focussed and aligned with the theme in terms of delivering on those outcomes and targets mentioned. We will be participating in NRW across all our branches and will also be sharing resources from Reconciliation Australia to keep the conversation flowing between our employees on this important topic.”

To conclude, how would you say that the Coates RAP have been received by Coates employees as a whole?

“I’m proud to say that our organisation has been positively receptive to our reconciliation journey. Our people are genuine in their participation because they want to make a difference. It’s been highly motivating to see employees get involved. I also want to highlight the fact that our Innovate RAP speaks very much to one of our core values which is ‘Care Deeply’. We would not have achieved any success with the first RAP without our people living out this value and this will continue to underpin the outcomes of our Innovate RAP.  

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