Western Labour Hire is much more than a business to operations manager Adrian Connolly, who has worked tirelessly to engage with local communities to provide Indigenous employment and mentorship opportunities within industry, including the mining sector.
Founded by Adrian Connolly and his wife Dionne in 2008, Western Labour Hire prides itself on being a 100 per cent Indigenous owned and operated business, creating opportunities for Indigenous people in the areas in which it operates and delivering genuine solutions for their mining customers.
Western Labour Hire started from humble beginnings when Connolly’s contract position at a remote mine site came to an end, and he decided to branch out and start his own business.
Building on his passion for creating employment opportunities for Indigenous people, Western Labour Hire was born in his backyard in Cloncurry, 120 kilometres east of Mt Isa in north-western Queensland.
“Being a boilermaker by trade, I started out by myself and built a trailer and set up some welding equipment,” Connolly tells Australian Mining.
“I stayed busy, chasing work everywhere I could find it, and as soon as I could, I put on an apprentice, a young local Indigenous person based in Cloncurry.”
From there, Connolly continued to grow the business, evolving to the needs of the industries it served to best benefit the communities in which it operated. A critical way that Western Labour Hire is operated is its engagement with the communities in which it is working, engaging with the Traditional Owners before beginning work on their land.
Connolly learned early that to benefit the Indigenous communities, he needed to use his understanding of the sector and genuinely deliver quality, competent and work-ready candidates to help his customers’ operations.
This allows Western Labour Hire to build a connection between the Tier 1 contractors it completes work for and the Traditional Owners of the land the work is being completed on.
Helping mining sector clients correctly provide their Indigenous and ethical requirements and aspirations to their local communities in a meaningful and respectful manner has become Western Labour Hire’s market niche.
“We have developed a professional service that specialises in working with Traditional Owners groups, in particular, the local Elders before we go out and work on the land,” Connolly explains.
“Being an Indigenous business, we have a real duty here to work with the community, so we have a start-to-finish process from talking with the Traditional Owners to completing the work and showing them the benefits of going out and working on their country.”
Part of Western Labour Hire’s role in this as an Indigenous business is following Indigenous protocols when working on country and with other Indigenous groups.
“We are very aware of working with other Indigenous groups on country,” Connolly says.
“So we don’t just start work without talking to Traditional Owner groups such as the local government’s Native Title group first.
“We introduce ourselves and let them know what we’re doing, that’s the kind of respect we give for each and every job. We explain to the local Elders that we are here to help people and try to find employment for people.”
While getting the job done well is essential to Western Labour Hire, another significant part of the business is mentoring Indigenous people entering the industry and helping them to build long-term careers in mining.
Part of what makes Western Labour Hire so successful in this space is being a 100 per cent Indigenous-owned and run business, meaning the mentors and leaders coaching new workers in the program understand the barriers Indigenous people face entering the workforce.
“When you’re talking about closing the employment gap, there are so many things that non-Indigenous people just don’t understand about what Indigenous people have to deal with,” Connolly says.
“Some people need no help, they just need the opportunity, and others need a lot of guidance. We can’t do the work we do without having those relationships.
“It is so important for us that we provide Indigenous mentoring to try and guide workers through the particular circumstances our employees are facing.”
The mentoring goes beyond helping Indigenous people to find jobs, with Western Labour Hire’s staff building relationships with new employees’ supervisors to keep tabs on how they are performing in their role, giving feedback and helping them out as needed.
Western Labour Hire’s mentoring provides the industry with the missing link between mining sector employers who want to meaningfully engage and their Indigenous candidates who wish to deliver and support operations on their land.
Indigenous employment may be Western Labour Hire’s main priority, but the company has also created opportunities for non-Indigenous workers as well.
“Western Labour Hire is certainly not limited to Indigenous employment opportunities, we really want to help all people to find opportunities that benefit themselves,” Connolly says.
“The mining sector is a large and highly specialised one. We seek to offer our customers the skilled team members they require to do what they need doing as soon as possible.
“This is not always available sourcing only Indigenous candidates. Finding local, already competent and willing candidates can be a challenge, and we know that.
“If there is capacity within the client, we build our clients’ customised traineeship pathways for their local Indigenous candidates and offer them non-Indigenous employees in the interim to meet their production needs.
“The goal is longterm, sustainable, local employment opportunities.”
This support goes beyond work activities, with Western Labour Hire supporting both employees and ex-employees personally, from flexible working arrangements to loaning the company bus for personal community purposes such as funerals.
With funerals, particularly in the event of a death of an Elder, being a significant community-wide event for Indigenous communities, the company acts as a support system for communities during this tough time.
“The people where we operate know who we are and what we’re doing, so if someone passes away and there’s a funeral, we always reach out to see how we can help,” Connolly says.
“Generally, we provide our bus and a driver to drive community members to funerals and also help by way of making a donation at the wake to cover food costs.
“We’ve had current or ex-employees ask to use our bus to go and visit sick relatives and if the bus is available we’ll let them do this, it’s all about maintaining those relationships with the communities we work in.”
Western Labour Hire also makes personalised working arrangements for its internal staff, such as flexible working arrangements for mothers.
Connolly says this includes setting up mothers who have just returned to work after having a child on flexible work arrangements.
“They can work half of their shifts at the office and some from home after their parental leave, whatever works for them,” he says.
Connolly’s favourite part of running his business is the success stories, seeing people come into their new jobs with little ambition and leave on track to building long-term careers or starting businesses of their own.
“We see people really getting themselves out of that cycle of living below the poverty line or fighting addiction, to getting a full-time job, buying their own home and becoming a hard-working member amongst their local community,” he says.
“People understand we offer a hand-up, not of a hand-out.
“One young man we employed was not ambitious at all, he would spend all night roaming the streets, and he’s now a business owner who is married with children and has bought his own house and vehicle.
“We really help them to carve their pathway out of this life and put them in the right direction. It’s a good feeling, it gives you the hunger to keep going.”
As Western Labour Hire continues to grow, Connolly wants to push the business to operate on a national level, but it’s not just his own business he has goals for, but Indigenous employment as a whole.
“What I would like to see is a lower rate of unemployed Indigenous people and more opportunities throughout the industry, with businesses being accountable for deliveries on this,” Connolly says.
“Our strategic plan is to be a national Indigenous-run business, and you can only be that with integrity and respect for the entire Indigenous population.
“I see so much potential for what the industry could be doing and what it’s not yet doing, it drives me harder to try and push to make that change and help our customers in the process.
“We need the mining sector to trust the little guys can deliver and work more with proven Indigenous businesses like ours.”
This article also appears in the May edition of Australian Mining.