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Craig Taylor's Flexible Journey at Rail Projects Victoria

Craig Taylor’s job is to ensure Rail Projects Victoria meets mandatory requirements around employment targets – and he’s doing that job well. Aboriginal employment currently sits at 2.53 percent across all packages – above the mandated target.

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Craig Taylor’s job is to ensure Rail Projects Victoria meets mandatory requirements around employment targets – and he’s doing that job well. Aboriginal employment currently sits at 2.53 percent across all packages – above the mandated target.

Yet for Craig – Assistant Director, Industry Engagement, Aboriginal Workforce and Enterprises – the impact of what he and his State Requirements team do runs far deeper than numbers.

“We make sure there’s compliance in that area, but more importantly we talk about the philosophy behind the policy,” Craig says. “It’s all about what benefit can be returned to the Victorian community.

“There’s no benefit to the community if a contractor gets 2.5% Aboriginal workforce and they do it all through labour hire – casual people who don’t get sick leave or entitlements, there’s no career pathway.

“So what we do is talk to them about the philosophy and the intent of the policy. We strongly encourage them to consider direct hire opportunities – take a risk. The project might go for three years and an apprenticeship runs for four, but guess what, you will get other contracts, you can take that apprentice with you and roll them on to other projects.”

The Avon River Bridge project, a jewel in the Gippsland Line Upgrade crown, offers up a compelling example. Several Indigenous workers were taken on as trainees and apprentices, training that would last considerably longer than their roles in the bridge build. When it was completed, the contractor rolled them over to another project and their entrée to careers in the construction industry continues.

For Craig, the power that can come from giving a chance to someone who might otherwise have been overlooked can’t be underestimated. It’s also deeply personal.

He and sister Lorraine were wards of the state in NSW and grew up in various hostels run by Legacy. From primary school until his late teens he missed the connection of being around cousins, and struggled for a time with his identity as an Aboriginal person.

At school in Hay he asked a teacher about nominating to become school captain. The response has stayed with him.

“I still remember the exact words: ‘Craig, you’ve got Buckley’s chance of being nominated.’ I said well I can nominate myself. And he said, ‘You’re an Aboriginal person, you’re not going to get elected as captain.’”

Through working in jails, teaching in a hard-edged school in London’s East End and being instrumental in the implementation of the Koori Court as the Victorian Magistrates Court’s first Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Craig has a lifetime of examples of similar prejudice and its heavy cost. Yet he’s seen the opposite too – the life-changing impact of giving someone a go.

"Teaching in London was hard – I ended up against the wall a few times, had chairs thrown at me. But once you understood the kids, the barriers they were facing – most of them came from broken families – once you got their trust you could see the difference you could make in their lives.”

Back home and a qualified primary and secondary teacher with runs on the board, Craig put himself forward to teach anywhere in NSW or Victoria. That was 20 years ago. He recently requested that his name be removed from the education database and received a reply asking why.

“I said I’d never once been offered a full-time position. They came back and apologised. I said don’t apologise, just do better. It’s hard enough to get any teacher these days, but to get an Aboriginal teacher who’s qualified to come back into the game ... It was one of the lowest points in my life that to this day I’ve never been offered a full-time teaching position in NSW or Victoria. It was easier to get a job in England.”

The social enterprises who Craig’s team now work with highlight the positive change in this space – and remind Craig every day how much he loves his job. Organisations like Himilo, who are helping to reduce gang violence by providing a pathway to many who might never have contemplated working in rail.

“If you’re able to make a difference and encourage contractors to not look at the low-hanging fruit, but at the fruit that’s higher up the tree – no skills, no qualifications, you’ve got to take a risk, provide a traineeship and hope it works,” Craig says. “That’s the stuff we’re focused on in the State Requirements team around pushing those opportunities, because it changes what happens in the community.

“Himilo is helping to reduce youth gang violence in the Sudanese community, because all of a sudden they see someone who’s 20, he’s not in the gang anymore, he’s working in rail construction or learning to drive a train. They say, if he can do it, I can do it.”

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