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First Nations’ tech businesses building digital capability
Fri, 1st Sep 2023

Australia is home to more than 2.1 million businesses, of which 12,000 and 16,000 (0.5% to 0.7%) are Indigenous Australian-owned. A further 73,250 Indigenous Australians are set to join the workforce by 2026, and 2,200 are expected to start their businesses. Australia faces a shortage of Indigenous companies able to fulfil even a small section of work in the IT market.

The last census in 2021 revealed that there were only 1,402 Indigenous ICT workers in Australia. There's been a significant push to grow the country's First Nations business sector in recent years, and the results are promising.

Two Indigenous-owned and operated technology businesses are creating economic opportunities for First Nations people by creating a future pipeline of Indigenous Australian tech talent. In collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS), Winyama Digital Solutions and Goanna Education are helping improve the digital capabilities of the First Nations' workforce so people can better care for the country and pursue new career paths in technology.

Winyama Digital Solutions, a West Australian First Nations-owned and operated IT consultancy, is upskilling and reskilling Indigenous Australians so they can help shape the future of the local tech industry. Ngarluma Traditional Owner Andrew Morumburri Dowding is Winyama's founder. His vision is to have full and equal participation of Indigenous Australian people in the digital economy.

“Our ultimate goal is to enhance Indigenous presence in the technology sector as well as empowering Indigenous communities by equipping them with industry-relevant digital skills, enabling us to secure the knowledge of our ancestors and responsibly manage their legacy in a sustainable, Indigenous manner that prepares us all for the future,” says Dowding.

Dowding has worked closely with Indigenous Ranger Groups and seen first-hand the need to build professional and technological skills within First Nation's communities and ensure they have access to digital tools to better care for the country.

Winyama is a member of the AWS Partner Network (APN) and leverages AWS to build environments to store, process, and manage geospatial location data intelligence and digital solutions to collect, host, visualise, share, and publish maps. This enables First Nations communities, businesses, and governments to make data-driven decisions with the correct contextual information concerning sacred sites, natural land, and other cultural significance. Winyama also leverages the AWS Think Big for Small Business Program, which offers small and/or minority-owned public sector organisations access to business, technical, and marketing support.

“Winyama has a goal to be the leading provider of location data and digital solutions across Australia’s commercial and public sectors. To achieve that, it is engaging First Nations people and their communities in the digital economy through the Indigenous Mapping Workshop Australia which offers a variety of Indigenous Australian ranger training programs for improving land management,” adds Dowding.

This classroom-based training initiative is designed for Indigenous Australians, Indigenous Ranger Groups, Language Centres, and Native Title Corporations. It equips Indigenous-led organisations with the skills that First Nations peoples are proficient in using geospatial software tools, Earth Observation (EO) technology, and other data management tools for capturing data in the field. Participants come away with the skills to map significant cultural sites, mitigate bushfires, protect threatened species, and comply with biosecurity.

Meanwhile, Winyama's internship program incubates young Indigenous Australian and Torres Strait Islander tech talent, especially those who want to learn geospatial skills. With the support of a dedicated mentor, it offers Geographic Information Systems (GIS) training for upcoming analysts and access to AWS Certifications for IT consultant graduates. Three accomplished Winyama interns have gone on to become graduate IT consultants and graduate GIS analysts.

Since launching in 2019, Winyama has trained over 1,500 First Nation's people in vital skills such as data collection and technology software. This year alone, the Indigenous Mapping Workshop Australia initiative has supported 77 organisations, including title organisations, cultural centres, language centres, heritage groups, and natural resource management companies.

Jaden Dzubiel, Graduate IT Consultant at Winyama and Indigenous Mapping Workshop trainer, says, "One of the things we do in the workshop is to overlay a historical map over satellite imagery, using attendees knowledge of the country to rediscover and rescue old cultural names. It's rewarding to make such a significant impact on the efforts to preserve culture."

He's also currently mentoring various students from years 7 to 12 to help them achieve their highest academic capabilities to increase the number of Indigenous Australians in the STEM field.

Goanna Education is Australia's only Indigenous-owned and led Registered Training Organisation specialising in information technology skills. Established in 2018 by Corey Brown, a Gamilaraay and Dunghutti man from Northern New South Wales, it helps Australians from all walks of life participate in and benefit from the digital economy, including First Nations people, communities, and businesses.

Goanna Education is working to close the digital skills gap by getting more young Indigenous Australian people into work and supporting people who are returning to the workplace after a career break. It also provides Indigenous Australian people with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, training, employment, and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Goanna Education collaborated with AWS to launch the first AWS re/Start in Australia in 2020. The entry-level, free workforce development program equips unemployed and underemployed individuals with the skills to pursue technology careers. Over 12 weeks, participants are taught practical cloud skills via in-person and video-conference-style e-learning in collaboration with AWS instructors. 

Goanna Education has supported 15 cohorts who graduate from the program and connect them with interview or employment opportunities. Through AWS re/Start, Goanna Education is helping address the national shortage of tech talent, aligned with the Australian Government's objective of creating 1.2 million jobs in technology by 2030 by employing 600,000 people.

“We are proud to enable all Australians, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities, to learn and earn on the country. The technology sector provides a significant opportunity for Indigenous Australian people as it predominantly offers remote work, therefore enabling the capacity to learn and earn on the country through programs such as AWS re/Start," says Melanie Redding, Chief Operating Officer at Goanna Education.

Goanna Education's collaboration with AWS has been a catalyst to helping the business further its reach to remote communities to equip First Nation peoples with digital skills. For example, via other nationally recognised training programs that offer up to six-month virtual training courses to people who have taken a career break or minority groups that want to enter the workforce.

As part of the AWS re/Start program, Goanna Education collaborates with the Department of Education and Sydney-based Indigenous Australian learning hub Kimberwalli to deliver foundational cloud skills. Many of the First Nations learners that Goanna trains have faced a number of barriers to digital inclusion, including access to equipment and financial support.

Digital skills yield economic benefits for communities and economies around the world. Research by Gallup and AWS shows advanced digital skills like cloud architecture, artificial intelligence, and software development raise Australia’s annual GDP by $41 billion by boosting the income and productivity of workers.

“It's an honour for us to work alongside Winyama and Goanna Education to help address the digital divides and strengthen technological capabilities within First Nations communities across Australia. At AWS, we understand the significance of reconciliation with First Nations individuals, and we value the meaningful actions aimed at bettering the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We are enthusiastic about collaborating with them to preserve the heritage of First Nations, and support their digital transformation journeys,” says Iain Rouse, Worldwide Public Sector Director for Australia and New Zealand at AWS.