Interview: how Sydney Metro is championing diversity and inclusion

Sydney Metro is the New South Wales (NSW) Government agency tasked with delivering a high-capacity, high-frequency metro network across Australia’s Greater Sydney region. The agency is committed to establishing initiatives to increase diversity in the workforce and supply chain, with a focus on Aboriginal participation.

Carla Calkins, Senior Manager, Social Procurement, and Amy McCann, Workforce Development Advisor, explain how Australia’s biggest transport project is increasing diversity in its workforce and supply chain.

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Carla Calkins and Amy McCann Senior Manager, Social Procurement, and Workforce Development Advisor, Sydney Metro

What is Sydney Metro’s Workforce Development and Industry Participation Plan?

Carla: Since Sydney Metro’s North West inception, we wanted to ensure it left a lasting legacy, so we created a number of workforce priority areas.

Sydney Metro’s Workforce Development and Industry Participation Plan is creating interventions that increase supply chain diversity. This is increasing the number of small to medium as well as Aboriginal businesses in the supply chain and expanding local workforce participation. Complementing this is workforce skills development, where we work proactively with our delivery partners to mitigate critical skill shortages while building a diverse and inclusive workforce pipeline.

We are committed to diversity and inclusion policies driving the supply chain. For instance, increasing the number of women, Aboriginal people, and young people in construction. We are also committed to inspiring future talent through apprenticeships, graduates and training, and by reaching out to school-age children to consider careers in construction.

Collaboration is key. None of this can work when undertaken in silos. We need to work together with industry and government to drive forward diversity and inclusion.

How do you work with Aboriginal businesses in the supply chain?

Carla: All infrastructure projects must comply with the same policies, but we have developed mechanisms in our contracts to ensure our partners go beyond compliance to deliver meaningful outcomes

For every package, contractors must engage a minimum number of Aboriginal businesses in their supply chain. We have ‘bid back’ mechanisms, meaning tenderers can further increase Aboriginal business numbers and participate in or deliver programmes that support the capability uplift of Aboriginal businesses.

We facilitate bi-annual Aboriginal business forums where we share up-and-coming procurement opportunities. Here, delivery partners provide fact sheets and speakers present details of scopes of works, key contacts, and processes to access their supply chain. We also have guest speakers present on programmes and services available to businesses to support capacity and capability building.

How are you attracting Indigenous Australians to work with Sydney Metro? 

Carla: Sydney Metro’s approach includes minimum requirements in contract reflective of state and federal policies, project scope and our own priorities.

As part of this model, all delivery partners must ensure that a minimum of 2.5 percent of their workforce is comprised of Aboriginal people. In addition, we have bid back mechanisms to support the attraction and retention of underrepresented groups, such as mentoring programmes, targeted skills development and pre-employment programmes.

What are the interventions you make to help create a safe and inclusive working environment?

Carla: We understand that increasing and retaining a diverse workforce requires a safe and inclusive working environment. Sydney Metro ensures all supervisors in the supply chain participate in cultural awareness training, which must be delivered by an Aboriginal business.

This supports increased awareness for leadership on how to drive an inclusive environment in the workplace. Outcomes from this initiative have been very positive with some contractors mentioning they had never experienced cultural awareness training.

Amy: The advisors in Carla’s team have a variety of experience and a lot of knowledge, and they often share examples with the delivery partners, who may be new to the Australian market, which they can take on board and then adopt with their own processes.

We also request data on our delivery partners’ engagement with different observance days. For example, how they support and promote International Women’s Day and events like National Aborigines' and Islanders' Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week. This is to make sure they support and drive an inclusive culture within the industry more broadly.

What outcomes from the initiative are you most proud of? 

Carla: My favourite is our pre-employment programme, which supports underrepresented groups into long-term, sustainable jobs. Historically, many people who have gone through these programmes have been long-term unemployed or from underrepresented groups.

It is a programme we facilitate and the one that I am the most proud of because it helps people with barriers to employment successfully access the workforce across our projects. Many have then gone on to complete apprenticeships and traineeships.

Amy: Working with our delivery partners, it is the diversity growth that I have witnessed with them and their subcontractors that I am most proud of. In particular, seeing the increased diversity in the workforce and supply chain, along with the many initiatives being delivered. These increases are evidenced in the data we collect. It is a long-lasting change which affects how the industry drives inclusion and diversity.

What do you think has made the Workforce Development and Industry Participation Plan a success?

Carla: Being really clear in terms of contractual obligations: having that framework as a baseline to be clear around what is expected of the delivery partners from the get-go and following that with robust reporting.

Running client-led programmes that aim to support delivery partners in meeting their outcomes has helped too, as has having both client- and industry-side subject matter experts on hand to ensure successful delivery of outcomes, and leadership support on both sides. People – both client side and industry side – drive what we are trying to achieve, as it will not happen on its own.

Amy: Collaborative partnerships are so important. For example, having continuous dialogue with our delivery partners, where we talk through ideas to see what can work and what can be achieved. The intention is not just to meet targets, but to really examine what we are trying to achieve. If our delivery partners achieve their goals, then we achieve ours.

What actions does the industry needs to take to enable better outcomes in the delivery of infrastructure in Australia? 

Carla: That is a big question. In my realm of control, I am going to focus on social procurement. At least in NSW, we need to take it to the next level and work better with other infrastructure projects to drive outcomes.

The other piece is the focus on women in construction. I think there is still a lot of work to be done in this area to increase representation but to also have a culturally safe and inclusive work environment. 

Amy: I would agree with both of those. I think it is more about industry-wide change. Sydney Metro does a lot in this area, and we adapt quickly, while working with people in the industry.

I believe attracting a more diverse workforce into the industry is key. Infrastructure is not going anywhere; it is growing, and we cannot attract people fast enough to support the growth we have achieved in the sector. 

For further information contact:

Charlene Singh
Global Business Generation Lead, Infrastructure

t: +44 7939 981267