Mobile phone technology creating an Aboriginal workforce in remote communities.

If you’ve travelled in remote and regional communities across Australia, you know the uneasy feeling of not having mobile phone coverage and how it can play on your mind while travelling.

Communities in the Central Australian regions of Petyale, Ankweleyelengkwe, Welere, Urrermerne and Payeperrentye are now set up with the operation of five new mobile phone hotspots now contributing to forty-eight other mobile phone hotspots in remote sites throughout the Northern Territory.

In partnership with the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CfAT) the Northern Territory Government have funded the project with an additional three hundred thousand dollars to deliver hotspots for residents and tourists.

CfAT has trained local Aboriginal people to install the hotspot technology and will continue to train new technicians and encourage women and girls in communities to take this career path. The organisation supports the Technology on Country Program so more First Nations people can live and thrive on country through the use of technology, communications, education and training. The focus of the program is to keep people in community.

Chief Executive Officer, Centre for Appropriate Technology Peter Renehan says these hotspots magnify the mobile signals so people can communicate for safety and business reasons.

That’s not the end of the story, Peter is passionate about employment and training, and he says the real story is about the team that built the technology for these hotspots, the First Nations senior leaders and mentors who support the trainees to be successful employees who have been delivering the project outcomes. The mentors are qualified and have come through other industries to be strong leaders and develop and nurture the men coming through.

CfAT would also like to support women to be trained in this field, offering training and employment pathways that are culturally safe and have women leading other women and girls to become technologists.

First Nations Media Australia handed down the 2022 Infrastructure Audit Report highlighting information and data specific for the sector. A key theme identified is the shortage of First Nations IT, telecommunications and broadcast infrastructure technologists and engineers available across Australia and the divide is prevalent in regional and remote communities. The report identifies that all of these platforms need to co-exist and training and funding is required to meet the demand so communities can train and employee staff from the region and reduce the costs and delays caused by employing technologists from the cities. Remote IT, IP and Infrastructure work is a common practice but can still be problematic.

The Mapping the Digital Gap project is also providing data to advise policy and programs to help close the digital gap. The project has identified the Closing the Gap Target of equal levels of digital inclusion for Aboriginal People by 2025 based on data from the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII).

Another discussion point with Peter Renehan is the priority of protocols when initiating a project to build mobile phone and other communications technology on country. Surveys and meetings with community members is important. He says non-Indigenous staff learn there are layers of communication needed when decisions are made for the projects so cultural heritage sites can be protected.

This is an important part of the surveying and application process of a build and is more meaningful when Aboriginal to Aboriginal work together on this.

Peter Renehan says this project provides skills exchange with non-Indigenous technicians which builds a stronger workforce for all technicians. “Learning protocols in the workforce is an important part of the surveying and application process of a build and is more meaningful when Aboriginal to Aboriginal work together on this.”