In a significant milestone for the region, 14 Indigenous individuals have become the first cohort of graduates through Rio Tinto’s Aboriginal Training and Liaison program since 2009. The ATAL program, designed in collaboration with traditional owners, focuses on creating a supportive environment for Pilbara Aboriginal people to develop skills essential for employment in various roles and industries across the region. The 18-week course is divided into two phases. The initial six weeks, termed “outside the gate”, concentrate on enhancing work readiness and addressing barriers to employment. This phase encompasses activities such as document preparation, setting up bank accounts, health checks, career planning, leadership meetings, driver training and life skills assistance. The subsequent 12 weeks, termed “inside the gate”, involve familiarisation activities, safety training and preparation to become industry-ready. Indigenous mentors and trainers offer support during this phase. Participants gain hands-on experience through site tours and role shadowing in Rio Tinto’s rail and port operations in the Pilbara region. Two participants have received apprenticeship offers in engineering and fabrication, while another has secured external employment. Additional employment opportunities, including roles as operators and in administration across rail and port operations in Karratha, Dampier and Wickham, are on the horizon for the remaining graduates. All participants hail from the Pilbara, with the majority representing traditional owner groups where Rio Tinto operates, including Banjima, Yindjibarndi, Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura, Yinhawangka, Ngarlama and Nyiaparli. Rio Tinto’s general manager of rail maintenance, Matt Baartz, emphasised the company’s commitment to fostering an inclusive, supportive and diverse workforce. He highlighted enhancements in hiring practices aimed at retaining, supporting and developing Indigenous employees. “ATAL is a great example of bringing new people into our organisation with a different background and different set of skills,” he said. ATAL graduate Akeem Howard expressed his aspirations to start his own business in the future. Drawing inspiration from the ATAL program, he aims to train other young Indigenous people to enter the industry. Mr Howard commended the collective progress of the group, emphasising that “we all moved forward together, and no one got left behind”. The graduation ceremony, a momentous occasion, took place on November 21 at the Red Earth Arts Precinct.