18/09/2017 - 14:55

Recruiters adapt to a changing marketplace

18/09/2017 - 14:55

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SPECIAL REPORT: A possible skills shortage is among the challenges facing WA recruiters, amid an uptick in mining and hiring across the board.

Recruiters adapt to a changing marketplace
Brodie McDougall says the diversification of job types in WA has positioned the state’s economy in a much better state, from traditionally being resources reliant. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Mining clients provided the majority of work for international recruitment firm Michael Page when it entered the Western Australian market in the early 2000s. 

That has changed during the past three years, however, according to the firm’s WA regional director, Brodie McDougall, who says non-mining services such as healthcare and education have dominated the books following the resources downturn.

“We had to be proactive and diversify our client base,” Mr McDougall told Business News.

“We looked at job types in our more established markets like Sydney and Melbourne and how diverse the industries were there.

“It became more about having a clear plan to engage with non-mining services to understand their growth plans and what value we could provide.”

Mr McDougall said it had been a challenge to target a non-mining market, with many of the candidates the team had dealt over the years having resources experience in IT, finance or sales.

“The challenge was enabling those growth sectors to hire people not based on industry expertise, but to be based on personality and skillsets,” he said.

“Now, a lot of the hires we do are all about interpersonal, communication and leadership skills. The technical is a given; it’s about what value they’re going to bring to help to grow the business, not the usual ‘like for like’ recruitment.

“The most common areas in demand that we’ve found across all job types have been the ability to manage costs, diversify revenue and leadership – at every job level.

“So we’re not relying so much on a list of key experiences that the company is looking for; our value-add has been particularly for companies that have already advertised – it’s been about understanding those three key deliverables.”

In addition to growth in non-mining services Mr McDougall said green shoots were starting to emerge in the mining sector.

“We’ve grown internally by 50 per cent this year,” he said.

“And our IT team in particular has grown significantly.

“The WA economy is in a much better state now; you’ve got two clear growth markets coming off very different bases – non-mining services wanting to drive efficiencies, and mining companies now in a position to hire again.”

Perth-headquartered agency Mining People International general manager, Brad Thorp, also saw an uptick in WA’s mining sector.

“The turnaround came for us around 12 months ago in technical disciplines, mining engineering and geology,” Mr Thorp told Business News.

“During the dark days, when the downturn hit and no junior explorer could raise money, we had a total of three geologists out on contract during 2013-14.

“Now we have a 10-fold increase of geologists and technicians out on contract.

“And we have started to grow the business again.”

At the peak of the boom, the business had 51 staff across four offices in Perth, Kalgoorlie, Brisbane and Adelaide, which subsequently dropped to around 20 staff based just in WA, Mr Thorpe said.

Now he had a team of 30 and has reengaged his researcher based in Queensland.  

“We understood the industry was changing,” Mr Thorp said.

“You either adapt or someone else will adapt for you and you’ll just miss out on that market share.

“I saw other groups divert resources from mining, but we’ve been around for 23 years in the mining industry only and we didn’t have that option – our name is Mining People, so it’s pretty obvious what we do.

“And in many ways it has held us in good stead to remain niche and weather the storm.”

When the downturn hit, he said, the emphasis of work had shifted to building relationships rather than simply filling jobs.

“A lot of mining companies were going through tough times as well, it was very much we’re in the same boat as you and in many cases we were the only company that had kept in touch,” Mr Thorp said.

“It’s all about maintaining and building relationships for the future; now those clients are giving us an opportunity first.

“We also expanded our HR consulting business, which looked at things like resume services, remuneration research and career guidance.

“Traditional recruitment is changing and we need to look at other revenue streams.”

The business also expanded its online presence, through newsletter updates and the design of a separate website specifically for people looking to get into the mining industry.

“When I look at mines that are due to start over the next 12 months, I think there’s going to be a lot more demand for people,” Mr Thorp said.

“We’ve already seen a skills shortage in Kalgoorlie, many people left and went back east. Now there’s demand but not the people for the jobs.”

Global recruitment company Hays WA state director Chris Kent said the possibly of skills shortages developing in the state’s mining sector was a distinct possibility.

“Our mining business grew by some 70 per cent last year,” Mr Kent told Business News.

“We’re pushing back to our clients, explaining a lot of people have left the industry and WA.

“It’s going to be a very quick transition from being candidate-rich to candidate-short, and we’re already finding that in a number of areas.”

Mr Kent said one of the biggest challenges for WA across the board was the buoyant east coast market, where wages were often higher.

“If you look at the interstate migration statistics, you’ll see that WA was in decline for the first time in a decade,” he said.

“It’s not just about luring people back, it’s about luring their families back too.

“The changes to the 457 visa has also thrown a lot of uncertainty and sometimes people are leaving based on misinformation.

“It’s a fast track to skills shortages in WA, that’s the reality.” 

Growth

Mr Kent said although the past five years had been difficult, it had driven some of the less-accredited operators from the market, and Hays was planning to increase its Perth headcount by 20 per cent this year.

Perth-founded recruitment consultancy Harrier Human Capital chief executive and past 40under40 winner, Kelly Quirk, also has plans to grow her business.

The consultancy purchased Sydney-based executive search organisation Oceans Group late 2016, and Ms Quirk said Harrier was in the process of acquiring another company.  

“Our WA business in the last 12 months has doubled in size,” Ms Quirk told Business News.

“We’ve been very strategic and offer more than just recruitment – we offer HR consultancy and outsourcing for the likes of Rio Tinto, Chevron and Coles as well.

“I think those companies who’ve only made money in the boom times in Perth didn’t know how to react in the downturn, whereas we diversified many years ago.”

While the number of vacancies in Perth has been in decline over the past five years, the state government’s August WA Economic Profile revealed there were 19,100 job vacancies in the June 2017 quarter – 3,600 more than a year ago.

“Perth has turned a corner, there’s no doubt about it,” Ms Quirk said.  

“Hiring numbers are up about 30 to 40 per cent on last year, bearing in mind 2016 saw a record low that was about 80 per cent lower than when the GFC hit.

“We’ve seen consistent data now for six months showing month-on-month increases in hiring volumes, but people are still cautious and clients are more cost-focused.”

The rise of Seek and LinkedIn talent search functions and other recruitment algorithm technology may have given businesses more options, but Ms Quirk said the technology was more of an enabler than a threat.  

“Do you think managers are going to wade through 200 CVS on Seek, or do a database search of LinkedIn and find an amazing person just like that? No,” she said.

“Until businesses spend and invest time in the talent acquisition function to bring great people on and to retain them, there will always be a place for us in this marketplace.

“Humans are very unpredictable commodities.

“The reality is there’s a lot of hard work that goes into recruitment.”

40under40 winner Kelly Quirk says business for the WA arm of Harrier Human Capital has doubled in the past 12 months. Photo: Angela Coote, Rolling Stills

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