08 December 2017

Robert van Stokrom: The (recently ex) RCSA President reflects

Two weeks ago Robert van Stokrom stepped down having completed four years as President of the RCSA (Australia & NZ) and a further six years as a board member.

I managed to gain a short window of Robert’s time to put a few questions to him about this time as RCSA President and a few current industry issues.

Ross: In our Q&A four years ago, upon assuming the RCSA presidency, you stated that your aim as President was to “….firmly establish the RCSA as the association that is regarded as Australia’s expert on employment, skills, the workforce and workforce management. The RCSA will facilitate and inform Australian business and Government to adapt to changing skill and labour force requirements.” What is your assessment of the progress made by the RCSA towards this aim during your time as President?

Robert: I think it is plain to see that we have increased our profile significantly in so many areas. We have a voice at the table in many Government groups; we are consulted on industry matters far more than we ever have. There is still an element of politicking in the industry with the unions not able to get in step with the rest of developed world economies. This will take time but is slowly changing.

The fact is, we are a preferred choice for many employers as experts. Our rebranding has helped identify our industry’s major activity by introducing the word Staffing.

What’s still to be accomplished and what’s required to accomplish it?

We need to change our thinking as leaders in this industry; we have established the Next Generation Collective to help with this. We need to listen and act on what our newer entrants into the workforce want.

Establishing this initiative is only the start. I am confident that with the election of Sinead Hourigan as our new President and Matt Sampson as the leader for the NGC, things will happen.

Labour licensing is upon us – what can owners do to prepare themselves for the new reality and how is the RCSA helping with this transition?

We have already planned education sessions on the Labour Licensing Laws. Unfortunately they are now thrust upon us despite the efforts of Charles Cameron our CEO to encourage a harmonised national Industry Code. It must be understood that these licences are simply some sizzle as State Labour governments have bowed to union pressure. There is very little Steak in the legislation. The catalyst for change will be the RCSA accreditation program.

Should recruitment technology platform providers (eg Sidekicker) that are, in effect, providing a recruitment service to end users, be joining the RCSA and abiding by the RCSA Code for Professional Conduct? Why or why not?

Yes they should, as they provide a similar service. They will be a part of our future, as competitors and allies. We need to accept the change, embrace these platforms and provide the same guiding principles as traditional members.

SEEK has upset plenty of recruitment agency owners in the past year or so. Is SEEK a friend, a foe or neither? Should the industry be concerned or just let the free market sort it out?

So what is the answer here? It’s an interesting one. My opinion, and it’s not entirely supported by some of my industry colleagues is that we need to embrace SEEK. They have been a part of our industry for a long time. It’s not always been a smooth road but I believe now more than ever they want to travel the journey together with our industry.

Sure they are trialling some new technologies that cut across some of our members businesses but that’s the competitive world we live in. As technologies evolve some of this enables businesses to pursue diversification; we all do this so why shouldn’t SEEK? We all know how dinosaurs ended up. Our businesses will constantly be challenged, always have and always will be. Embrace the changes, move and prosper.

What measures of organisational health would you point out to indicate that the RCSA is in a stronger positon than it was four years ago?

I am very proud to have been at the helm the last 4 years in particular. We have an amazing CEO who has increased the profile and respect of the Association; we have a brand new team at National HO and we have a new Principal Partner in Prime Super who totally understand our business and are providing great benefits for all members. We have also undergone a constitutional reform that will see a more agile and representative board for the future.

What do you hope your major legacy is as President?

I think that most in my position would say that they want to leave the ship in better shape than when took over as captain. I think my most significant legacy is the strength, diversity, curiosity and courage of our new board.

What are your professional plans for 2018?

I am focussing on our business DFP Recruitment. We have enjoyed some exceptional success and judging by our results in the current year, 2018 looks like a huge year for us. We have some exciting business plans that will consume much of my time.

I am also considering some other board positions not linked to the recruitment industry.

What are your personal plans for 2018; any movie roles on the horizon?

Ross, you know I like to be kept busy and squeeze all I can from life. I intend to spend more time with my family and our gorgeous 10 grandchildren. I am looking forward to racing my historic race car more, playing in our band and tinkering with my growing car collection. Leonie and I are also planning some more adventure travels.

Thanks Robert, for taking the time to answer my questions and congratulations on what you have accomplished in the ten years you have been a member of the National Board; all the best for 2018.

Thanks Ross, it’s been my pleasure.

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30 November 2017

The man, as a leader of women, the recruitment industry can be proud of

This week we have seen the full local impact of last month’s Harvey Weinstein expose. The combined Fairfax Media/ABC investigative resources were marshalled in service of Tracey Spicer’s tweet of 18 October:

As you can see, the tweet generated an immediate and overwhelming response that quickly elevated Don Burke’s name to the top of her list of men to investigate.

The subsequent reporting by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC’s 7.30 program, revealed a consistent pattern to the behaviour being alleged of Burke; he used utterly crude, gross and completely inappropriate sexual language and aggressive sexual behaviour, including sexual assault, to shock, belittle, bully and demean a countless number of women across a spectrum covering employees of Burke’s production company, an Olympic gold medallist, school girls and potential employees.

This is just the result of the first 24 hours of publicity. I note lead Fairfax Media investigative journalist, Kate McClymont, who broke the story on Monday, commented the following day that she had received new messages from over 200 women with their own Don Burke horror story to tell.

Although it is gratifying that Burke looks like, finally, being brought to account for his past behaviour, it has occurred in a week that the recruitment industry has much to be proud of in terms of its own step forward in gender equality.

On Friday afternoon, Sinead Hourigan was voted in as the new RCSA (Australia & New Zealand) National President, succeeding the retiring Robert van Stokrom, after his ten years on the National Board including the most recent four years as President.

Sinead is the first female to attain the position of National President, in the 20 years history of the RCSA. although we have long had women in other significant positions in the RCSA, for example former RCSA (and current APSCo) CEO, Julie Mills. My own time on the NSW Council of the NAPC (forerunner to the RCSA) was served with Kaye Strain and then Ruth Levinsohn, respectively, as NSW NAPC President.

Our industry’s ‘grandfather’, V. John Plummer (senior) was renowned as promoter of women’s capabilities and he laughed all the way to the bank for his fierce non-discrimination. When he sold his agency, Centacom Staffing in 1988 to (what was then) Adia (later Adecco) his company employed 298 women and just two men!

To talk to any woman who was in Mr Plummer’s employment for any length of time you immediately hear a deep respect for him because he had deep respect for them and he rewarded them financially in a way that was unheard of in other industries 30 to 40 years ago.

To contrast the recruitment industry with the endless tales of horror coming from the entertainment industry, I took the time this week to contact some relevant people for their personal experiences of Mr Plummer.

John Plummer (Junior), very kindly provided me with some background on his father’s company and attitude, via an email, that I am sure will be fascinating to everybody in our industry interested in its local heritage.

Centacom was born in the post war era. Many women who had been working through the war in male roles were required to return to pre-war duties. It was also an era of population movement. The word Centacom is a derivative of the Central Accommodation Bureau that was located near Central Station in Sydney. It provided accommodation and jobs. You must also keep in mind that the female role in the work force was changing. It wasn't until 1966 that a married woman was allowed to work in Government (single women were terminated immediately on advising of marriage). The vast majority of these were in clerical, admin/secretarial functions.

At that stage Centacom was purely an employment agency and had great success finding roles for these displaced government employees. It is no secret that women are more comfortable dealing with other women and hence the focus of Centacom was female consultants placing office staff. So really the business was born out of environmental opportunity. Temperamentally women are multitasking nurturers, while men are single task hunters. It was more obvious in the 60s and 70s that office work was a female domain. 

Very few men wanted to do recruitment work then and so there were no issues about equal pay for women as females were doing all the work (has this really changed?). In general industry there was a glass ceiling for women in management roles. So the philosophy at Centacom was to provide opportunities for women in both management and pay, effectively saying "no glass ceiling in this company". Centacom had its millionaires club which had two concepts behind it. You joined the club when you hit a million dollars in billings and secondly it was to create as many millionaires in the staff as possible. Needless to say this was warmly accepted and won great loyalty. That loyalty was core to a very strong culture.

Perhaps my final comment which is often repeated; VJP had a plaque on his desk that read "The best man for the job is a woman".

My comment on Don Burke; Dinosaur - should be extinct

The women will say it better than me.


I did make contact with a few of those Centacom women that John alludes to, each of whom experienced the respect and generosity of Mr Plummer first-hand.

Here’s what they had to say

Pioneer, visionary and champion of women in the corporate world are terms that come to mind when I think of Mr V John Plummer.

Commencing my recruitment career in the 1980’s when Mr Plummer was at the helm of what was then an innovative concept in Australia, a recruitment agency, I saw first-hand how he invested in the women he employed. Promoting women on the basis of merit, we were given opportunities to be managers. We were given a voice in the business world.  We were given the opportunity to earn financial independence.

As an employee of Mr Plummer, I felt respected, listened to and above all else, valued.  He was, and is, a gentleman.

Managing Director,
Recruitment Edge
(ex Centacom/Adecco, 1986 – 1998)

I’m sure you have heard from other people that one of JP’s favourite expressions is “the best man for the job is a woman!”  My experience was that he treated you as a person and a professional & empowered you to run your Centacom branch as if it were your own business but with the support and encouragement of the head office team. 

He was generous, not only in a financial sense but with his time & knowledge too.  He was there for you during the tough times as well as the good ones and I know that he quietly helped many people through difficult times without it becoming common knowledge & with minimal fuss.

He gave people who worked for him an incredibly solid platform for success and I remain forever grateful to him for everything he did for me.

Senior Manager,
Active Recruitment
(ex Centacom/Adecco, 1987 – 1998)

I cannot speak highly enough of Mr Plummer, and I started working for him 45 years ago. He had a saying ‘The best person to do a man’s job is a woman!’ and another one was ‘If it is to be it is up to me’ and all the staff adhered to that.

He respected his staff, never raised his voice, he shared in the profits of his company with everyone and always wanted to see his ‘girls’ become successful. For me his help continued even after he retired, and he became a mentor for me.  The reason I have stayed in business for so long is in testament to Mr Plummer.

In light of what we hear about supposed ‘successful’ men and their treatment of women Mr Plummer is certainly the exception to the rule.
Executive Consultant,
Cox Purtell
(ex Centacom/Adecco, 1974 – 1994)

Mr Plummer was an inspiration to all his team – constantly providing motivational and goal setting literature along with self development literature.  He took this to a greater level by providing on-going training through numerous conferences and training days throughout every year. 

He rewarded good results with attendance at International Conferences for his top performers.  All expenses paid, and still paid their salary and not taken from their holidays!

You can imagine that among such an ongoing bevy of women, that Mr Plummer was constantly in the same situation that these poorly behaved men have found themselves but he treated all his employees with the utmost respect being a chivalrous, old school gentleman. His language was and is always polite, educated, courteous, direct and positive.

Mr Plummer was keenly interested in all his staff - their personal situations as well as their business performance – and many times he assisted his employees through difficult times with counselling, financial aid, listening and caring.  He HELPED them get through their difficult times and never held anything against them – just helped them again if need be!

He was always there for us!  More like a caring Father or Uncle who understood his employees and we knew we could turn to him if we needed help.  I personally know MANY women who have gone to him for assistance or guidance and he helped them.

He has never asked anything from us. But he has ALWAYS been there for us!

A true gentleman who changed the lives of hundreds of women directly and hundreds of thousands of people indirectly throughout the last 50 years.

Temo Enterprises,
(ex Centacom/Adecco, 1984 – 1995)

Thank you, Mr Plummer, for showing our industry the way and may your outstanding example of fairness, respect and equality in the workplace receive the wider recognition it so richly deserves.

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17 November 2017

The future of recruitment, according to Hays (and how to beat them)

This month is the ten year anniversary since Denis Waxman, the legendary Global CEO of Hays, left the building with his place having been taken by Alistair Cox, an experienced chief executive from outside the recruitment industry.

This was potentially a risky move but ten years on, the decision to appoint Cox can be viewed as a big success, although a glance at the raw numbers from Hays’s global results may not make that immediately obvious.

Net fees
Operating profit
Total consultants
Total offices
Total countries
FY 2017
£954 million
£211 million
FY 2007
£633 million
£216 million

In the past ten years net fees have risen by 50 per cent while operating profit has declined slightly. Compared to 2007, Hays now employs 37% more consultants who work in 33% fewer offices in 32% more countries.

Headline figures disguise much. In this case the 2007 figures were propelled by the pre-GFC golden period for recruitment agencies, especially those who recruited in financial markets and financial skill sets.

In 2007 Hays (UK & Ireland) made an operating profit of £141 million from 3134 consultants in 257 offices. Ten years later the equivalent figures tell a starkly different story: an operating profit of £41 million from 1948 consultants across 98 offices.

Cox has been able to navigate a very difficult post-GFC environment by dramatically shrinking the cost base of the UK & Ireland business, growing the Continental Europe market strongly (most successfully in Germany) and methodically commencing operations in new countries through acquisition (eg USA) or aggressive organic growth (eg Singapore).

With their financial platform now very strongly re-established Hays have just released a document that clearly articulates where Cox has been focusing resources in order to keep the Hays competitive advantage alive, and growing, for the decade ahead.

The document Recruitment Remodelled: The art and science of successful recruitment lays bare how Hays view the future of recruitment in a world increasingly impacted by digital technology, data science, artificial intelligence, rapid change and skills shortages.

The Hays response is highly candidate focused – it’s all about using the available technology and science and combining it with human relationships to create what they have called an Approachability Index. Clearly Hays see this as a big winner for them and if it works consistently across the many markets Hays operates in, then I have no doubt it will have a significantly positive impact.

So where does that leave other agencies?  

My view is that the opportunity for other agencies to remain competitive with, or beat,  Hays is found more in what is absent from Recruitment Remodelled rather than what it contains.

Nowhere in the document is an emerging problem discussed; that of hiring managers failing to understand the true drivers of high performance in a job.

The Hays models works beautifully as long as the key selection criteria articulated by the hiring manager is actually what’s required for success in the role, both in the short term and in the longer term. Unfortunately the skill required of a hiring manager to accurately identify the true selection criteria is often lacking. 

This was articulated in Kevin Chandler’s (qualified organisational psychologist and founder & former CEO of publicly listed Chandler Macleod Limited) presentation at the 2016 RCSA International Conference in Port Douglas.

Kevin shared the story of his light bulb moment when he compared the high performance competency sets developed by the managers (the supposed subject matter experts) with the high performance competency sets developed from a scientific and objective assessment of a group of that same company’s high performers – there was almost no correlation! The evidence proved that the hiring managers were largely clueless about what underpinned high performance in jobs they were responsible for!

The lesson being if you start recruiting with the wrong competencies, as the foundation of a job’s selection criteria, then hiring errors are inevitable, no matter how objectively good the candidates are and regardless of how competent the interviewer is.

The Hays approach to the future of recruitment is founded on their Approachability Index driving the success of niche candidate pools of skilled, ready-to-move candidates.

Hays is leaving hiring managers to figure out for themselves, for the time being at least,  the correct competency sets for high performance in the jobs that they are recruiting.

The opportunity for other recruitment agencies is to develop a methodology that can help the hiring manage make a better job analysis and match that with the creation of an accurate high performer profile. This level of capability is not easily attained because it’s a fundamentally different client service model requiring a significant investment of resources to build, deliver and improve.

The sophistication of this approach, compared to current recruitment agency business models, is unlikely to appeal to many agency owners, however the opportunity remains tantalisingly available. Consistently beating Hays requires plenty of resources and a steely resolve, and this approach is no different.

In the meantime you can be sure that Hays will continue down the path that has made countless fortunes since the beginning of exchange and trade a few millennia ago – give the people what they want, rather than what they need.

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10 November 2017

500th issue of InSight: How do I make Seek redundant?

Issue #500 of InSight
Ten years and six weeks ago I published the first issue of my newsletter, InSight.

In it I articulated my thoughts on the RCSA Conference that I had just attended. Seventeen subscribers received that first newsletter.

Today is the 500th issue of InSight and I am, as far as I can tell, the longest, continually published recruitment-specific blogger in Australia.

Thank you for reading my analyses, my rants, my opinions, my complaints and my views on all things recruitment for as long as you have been a reader. I greatly appreciate all the feedback I receive on a regular basis.

Also a special thank you and acknowledgement to Liana Duric, my invaluable foil (and only employee) since InSight's first issue. She is, undoubtedly, the unsung hero of these past ten years as she has provided the highly necessary voice of reason to my work providing the honest and constructive feedback that ensures what you receive is as readable as it is interesting and useful.

I still derive great enjoyment writing about a sector that continues to provide such a rich source of interesting material. Thank you, to you the reader, for your constant stream of tips, suggestions and sources of inspiration; please keep them coming. I intend to keep blogging for as long as there is an audience for my analysis and opinions.

This week’s blog is another look at the recent uproar about Seek’s activities and what we, as an industry, might take from where we find ourselves.

How do I make Seek redundant?

The first issue of Insight was published at the near-peak of the pre-GFC recruitment industry boom; nobody was predicting the fallout that was just over the horizon, precipitated by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.

As the 500th issue of InSight is published, we now find ourselves in another boom market. 

As I wrote about last week, you can be confident that times are good and are likely to continue in the short-to-medium term, at least, when Hays are hiring new recruiters at a rate of one every day of the working week, for months in a row.

Although, as long term readers are fully aware, I am an optimist about the future of the industry there are signs that need to be heeded.

The recent investments and market behaviour of Seek Limited has been, or should have been, a wake-up call for all in our industry.

Two weeks ago I attended a meeting where Seek representatives, Managing Director Michael Ilczynski and Head of Sales (Recruiter Segment) Con Marcheson met with RCSA CEO, Charles Cameron and RCSA Vice President, Sinead Hourigan, along with other members of the RCSA Online Workforce Solutions working group (of which I am a member).

The ninety minute conversation covered a number of areas of mutual concern.

Seek is unapologetic about their focus on maximising the job-seeking experience for each visitor to their job board platform. This means that the job seeker, regardless of the job that they apply for, can select a privacy setting of their choosing, which may make their details available immediately to other advertisers and subscribers, including other Seek-funded companies.

Sidekicker (a Seek-funded company) are aggressively targeting direct-hire advertisers with an email campaign that holds nothing back and seems to contradict Seek’s assertion that Sidekicker see their offering as much more of a labour-management platform than a direct recruitment-agency substitute.

Although their activities are the current focus of the Australian recruitment industry, it would be short-sighted, and a mistake, to fixate solely on what Seek are doing.

Even if Seek disappeared tomorrow, there would still be plenty of recruitment technology entrepreneurs eyeing off their small slice of the multi-hundred billion dollar global recruitment industry.

Although many recruitment technology companies are, so far, failing to deliver in line with expectations, there are other companies, especially in the contingent recruitment space that are building some momentum. Weploy and Adepto are just two of such offerings that have dispatched very upbeat progress reports to their respective communities this week.

These two companies have a much easier sell compared to their recruitment technology peers because their products, although very different, are solving problems that are very easy for the end-user to identify, and articulate the cost of. For end-users, this makes comparing their current solution to the alternatives that Weploy and Adepto offer, far easier.

The question that every agency owner and executive should be asking is not “How do we stop, or beat, Seek?”; the more powerful question is “How do I make Seek redundant (to me)?”

Three years ago I wrote about an agency that had done exactly that – closed their Seek account because they decided that screening candidates who applied to job board ads was an unprofitable use of their consultants’ time. The way this agency sources and assesses high quality candidates is not a way that their clients can easily or cost-effectively replicate.

The agency owners most agitated about Seek’s current activities are, unsurprisingly those whose business models most heavily rely on sourcing candidates via Seek ads.

In no way does this invalidate these owners’ concerns, or even anger, at Seek’s activities (or at the very least Seek’s lack of proactive communication about their various recruitment technology investments; sentiments I share), but consider how different things would be if a large majority of their respective agencies’ candidates were generated from avenues outside the Seek job board.

When you rely on a dominant (near-monopoly) supplier for an important component of your service offering, without a well-resourced plan to reduce your future reliance on this supplier, you are backing yourself into a corner with few palatable escape options if your supplier ‘goes rogue’.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” 

R. Buckminster Fuller, American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, and inventor.

I am truly fascinated to find out how different, or similar, the recruitment landscape will be when/if I reach InSight issue #1000 sometime in late 2028 or early 2029.

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