06 July 2017

Onploy: Do Seek want to have their cake and eat it too (again)?

For the whole of Seek’s life there has been an uneasy alliance between Australia’s largest jobs board, Seek, and its recruitment agency clientele.

In the early days, the large recruitment agencies were a very important foundation source of revenue for the fledging Seek at the end of the last millennium. Subsequent to Seek’s listing on the ASX in April 2005, recruitment agencies continued to be a key market for Seek as they aggressively spread their sales efforts into the corporate recruitment market.

When Seek’s Application Export was introduced in early 2012, it created a stir with agencies. Here was Seek setting up their own Applicant Tracking System in which candidates uploaded their details directly to the backend of the Seek site, rather than as had traditionally been the case, submitting their resume via the application method or portal of the advertiser’s choice.

Naturally the recruitment industry was sceptical when Seek’s PR machine presented this move as all about making it easier for candidates to apply from mobile devices and “….giv(ing) jobseekers every opportunity to apply for your roles by reducing barriers”.

Seek was cooing about the enhanced customer experience while the recruitment industry was unimpressed that their paid job ads on Seek were the vehicle through which Seek was directly stockpiling resumes that they would, almost certainly, use to create another product offering. And we know how that finished up, don’t we?

Of course the recruitment industry adapted to Seek’s move and five years later I doubt many recruiters would recall that this issue caused such a stir at the time.

Is history about to repeat itself with Seek’s new offering, Onploy?

Six months ago industry news service ShortList revealed the beta testing of Onploy, an employment marketplace of Talent Solutions Pty Ltd, a fully owned subsidiary of Seek Limited.

Details of the Onploy offering were not known at the time of the ShortList report but ShortList speculated that “… the site will operate in a similar vein to LiveHire or Nvoi, using a talent community or "marketplace" model.”

Onploy was publicly unveiled last week when ads appeared on Seek.com.au. From the copy of these ads, it’s clear that Seek have launched a talent community model that goes a step further than the model speculated about by ShortList.

Here’s what the ads say:

What is Onploy
We are a new startup based in Australia, backed by the SEEK Group. Onploy connects outstanding talent with Australia's best companies through an online, hiring marketplace.
With Onploy, our candidates are supported by our Career Mentors and are always in control. We showcase in-demand jobseekers on our platform where leading companies vetted by us can apply directly to them.

What we do
We take the search out of your job search.
You create a profile outlining your experience and what you're looking for next. Then, once approved, we set you live in our marketplace for a limited period of time and employers can approach you with real job opportunities tailored to your skill set. You are in complete control over who sees your profile and which opportunities you want to proceed with.

The mention of Career Mentors caught my eye.

I headed to https://www.onploy.com/ to see what it might say about these mentors.

The page https://www.onploy.com/how-it-works informs me:

Sign-up by creating a profile that best highlights your career experience and skills.

We will review your profile and, if there is a fit, you’ll be invited to join our exclusive marketplace.

Have your own personal Career Mentor
Once accepted on Onploy, you will be paired with your own Career Mentor who will help you through your job search. They are not aligned with any specific employer, but they will be your ally. Their goal is to help you navigate through the recruitment process and find the perfect job, not make commissions.

Your Career Mentor will help you polish your profile, prepare for interviews, and they'll drive the overall recruitment process on your behalf. They will know your industry and what it takes to land your dream job.

What exactly is a ‘fit’ in terms of a candidate being accepted onto the platform?

I suspect that with the vast amount of job ad, resume and job application data that Seek have at their disposal, they have created an algorithm to identify applications that match the ‘likely to hire’ criteria, and reject everybody else.

As of last week, the only opportunities that Onploy were advertising were those in the Retail Fashion sector, specifically management roles.

It’s hardly surprising that Seek would target Onploy at this part of the job market first as Retails Managers (221,000) are the fourth largest occupation category in the whole Australian job market and easily the largest Manager Occupation group (Advertising, PR and Sales Managers at 139,000 is the second largest).

In addition to large numbers of managers, the Retail sector also has high staff turnover, most recently reported at 41%.

Last Friday afternoon a simple Seek job search for ‘Manager’, ‘Retail’, ‘All Melbourne’ returned 1,004 results.

High employee numbers and high staff churn create an ideal combination to test the Onploy offering.

I went through the various screens for the Onploy application process and it was all pretty standard candidate information they were requesting at each stage. On the final screen you had the opportunity to list all the organisations you did not wish your details to be able to be viewed by. There was also a check box entitled ‘exclude all recruitment agencies.

Last Friday, I called Seek, wanting to understand more about the Career Mentors and the Onploy model generally.

Interestingly, within two hours of putting in a call to the Seek public relations team, leaving a message to advise them of the specific nature of my call, all of the Onploy ads were deleted from Seek.

Sarah Macartney, Seek’s Corporate Communications and PR Manager, phoned me back on Monday morning and answered some of my questions. In a follow up email she stated:

“The role of the Career Mentor is to offer platform support on Onploy. Onploy is a technology driven marketplace for candidates, the career mentor is a supplementary support service to compliment (sic) the use of the marketplace, which is low-touch compared to the services a recruiter would provide. As I mentioned on the phone, the Career Mentor is not a recruiter, nor do they try to replicate the value proposition of a recruiter. The recruitment agencies that have used Onploy have had no issue with the role of the career mentor, as clearly they’re very different services.”

In a further email, in response to my questions regarding a formal launch, Macarteny said:
  • The Fashion Manager ads were deleted from Seek because that part of the trial had finished.
  • The Career Mentors were not necessarily formally qualified in any specific area (eg psychology, counselling etc)
“The trial phase will run as long as required to test out the business model and gain necessary learnings and insights. Once we get to that point, then we’ll be in a position to best understand what broader industry engagement is appropriate.”

Macartney also referred me to a generic FAQ on the Onploy website.

Macartney did not respond to my request to provide information about the number of mentors currently employed by Onploy or the basis of the mentors’ employment relationship with Onploy (ie employees, sub-contractors etc) or what the charges (or proposed charges) for the service are. I also requested to speak to the recruitment agencies participating in the Onploy trial. At the time of writing I had not received a response to this request, made at the beginning of the previous day.

So what do Australia’s largest recruitment agency advertisers think of Seek’s Onploy move?

Jacky Carter, Group Digital Engagement Director at Hays, Australia’s largest recruitment agency, was unconcerned with Seek’s latest move when I spoke to her on Monday.

“Hays and Seek have a close partnership and as part of this relationship we have regular meetings. At our meeting in April, Seek discussed Onploy in broad terms. We ddon’t see Onploy as competing with recruitment agencies, in fact it is likely to enhance/ build intelligence to help us source candidates more effectively.

Our experience of Seek is that they are very sensible about how they bring products to market. They are mindful of the customer experience and don’t rush into anything without careful planning including a full consideration of customer privacy and confidentiality”.

One of Seek’s largest advertisers in the retail sector is Frontline Recruitment Group (FRG). I spoke to FRG’s co-founder and Managing Director, Peter Davis about Onploy yesterday. Unlike Hays, FRG was caught completely unaware of the Seek move and only knew  of Onploy’s existence when one of the FRG recruiters forwarded Davis a copy of the, now deleted, Onploy advertisement for Fashion Retail Management opportunities/Store Managers that appeared on Seek last Thursday morning. Davis said:

“Onploy is just the latest in a series of Seek backed product releases. Each of these releases potentially erodes the traditional markets of recruiters. In Onploy’s case it is a step across a previously uncrossed line; Seek now have a product which provides clients with selected candidates for which a success fee is charged and a 90 day guarantee is provided. Strikingly similar to how a recruitment company operates in both methodology and business model. The fact that Onploy is only operating in two industries and geographical markets is incidental. If it works it won’t be long before it is operating across all sectors.

So what does this mean for agency recruiters? Every time technology impacts recruitment we are presented with more opportunities!

In my view accepting this technological advancement as an inevitability and working with Seek to understand these opportunities is the key.  I know Seek values its recruitment advertisers however I believe Seek needs to do more to educate us all on how we can leverage our recruitment expertise  to take advantage of these new products and in so doing ultimately provide better service to our clients and candidates.”

Davis advised me that FRG’s conversation with Seek about Onploy remains a very current and ongoing one and he would be in a position to say more publicly within a week or so.

Having canvassed the views of a couple of other retail recruiters, it seems that Hays were clearly the exception in Seek’s communication about Onploy to its recruitment agency clients. No other agency appears to have been told anything at all.

If this is the case, then I believe Seek is playing a very risky game.

Traditionally, Seek negotiates with its advertisers for the upcoming financial year during May and June. If Seek has not been transparent with these advertisers about Onploy and the specifics of the Onploy product offering then Seek runs the very real risk of being seen to conduct these negotiations while having failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest.

If this has occurred, then I suspect many recruitment agency owners would be checking the ACCC website under unconscionable conduct to understand how investigators at the ACCC may view Seek’s conduct during the aforementioned 2017/18 FY contract negotiations.

Have Seek overstepped the mark with Onploy?

I suspect the next few weeks will see some  very interesting developments in this story. Stay tuned. 

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4 comments:

  1. Great article Ross. Thanks so much for your investigation and informing us of your findings.
    You've always got the best interests of the Recruitment industry at heart.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Paul, given the feedback I have had over the past 24 hours I suspect this story has a way to run yet.

      Delete
  2. Well done Ross. Cake and Eat it indeed. They can still have a remarkable business without double dipping. In my experience they sell to us one solution and then tell our clients they do not need agencies. And our clients know us well and trust us to share this information. Never looks good for them in the clients eyes.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks John, the Seek double dipping is a major issue and I would encourage all industry players concerned with the path that Seek appear to be going down to contact the RCSA to make their concerns known.

    ReplyDelete