Searching High and Low

COVER FEATURE – One answer to increasing shortages is to look in non-traditional areas for good candidates. But how easy is this for recruiters? Simon Kent investigates.

There is no question but that demand for skilled labour is outstretching supply. Moreover, influences impacting on the employment market – from visas to demographics – are likely to exacerbate the situation in the future, bringing more pressure on recruiters to prove their worth. According to the 2018-19 Hays Salary Guide, 67 per cent of employers say skill shortages are likely to impact the effective operation of their business or department in either a significant (26 per cent) or minor (41 per cent) way.

However, answering this problem is by no means easy. Few recruiters and organisations should have the appetite for simply poaching talent from each other. The end game of this scenario would be little short of staff simply swapping between competing companies, with the candidate gaining extra benefits or salary for each switch they accomplish. Taking the search further afield seems the only answer.

But as Tim Venn, general manager, projects and operations (Victoria) for Davidson points out, this can be problematic since clients generally already have their own wish list of what skills and experience any likely candidates should have. “I find that there can be a mindset among some who believe that if they are paying an agency, they expect that agency to follow a strict brief and find exactly what they are asking for,” he says. “In a market which is characterised by skills shortages, this can be a recipe for failure with recruiters unable to match the strict and confining brief.”

Venn argues that recruiters can counter this situation if they can demonstrate a strong understanding of the business and the role they are recruiting for, a proven track record in delivering quality talent for their client and if they already have a a strong relationship with the client. “When this happens, the recruiter is given the opportunity to put forward candidates who may not initially seem to fit the remit but whose experience from other sectors can be transferred to another industry,” he says. That said, Venn also wonders if presentation or context should be played to a recruiters advantage. He believes clients are more likely to consider candidates with non-traditional experience if they are included in a shortlist with other candidates whose experience matches the brief more closely.

“Typically it can take several successful process with non-traditional candidates to change a client’s mindset,” he says, “but if we don’t challenge recruitment thinking and promote diversity at every level we won’t improve.”

Diverse requirements

Interestingly, the search for different candidates is also being driven by the awareness that in some sector is it now imperative that the workforce should become more diverse. This is in part simply because diversity will automatically open the sector to a greater talent pool, but certain industries are also waking up to the fact that their image and worker profile could be compromising the skills and value which can be delivered by the workforce they are, one way or another, excluding.

Ephram Stephenson, CEO of Design & Constuct says companies in his sector are constantly striving to improve their gender imbalance. “The male dominance seen in this industry is well documented – with women making up only 12 per cent of the total construction workforce, and – worse – less than two per cent of trades related work. We find that, more and more, our clients are hoping to diversify their workplace, and we want to help them achieve these goals.”

For Stephenson, widening the talent pool has involved addressing the concept of construction as a male activity, featuring images of women in their advertising and sharing articles about female success in the industry. “We also help our clients pave a pathway for diversity in their workplace,” says Stephenson, “for instance by asking them to reassess the requirements for their senior leadership team if we think this will encourage more women to apply.”

Elsewhere, recruiters are getting more actively involved in developing the talent required by their clients. Marianna Mood, MD Adecco Australia, explains that they have been actively working with Victoria University to create a bespoke welding course which skills-up candidates for positions already open with their clients. The approach has resulted in other clients requesting an appropriate course/training initiative.

Stephen Moir, director and recruitment specialist, RECRUIT2retail AUSTRALIA, believes his sector is still resistant to change in the make-up of their candidates, chasing instead what they see as the “perfect” option. But while his client’s attitude towards candidates may be little changed, their attitude towards how these those people are recruited has shifted: “What has changed, especially with intelligent retailers, is the speed at which they are responding to and pushing candidates through the recruitment process,” says Moir. “What previously might have been a two or three week process is now a one or two week process. It is not uncommon to have a candidate interviewed and offered inside of one week.”

Retailers are also now using Skype, Facetime or Whatsapp to complete interview steps – again a methodology that speeds up the recruitment process and enables company to jump on the talent as soon as they see it.

From a recruitment agency perspective, Moir says the mix of candidate sourcing methods has changed. “We are, for example, seeing increasing success in sourcing candidates using methods that previously were only marginally successful. An example of this is utilising 3rd party databases,” he adds. “It is now part of our daily routine to uncover candidates on 3rd party databases. We now have a very rigorous and disciplined methodology as to how we do this. Candidates sourced from 3rd party databases now make up over 30 per cent of the placements we make.”

Tech to reach

Nick Deligiannis, managing director of Hays in Australia & New Zealand is also keen to stress the change that has been delivered through the use of recruitment tools rather than specifically targeting a different profile of candidate.

“With the burgeoning spectrum of social networks and online communities that exist today, employers and recruiters now have the ability to connect with millions of potential job candidates, aided by digital platforms and data science tools to help find, attract and select them,” he says. ‘Here at Hays, digital technology and data science analytics are now used to reach deep into candidate pools and examine large amounts of data to prepare shortlists of the most suitable people – many of who might not otherwise have thought of applying for a role. So this significantly expands the pool of potential candidates.”

Naturally it is not enough to just have access to data. Deligiannis notes that it still require skill to be able to use that data to gain a clear understanding of individuals, their skills and relevant experience. “At Hays, once a shortlist is prepared the data points can be combined to determine how the timing of a job opportunity fits with a candidate’s career journey,” he says, “how the role is likely to fit with their aspirations, and how relevant an approach about the job will be. Based on this, recruiters engage with suitable candidates to understand their personal priorities and aspirations for a successful outcome. We call this approach ‘Find & Engage’.”

As Deligiannis notes, being able to target non-active or passive jobseekers is a powerful way to achieve a stronger shortlist, which will ultimately improve an organisation’s likelihood of hiring candidates who are most likely to flourish and succeed.

To some extent, widening the talent pool successfully is a Catch 22 situation. Employers only want to employ people who will be successful for their business and therefore they will only ever want to employ people like those who are already successful for them. But this can be shifted to a more positive cycle: if a new hire from a different source is given a chance and is successful, then so too will could the next hire from a different source. Getting to that point is the challenge recruiters now face. Equipped with specialist knowledge, skills and an understanding of their client’s position, they should be able to find the talent required whatever the context.

Case Study: Robert Half Australia

Q&A: Nicole Gorton, director, Robert Half Australia

Q: Are Robert Half’s consultants having to look in non-traditional areas in order to find appropriate talent?

A: As a specialised recruitment firm, Robert Half differentiates itself in the market through established working relationships with a wide talent pool, through traditional and non-traditional means of recruitment and networking. Employers themselves have access to traditional recruitment channels, such as LinkedIn and their own talent teams, however working with Robert Half allows hiring managers to gain access to a proficient and wide-ranging recruitment service that adds significant value to the hiring process.

Through this comprehensive recruitment service, we’re able to access candidates for employers not readily available other than through our own network, which includes both current and future jobseekers. We’re constantly exploring new areas and industries to build relationships with potential jobseekers in order to build a steady pipeline of talent.

As a global company we are also proactive in sourcing and placing expatriates and repatriates. For example, our Australia consultants are in regular contact with their UK counterparts, and have access to Australian workers looking to return home. This is a great example of office and team collaboration across different countries.

Q: Are clients expecting non-traditional candidates or is it something consultants need to ‘sell’ to their clients.

A: Looking beyond traditional recruitment channels and exploring new areas to build relationships with candidates is a constant endeavour for Robert Half’s consultants. Employers and hiring managers understand this level of service is also a reflection of the ongoing skills shortage impacting the workplace – whereby the continuing “war for talent” is impacting any organisation’s ability to source, attract and retain high-calibre talent. To combat this, Robert Half consultants have a solutions-orientated approach to recruitment in order to source the best talent for companies.

Q:   What kind of additional work – training, educational, on-boarding – is required in order to bring ‘non-traditional’ candidates into the workplace.

A: In order to attract the best talent to their business, companies need to diversify their incentives offering and present themselves as an employer of choice. We’re seeing many companies increase their incentives offerings to secure their preferred candidate. Other than financial incentives, such as salaries and bonuses at or above market rates, non-financial incentives are increasing in popularity and demand. These include flexible working arrangements, remote working and the option to work from home.

Combined with these incentives, companies are also communicating to potential applicants their ‘vision’ – in order to better align their corporate culture with the expectations of jobseekers. This also involves discussions around where candidates expect to see themselves in 5-10 years’ time and how the company can better help them in terms of career progression and opportunities.