Job Interview


With a 25-year history on the ground in Australia and with the backing of a global name in human resources, Randstad is in a position to make some significant boasts. One of them is that its services have been used by “nearly 30 per cent of Australian companies.”

That makes Randstad big. Globally, it is even bigger, of course: offices in 39 countries, in the top three in major markets such as the US and UK, with nearly 30,000 of its own employees, and “employing over 581,000 people every day.”

But is ‘big’ also ‘good’? We ask Steve Shepherd, group director in Australia. He explains that the days of the broad, horizontal “recruitment agency” are long gone. Not least because of developments in IT, much more specialisation and precision is possible and demanded by both sides of the recruitment equation. Jobs are no longer for life, if they ever were, and people are slowly and perhaps reluctantly getting used to moving from one position or even career to another instead of remaining within a single company for decades. “Globalisation and demographic change in Australia have seen people choose flexibility,” Steve explains, just as the traditional ‘five-day week’ has gone out of the window.

More people are choosing change, says Steve. “More are working in temporary or contract roles. We have many workers who enjoy that kind of arrangement because it gives them more flexibility in their lives.” Especially in IT and engineering, flexibility gives workers better opportunities to develop their own skills “without becoming caught working in a single area for years.”

In response, employers are looking for highly specialised ‘niche’ recruiters who have extensive knowledge of a particular area of expertise. Steve says Randstad can match that specialised position while having the added benefit of a much larger overall footprint. Think of the company as a full set of niche or boutique agencies all under one roof, he says; the company has specialist divisions founded on business support roles, contact centre services, industrial, health & community care, education, banking & financial services, IT, sales and marketing.

Helping organisations work through change with the right people in place is central to the service that Randstad provides. Much has been made of the downturn in the mining and resources sector, but Steve points out that this is a relatively small employment sector and not typical of Australia as a whole, where unemployment remains extremely low by comparison with much of the developed world. “We are recruiting for jobs that did not exist ten years ago,” he says, such as designing mobile-phone apps. “As those jobs and the technology evolve at a much faster pace, it becomes much harder to find the labour with the specialist skills that are needed. Employers are going to have to continue to work harder to retain people.”

Steve believes we are all still, to a considerable extent, relying on the educational system to provide the talent that industry needs. “But we know that employers value experience over knowledge. You can have the best degree in the world, but employers will be asking where you have applied the knowledge you have learned. This is going to make it increasingly difficult for Australian organisations to find the right talent, particularly as we also have an ageing population.”

To someone now facing redundancy this may be bitter reading, but Steve says the key is “how you re-skill yourself for jobs of the future.” It is important to analyse how someone’s skills might be developed to be transferable. “We talk a lot now about competency as opposed to skill.” It’s about helping people to reinvent themselves and help employers see that candidates, and in particular the right kinds of candidates, are not as readily available as they were 20 years ago. “They may have to look at things a bit differently and perhaps make investments in people that they have not been making over the last 15 years or so.”

Another advantage of being a large and global company is the ability to invest in research. One recent Randstad survey found there is a significant disconnect in Australia concerning how workers will meet changing demands from employers on their skills, and suggesting that staff are not entering into the partnership that is required for the future with as much enthusiasm as their employers.

While two thirds of Australians say their job requirements have changed significantly over the past five years, 21 per cent believe they have no responsibility in ensuring their skills correspond with these new demands, while 89 per cent believe that responsibility lays at their employers’ feet. These figures are “dramatically different from the rest of the Asia Pacific region, where employees take far greater responsibility keeping up with the changing workforce. Eighty-nine per cent of workers in Singapore, 94 per cent of Malaysians and 93 per cent of Hong Kong employees all believe they share responsibility with their employer for improving their professional skills.”

Steve believes the Asian Century is an important factor for business in Australia. Randstad’s offices throughout Asia will help its clients as they progress through the region to take advantage of the emerging markets there. He sounds a note of warning against treating the region as one massive lock, though. “You have to be able to think global but act local – because doing business in Australia is quite different to doing business in China or Hong Kong. That is another area where we bring a lot of value, working with our customers who in many cases do not have the same presence or understanding of some of those markets. We help them navigate the HR minefield.”

He cites India as a case in point, where there are more than 300 local or national laws that can impact on recruitment; you just have to know what you are doing and Randstad can act as an extension of a business, like an in-house HR department. All countries have red tape, even Australia and New Zealand, but they do not get anywhere near India.”

Steve also says employers need to take greater responsibility for injecting confidence back into their workforce post-federal election. “Until now, many business leaders had chosen to put plans on hold which had been contributing to varying levels of uncertainty and confidence in the market. The problem with adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach is that six months can go by where businesses have not been fully productive to drive profitability and growth, and this can impact on employee confidence, morale, retention and turnover levels, which has a cyclical effect.”

Even with a change in government, flow-on effects of potential legislative changes often do not come into effect for many months, if not years, so being cautious and placing hiring decisions and projects on hold can result in companies losing their leading position and competitive advantage. “The challenge for leaders is to know how to effectively navigate their business through a changing environment, ensuring it remains flexible and fluid, adapting to varying market conditions and being innovative while capitalising on opportunities. There is also the constant need to effectively deal with everyday people management issues to keep employees happy, motivated, well informed and performing at their very best.”

Summing up what Randstad does, Steve says, while quite simple, it’s very powerful in shaping people, society and the world of work. The company sources the best talent and places them in roles which are the right fit, and in organisations which are the right match. “The notion of getting the right match is extremely important.” We parted with both of us believing – with some justification – that we had done a brilliant interview. You could probably say we both got the job!

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December 16, 2018, 6:40 AM AEDT