For insight into the talent challenges facing businesses today and tomorrow, today’s blog is an edited excerpt from the Business Excellence interview with Anita Ziemer, Executive Director of Slade Group. Business Excellence is the publication of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a member of the Australian Chamber of Commerce.
A candidate who is a 70 per cent fit for a role is more effective than a perfect-on-paper candidate. “Bearing in mind that many things you learnt 10 years ago are now redundant and the majority of skills are learnt on the job, what’s important is how you’ve learnt and adapted,” Anita explains. “One of the partners at a top-tier law firm says he feels guilty inducting new graduates with the highest grades because he knows much of what they have learnt can be downloaded with the a click of a button in the form of ready-made contracts. Those applicants need to find new ways to add value; it’s about what you build around your job description that’s important,” she adds.
As degree-level qualifications become the norm, and job suitability is governed less by where you live or the schedule you work, soft skills become more important differentiators. Anita says: “We’re hearing from many organisations that graduates are theoretically and academically prepared, but face a big shock when it comes to managing their working day, which is why we like to see a range of part-time jobs on young people’s résumés.” She adds: “Businesses across all sectors are looking for employees who can use their intellect to join the dots, be creative and deliver value that cannot be outsourced.”
The role of a recruiter may have changed dramatically in the last 20 years as companies moved away from hiring homogenous groups of people. “The key qualities of a good hire almost never change in that No. 1 is being passionate about the role and No. 2 is sharing the values of the organisation,” says Slade Group’s Anita Ziemer. “But in this fast-changing environment, flexibility and adaptability are also very important traits,” she adds. “It’s out of date to say ‘that’s not my job’ or ‘that’s not how we do things around here’; you have to be able to work with ambiguity, within a fluid workplace and fluid job description.”
Technical operations, construction, education and healthcare employers are among those keeping Slade Group’s recruiters busy for the foreseeable future. Anita says nursing, a profession that requires nurturing skills, may be one of the more reliable occupations to be in and recruit for, while automation and the globalisation of the workforce is redefining the meaning of talent in many sectors. “It is still common for the education system to push students towards so-called middle-class security roles in accounting, medicine and the law, but much of that can be offshored,” she suggests. “So back-end accounting goes to the Philippines, low-level legal work goes to India and – it’s a scary thought – if a surgeon has conducted a routine procedure hundreds of times why does your operation need to happen in Australia?”
On the positive side for jobseekers who are able to upskill or cross-skill, new and more interesting roles can be created in this flux. Anita points out: “People talk about manufacturing flattening out but the flip side is that we’re seeing new roles in the bespoke side of the market. A tailored approach to manufacturing continues to be something that Australia and particularly Victoria does well, which is why to lose those manufacturing skills would be a tragedy.”
The prerequisite for all of today’s recruits is digital expertise, as revealed in the results of Slade Group’s Australian Digital Skills and Salary Survey 2015. Anita explains: “The survey of 150 organisations showed that rather than looking for single candidates with a broad digital skill set, employers are expecting all staff to have the digital expertise related to their role. While 70 per cent believe a digital skills gap is taking a moderate or heavy toll on their business, a quarter said they find it difficult to source digital employees and attribute this to a lack of talent.” The survey results also indicated, however, that internal human resources teams are ill-equipped to accurately assess the digital skills of applicants and are relying too heavily on existing employee feedback to identify areas requiring development.
Another core attribute of the ideal hire, says Anita, is a “broad view of the world”. Professional services firms in particular are placing increased emphasis on cross-cultural awareness and communication as the business world becomes borderless. “Not having a broad view of the world is why some academically successful employees find themselves confined to the backroom technology roles while those who can engage, network and create strong links climb the ladder,” she adds.
In contrast to popular representations of millennials as entitled narcissists, Anita insists aptitude for hard work is just as likely to exist in a twentysomething as a baby boomer. She says: “Some argue there’s a trend among millennials to expect reward and promotion almost immediately, but maybe that has always been the case and people just sucked it up because workplaces were so regimented and hierarchical.” She adds that employers should not beat themselves up when an employee in their 20s moves on after a year, but should nevertheless review the opportunities they offer for internal progression to meet the craving of today’s employees for lifelong learning.
Of course there is no single, correct approach to recruitment, as reflected in Slade Group’s own workforce of experienced recruitment consultants and sector specialists who have retrained for a second career in recruitment. The layers of candidate assessment undertaken by TRANSEARCH International, the Group’s executive search division, take into account far more than a job description can encapsulate to help businesses meet their future talent needs.
One of the key growth areas for the company is in temporary staffing, and Anita sees this trend as far from the nightmare painted by some social commentators who see us all becoming lonely, disenfranchised contractors. “Casualisation makes sense for both employers and employees, in that the former can work with fixed costs and employees can work across their portfolio of interests,” she says.
“About 15 years ago I remember broadcaster Phillip Adams talking about how by the end of the century the employment model will have flipped and 70 per cent of us will not be in full-time work, leaving society with the challenge of how to occupy its citizens,” she continues. “But while it’s likely that teams will look very different in the future than they do now, we’re still social animals and want to learn from each other – you only need to look at the growth of co-working.”
As for emerging occupations that businesses are expected to need recruitment support for, Anita says digital security looms large. “One of the great opportunities we see is in the technological dark arts, in that employers are going to want to hire the 22-year-old boffins who can hack their system and know how to test the integrity of software, but those are the people who fly under the radar and are hard to find,” she explains.
While employers are busy embedding innovation into day-to-day operations, a fresh perspective on the personalities and skill sets that your team needs to power its success is perhaps something that only an external recruiter can provide.
Anita says: “Experts say we’re still 40 years away from artificial intelligence in its truest form so the human overlay of recruitment experience is still much needed; an algorithm cannot do this yet.”
Anita is the Executive Director of Slade Group, and a member of the advisory board. In a career spanning roles working in government, not-for-profit, public company and the SME sector, Anita has a broad view of the landscape of Australians at work. Committed to making a difference in her professional and personal life, Anita is a Director of the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing & Ideas, previous Chair of Melbourne Girls Grammar School, and a Non Executive Director of online men’s lifestyle publisher Boss Hunting.