Blog Archives

Resourcing the new Infrastructure State. A challenge for Victoria?

Victoria – The Infrastructure State. It could be a number plate. The Melbourne Metro Rail project is underway, level crossings are being replaced, plans for ‘sky rail’ continue to cause controversy and an airport train could be back on the agenda. For roads, the Tulla freeway is being widened, the West Gate and Bolte will get improvements, and the Victorian Government is considering a proposal to build the ‘missing link’ Western Distributor.

Last December at the Engineers Australia Transport Year in Review, I listened with interest to Corey Hannett, Coordinator General, Major Transport Infrastructure Program on the current infrastructure program of works scheduled for Victoria. From a project resourcing point of view, the Government’s main concern is the lack of skilled project leaders to deliver this ambitious program of works.

Key themes presented were:

  • Ensuring the right balance between public and private resources to manage multiple, overlapping projects within optimum timelines
  • Sourcing skilled project leaders across different disciplines, including CEOs, Project Directors, and Senior Project Managers
  • Diversity in the Construction sector

From an executive recruitment perspective, these concerns certainly mirror our experience when consulting with organisations in building, construction and engineering over the last 12 months: Demand for experienced, diverse and specialist talent is at a premium. As the momentum for construction work Australia-wide continues to gather pace, the question remains how do we address this to help the immediate needs of Victoria?

There are serious concerns about poaching staff being felt across the sector, which is experiencing significant problems with retention (a fact that’s not lost on us when headhunting). Here are three points that were raised to consider when hiring, which also resonated with me:

  • When considering a candidate’s abilities, look for transferable skills, taking the time to consider all of their work history, not just the first page of the CV
  • You don’t need someone who has done the exact same job, you need someone who can do the job
  • Victorian employers may benefit from staff attrition with the completion of major projects interstate or could source talent from other sectors where demand has subsided, such as mining (particularly in WA and QLD)

I will be a keen observer over the next few years to see whether we have the appetite to meet the talent demands of the Infrastructure State.

What measures do you think are needed to address talent shortages for major infrastructure projects in your state? Share your point of view to continue the conversation.

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Ignore this at your peril!

Exactly 12 months ago I was diagnosed with cancer.

There were a couple of jaw-dropping news items last year, but personally being told you’ve got cancer would be right up there. I’ll spare you the details, suffice to say after a routine colonoscopy, I ended up with six weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Not much fun, I can assure you!

According to the Australian Cancer Council, “1 in 2 Australian men and 1 in 3 Australian women will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85.” However on a positive note, “66% of people diagnosed with cancer in Australia are still alive five years after a cancer diagnosis.”

It was the second time I’ve had cancer. About 23 years ago I also had radiotherapy for testicular cancer. This time I’d been diagnosed with, awkward pause… anal cancer. This type of cancer is not that common. In fact in 2012, only 399 Australians were diagnosed with it.

While there is currently no screening for anal cancer available, it can be diagnosed through a number of tests, such as medical examination, a blood test, biopsy, CT scan, or an ultrasound. Early detection is key.

I prided myself on being fit, eating healthy and generally looking after my well-being. Nevertheless, I had cancer. I did have many Why me? moments, but my doctors assured me cancer doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anyone… Reluctantly, I took that on board and got on with my treatment. Yuck.

There were the side effects: nausea, a strange metal taste in my mouth, fatigue, nerves, hair loss (a free Brazilian), discomfort sitting, pain around the pelvis and bottom.

Twice in a lifetime is more than enough, so hopefully my turn is done, but I thought it timely to share some learnings from my experience with cancer to encourage you all to get a medical check-up.

  1. If you see or feel something unusual, do something about it.
    There are two types of people. Those who go to the doctor, and those who don’t. I’m of the former – I’d rather know if there’s a problem and get on with it.
  1. Get an opinion from a doctor or another healthcare specialist.
    Some of you maybe Dr. Google types. I’m not. I think my GP knows best.
  1. Tell someone close to you.
    Keeping it to yourself only raises your stress levels. I’m lucky I’ve got a great family. My wife became my confidant, chauffeur and nurse. My daughters came with me to the chemo and radio treatments.
  1. Stay positive
    Yes, it can be tough, but staying positive makes a huge difference. Acknowledge the negative aspects of the situation, then get rid of your negative thoughts. Surrounding yourself with positive energy helps you to see a positive future.
  1. You or someone dear to you, may get cancer this year.
    It’s an unfortunate fact. I’m committing to do some volunteer work in the cancer field this year to help others who have shared my situation.

Even if you’re already made your resolutions, promise yourself and me that you’ll kick off the year with a medical check-up. Do something. Book it in now.

How have you worked through challenging personal circumstances? What did you learn from the experience?

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Hiring the whole person (not those gingerbread men or women)

“I recommend that you hire someone with a less-conventional story if you want the people on your team to innovate and collaborate in the way this new-millennium workplace requires.”

– Liz Ryan, Forbes.

Next time you’re hiring, challenge your thinking about who would be ‘right’ for the job by asking yourself a few simple questions:

  • Does the candidate really need a defined career history or specific qualifications?
  • Are their skills and capabilities more important than their attitudes and values?
  • Do they have valuable experience outside of work, such as involvement with community, sport, arts, family etc, which they could bring to role?

When looking for the ‘right’ candidate, hiring managers often take the cookie-cutter approach: they select an obvious match to the skills, experience and career path of the incumbent or job description. Liz Ryan, a former HR Senior Vice President in a Fortune 500 company, has written in Forbes about why this is a bad idea. “Cookie-cutter candidates who have the exact experience detailed in the job ad and who have perfectly linear, manicured and stepwise career paths are seldom the best hires, in my experience,” she says.

Working on a recent assignment got me thinking along the same lines: We need to look at the whole person, not a tick sheet of have they finished this, completed that, and moved from one role up the ladder to the next.

The role I was recruiting was for quite a traditional market, so I was pleasantly surprised when the employer hired the candidate who had a more varied background than other candidates. When providing feedback, the employer explained that their chosen candidate demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit and a growth mindset, which they valued highly in comparison with other candidates (who were all equally capable of doing the job).

Ryan’s advice rings true in this case, where more rounded life experience has paid dividends. Top candidates are also looking for employers who have an open-minded approach. Over the years in business I have observed successful leaders often held a variety of roles across different sectors. This has enabled them to take the best from each experience and contribute to their evolution as visionaries. LinkedIn has compiled some inspiring lists of its Top Voices, which include diverse examples of influencers, entrepreneurs, management and organisational culture experts, as well as those organisations who rank as Top Attractors for talented individuals.

Encouraging diversity within your team will help shake-up your current thinking, bring new dynamics, and offers a variety of perspectives – or as Ryan says, “When in doubt, hire the quirky candidate.”

Have you ditched the cookie-cutter? What are some of the innovative qualities you look for in candidates for when hiring?

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A brand new box on the org structure

In a global survey of 500+ business leaders conducted by IIC Partners, three out of four respondents (76 percent) said they didn’t have a Chief Digital Officer (CDO). While a majority of organisations might not have a CDO, it’s becoming critical for businesses of all sizes to consider digital when recruiting any leadership roles.

Digital transformation began long ago in the corporate sector and has an even longer lead in industrial environments – just consider the history of robotics in manufacturing (circa 1955) or computer assisted design and engineering (1970s). Driven by PC, communications and database technologies, digital has successfully worked its way up the chain from IT to the back office, through administration to the front of house, via marketing.

Slade Executive is recruiting senior executives in digital right now, and we’re seeing an international trend in key digital appointments as part of the overall organisational strategy. Charting digital alongside traditional C suite roles, such as finance, operations and human resources, recognises its strategic importance. Along with information and marketing, we’ve seen that digital has the capacity to radically influence the competitiveness of an organisation in the present climate and will no doubt be essential to the survival of many industries in future.

In smaller businesses or those with more modest resources, a cross functional hybrid is the model for CDO. Agile executives who can work across a combination of digital, marketing and information technology are already highly sought after. As industry background becomes less relevant and a diverse CV looks more appealing, digital acumen is now one of the most commonly requested attributes when hiring leaders.

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Managing funds with a social conscience

We’ve got the sun. We’ve got the space. With renewables fast becoming big business abroad, it’s obvious that the industry has huge potential here in Australia.

It’s great when you see a local company taking on the challenge. Recently one of my clients, a boutique infrastructure fund manager, was preparing to launch a fund focusing on investment in solar energy. Their initial fund raising target was $25 million, and with the prospect of subsequent equity to be raised at a later date, aimed to raise a total of $75 million. According to the fund manager, when fully invested, we would be talking $100 million. Those are considerable dollars in anyone’s book.

The fund expects to drive the expansion of the solar market by creating employment, supporting Australia’s only panel manufacturer and will produce associated social benefits, such as displacing diesel within remote indigenous communities. In terms of environmental benefits, the project will abate approximately 260,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, equivalent to powering almost 50,000 homes per annum.

The fund was looking for an executive to raise funds from the High Net Worth investor market, but only required support on a part-time basis. They engaged me through Slade Executive to recruit an experienced BDM. The position had the dual appeal of flexibility for a business development professional who was looking for something different from the usual fare in managed funds distribution.

The successful candidate (an outstanding individual, highly experienced in the sector) has a young family and was attracted to the role by the opportunity to make a difference to the environment, not only for the future benefit of their children. They were also comfortable with taking some financial risk (the role is heavily performance based), but most importantly, the candidate believed in the goals of the fund.

While I’m not about taking credit for someone else’s hard work, my candidate has done a fantastic job. In fact they raised $100 million straight-up and the fund has now been closed. Sometimes we recruiters cop a bit of flak for the odd rogue in our midst who has left their social conscience at the door. Ditto the finance industry. So it’s a nice feeling when the stars align and everyone benefits while making a contribution to better the world we live in.

What socially responsible commercial projects have you been involved with?  How has working with an innovative partner in the corporate sector changed your Point of View?

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Teaching our students, schools and the Universities how to adapt with change

Have we made any progress in understanding the needs of graduates?

A growing development across the University sector has been the search for leaders who have the vision for an improved learning experience for students. From the start of their entry into university, through to graduation and beyond, there is finally a push for a greater understanding and acceptance of the importance of experiential learning within courses, for all students. This might be through effective internships and industry placements; we are now seeing many faculties and whole Universities searching for leaders who can develop and guide such programs.

Schools have recognised the benefits of a transdisciplinary approach, educating students across traditional faculty boundaries with what is known as project-based learning – learning that is based on real-world experiences. This education model encourages curiosity and creativity, while developing communication abilities.

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, wrote an opinion piece in The Australian recently, suggesting that it is time society recognised “it is not a failure to progress to a job that has no obvious link to one’s degree”. Finkel said that it was our “capacity to pivot” that was probably the most reliable predictor of success in career development. Finkel described how he had successfully ‘pivoted’ professionally from one opportunity to the next on several occasions through his career. It was made possible through the mastery of multiple disciplines and drew on experience that went way beyond traditional industry sector boundaries.

Two leading school Principals, Allan Shaw at The Knox School in Melbourne, and Dr Paul Browning of St Paul’s School in Brisbane, have written about programs for entrepreneurial skills and business enterprise developed in their schools. These initiatives, and the practical skills students gain, extend well beyond the boundaries of a traditional discipline or subject area.

As Allan Shaw has reflected, the deep knowledge in a discipline developed through university education remains a significant component for career success. Nevertheless, it is increasingly being understood that there is so much more that is necessary to equip students with the skills for an ever changing future: complex problem-solving ability, critical thinking, communications skills, teamwork, people management and good decision-making are some of the key competencies.

Times are a-changin’ and the ability to pivot (ie. adapt to change) is increasingly important, not only for individuals, but for institutions as well.

Have you pivoted between industries or sector specialisations or adapted your technical skills to a different role during your career? What programs have you been involved with to address change in your world @work?

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Hitches, glitches and sheer brilliance

At 8am this coming Saturday many of us will be watching the Olympic Opening Ceremony telecast from Rio, crossing our fingers for only a few hitches, given we’re prepared for some glitches. I’m prepared to overlook all of the recent events (building delays, security issues, disqualified athletes…) that go with staging a major worldwide sporting event for those moments of sheer brilliance we’re all anticipating!

To get you into the mood, check out the brilliant ‘superhumans’ in this video. The Superhuman Band was assembled by bringing together 16 talented super-abled musicians from every corner of the world to re-record Sammy Davis Jr’s classic track from 1964 Yes I Can – an uplifting song which encapsulates the superhuman spirit. The track features Brisbane vocalist Tony Dee and was recorded in the famous Studio 2 of Abbey Road studios. It’s the perfect anthem for this summer’s Rio Paralympics.

Now that you’ve enjoyed 5 minutes of toe tapping optimism and inspiration, you’re well prepared for the fortnight of the Olympics, which always carries unexpected and inspiring stories; names previously unknown suddenly shoot to stardom. However, none of these athletes would claim overnight success, when it’s taken years of endless training, pain and sacrifice, as well as a huge reliance on family, friends, coaches and supporters to get there.

Nothing takes the place of hard work and persistence, going the extra mile and working through those times when it all just seems too hard.  It’s a very obvious analogy to success in the world @work and the extra effort that pays off: perseverance, attitude, focus and belief. They’re great qualities to look for when recruiting people for your organisation too.

So, while you’re watching the games in awe this month, look beyond the performance and ask yourself what it takes to reach this level of performance? Some may come first, some may fail to win a medal, but all participants in an Olympics or Paralympics are winners in my mind.

Where do you find inspiration to achieve success in business?

 

Read more on this topic: 4 ways an Olympic triumph translates into success at work

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Our prized skills in education are an export opportunity

The announcement of the world’s biggest education prize, worth more than $A12 million, offered by a Chinese tech billionaire, is symbolic of the surging wave of education for next gen China.

Working with a group of schools myself in China recently, I have seen firsthand there’s a great desire for change. Support for a broadening of the educational curriculum, processes and pedagogy to embrace such change has been furthered by a serious degree of investment growth in education both from the public and private sectors, parents and students themselves.

The Yidan Prize, named after its initiator, Charles Chen Yidan, will recognise outstanding individuals, such as teachers, or teams of people working in education, providing them with substantial investment to fund their projects. According to the Times Educational Supplement, the award aims to become the Nobel Prize for education. Yidan says one of the aims for the prize is to support “agents of change” in education.

The Chinese desire to bring big ideas to education is obvious. Encouraging creativity and innovation amongst students as well as the teaching profession broadly reflects their desire to be internationally competitive. Too often elsewhere, pressure to maintain high scores in assessments such as PISA tests (the OCED’s international tests in Maths, Science and Reading) are often seen at odds with the pursuit of creativity and imaginative thinking. Interestingly, PISA tests are soon to include “global skills” and cultural awareness for their next round of tests in 2018. Considering that in many parts of China, the results in those PISA scores are 30 per cent higher than those of Australian children in the same age group, there’s much our two countries could learn from each other.

On my recent visit to Beijing, Chongqing and Hong Kong, I saw wonderful opportunities for Australian educators and all others with specialist abilities associated with education. Working overseas for a period of time in any profession is an opportunity to gain experiences that shape and enhance your world view, with flow-on benefits to the development of your industry, both locally and abroad. But it’s not only our teachers who can realise these opportunities. In the education sector in China, associated technical professionals such as the architects who design school buildings and the engineers who construct them are also keenly sought after.

Australian investment in China and other rapidly developing nations in South East Asia means we are well placed to help lead innovation and drive ongoing change. Education is one area where we enjoy a high reputation internationally, with a strong track record in teaching and learning, as well as a growing export market for our skills and experience in the field.

What opportunities have you seen in the domestic or global market for your organisation that could advocate for positive change?

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