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Australian manufacturing – alive, and thriving!

Last week on a beautiful sunny Melbourne winter morning our Technical & Operations team hosted the latest in our series of boardroom briefings. Over breakfast, David Chuter, CEO of Innovative Manufacturing CRC (IMCRC), led the discussion around challenges for leaders in the sector, Industry 4.0 and its transformation imperative.

Attendees included a diverse range of senior manufacturing executives; Ruby Heard, recently awarded the Victorian Young Professional Engineer for 2019 by Engineers Australia, was an active contributor, especially from a younger person’s perspective.

With the demise of the Australian automotive manufacturing sector, we are constantly reminded that the manufacturing sector is in decline. It was refreshing to hear David refuting the state of manufacturing in Australia, providing examples of many of the exciting innovations that are being developed locally that are at the cutting-edge internationally. David is passionate about innovative manufacturing and the role that it will play over the next decade. He firmly believes transformation will be achieved through “collaboration by inspired leadership”.

Speaking about transforming Australia’s manufacturing industry, automation and AI (Augmented Intelligence, rather than Artificial intelligence, in David’s view) the concept of Industry 4.0 is not particularly new. Such technology, including robotics, has already been in use for many years, especially in automotive production. The group observed that what has changed, is that the barrier for entry has dropped significantly, meaning manufacturing technology is no longer limited to well resourced multi-national operations.

While Industry 4.0 is not limited to a specific sector, one of the challenges in Australia is our proliferation of small businesses: 90% of manufacturers employ less than 20 people and only 15% of manufacturers turn over more than $2M per annum. With so many SMEs invested in manufacturing, collaboration between companies can be difficult too. IMCRC estimates less than 40% of manufacturers have an appropriate business strategy to meet current and future requirements.

One of the positive initiatives David has taken with IMCRC is to bring industry, educators (universities) the CSIRO and other resources together to support SMEs in manufacturing and help foster collaboration. CSIRO’s recently released Australian National Outlook showed a massive and unprecedented opportunity for the future growth and prosperity of manufacturing. It predicts manufacturing’s contribution to GDP growth will be more than two and half times that of any other sector.

When looking for transformative projects that will create commercial outcomes for local manufacturers to take Australian products and service to the world, we also need to seek out opportunities to develop the project management, technical and leadership skills that cannot be simply solved through education. Governments have a role to play in supporting manufacturing with investment – for example, here in Victoria our trains are built with 60% local content and some trade-based TAFE courses are government funded. Industry also needs to lead by providing opportunities for technical specialists and professionals to further and diversify their experience, which will upskill its workforce.

Overall, we need to be braver and bolder, if we wish to become a world leader in advanced manufacturing. We need to change the perception that we are limited by market size or geographical distance, and focus on establishing smart tech hubs with a global focus, where the emphasis is less on production, and more on invention, design and value.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the next generation of manufacturing in Australia looks like.

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The rewards of a good hire are amplified for SMEs

I have a hypothesis: mid-sized and smaller companies (remember, SMEs comprise the majority of Australian businesses) can benefit most from professional recruitment services. While smaller companies have less experience and fewer available internal resources to identify and attract top flight talent, a great senior level hire will generally have a measurable impact on the growth and success of a smaller company. And rather than relying on informal networks, job boards, and other indirect methods, I would argue a senior appointment in an SME is best served by an experienced Executive Search and Selection provider.  

Of course, senior level hires are made less frequently than more junior roles so naturally many companies are ill-prepared when they arise. Internal HR departments (or individuals) may be very good at handling the company’s ongoing recruitment needs, but these internal resources are usually not experienced in managing the recruitment of senior level or one-of-a-kind positions.

Unfortunately, there is a perception in the business community that the executive search process is only relevant for large companies. Most related articles involve the appointments or searches for executives for well-known ASX 200 companies, or of key government departments and authorities, where the emphasis is on the remuneration attached to the role, rather than the level of difficulty involved in placing a suitable candidate.

We know the cost of hiring the wrong person goes well beyond the time and effort involved in recruitment. Negative results, including loss in profit, reduced income, the impact on customer goodwill and company morale, can be a significant blow.

Deciding to engage a consulting firm, then finding the appropriate consultant to partner with, can be similarly overwhelming, so make sure you choose a professional who understands your needs. As an executive specialist in engineering, I am always interested in getting to know as much about the company’s culture, workflow, plans for growth and vision for the future. It’s part of my due diligence before commencing any assignment, and knowing your business before you set out to attract others to work for you is something everyone can afford — whatever your size.

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How Technical & Operations professionals in the Property & Construction industry are influencing the Australian economy.

Continuing our series of boardroom luncheon events with influential people in Technical & Operations, Slade Group recently hosted Kate Bailey, Associate Director – Head of Logistics and Retail Research at CBRE.

Focusing the conversation on how the Australian economy will perform in 2019 and beyond, we discussed the impact of e-commerce on the industrial property market, looked at how increasing vacancies and slowing retail sales impact the retail sector, and considered infrastructure challenges in the face of fast delivery.

Kate had some interesting statistics about how our online shopping habits have contributed to land fill. For example, I didn’t know that 30% of all goods sold online are returned, with a staggering 2billion kg in the US going to landfill waste annually. While many retailers no longer build their businesses with bricks and mortar, the space required for warehousing goods bought online is having a significant impact on urban planning. With parcel delivery now their major activity, services like Australia Post have had to completely change their business model. Yet it’s still often cheaper to purchase a book from Amazon, which is shipped from the other side of the world, than to buy the same item from local bookshop. Kate says 30% of customers will pay more just for faster delivery.

Kate highlighted that omni-channel shoppers, those who buy online as well as in physical retail stores, typically spend up to 30% more than traditional shoppers. Sneakerboy in Melbourne is an example of how an innovative business has successfully integrated the concept of omni-channel retail. Its Flinders Lane store has 96% floor space for maximum storefront efficiency – they only stock a single pair of shoes in each size. Customers try on the shoes then purchase via an iPad in store. The shoes are shipped directly to the customer from Hong Kong.

Convenience is becoming more and more a part of the building design of both commercial and residential buildings. We’re starting to see features like hot food vending machines for time poor (couldn’t-be-bothered-cooking) professionals on the go. Driverless cars, soon to be a reality, are further evidence of convenience led product development, but what will happen to the existing infrastructure?

We had a great chat around the table, with everyone from retail, construction, land development, engineering, architecture, interior design and those of us involved in the recruitment of these industry professionals, contributing to the discussion.

Continue the conversation by posting a comment on this blog or feel free to send through a question for me to refer on to Kate. If you would like to be a facilitator at one of our quarterly boardroom lunches please contact me directly, details below.

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6 savvy Employee Retention strategies

The world of construction and engineering in Melbourne is booming, which means skilled professionals are in high demand. And in turn, they’re always being tapped on the shoulder by people like me telling them there’s a better opportunity elsewhere. The truth is, there usually is. 

With companies desperate to employ good people, they often over pay and price out the person’s current employer. Other factors play into why people move, but if you were offered a 25%+ pay increase, I’m sure you would find it hard (as I would) not to take it.

I think people entering the workforce now look at employment as a lifestyle rather than a job. It’s not enough to be financially rewarded for their work, they want to learn new skills, make new friends, have fun and experience fulfillment whilst being environmentally sustainable! So that’s what employers have to give them, if they want the person to stay at the company for many years.

So how can employers retain talent?

  1. Obviously remunerating the employee in line with the current market, which usually means a pay increase. Ask yourself what you’d be prepared to pay to replace your best employees and then give that amount to them before they look elsewhere. 
  2. Develop a years of service/rewards program that motivates your workforce to stay on with the company. 
  3. Provide your employees with challenges and make sure they experience different opportunities at work to prevent them seeing their work as ‘just a job’. 
  4. Offer flexible working arrangements. Numerous studies have shown employees are more productive and engaged when able to balance work with other aspects of their lives.
  5. The best thing you could do for the person and your company is to train them. Give them access to different learning courses. Reward them for achieving a new certificate or qualification. Not only will it benefit them personally, but your business will gain from the added knowledge. 
  6. Talk to your employees. Ask them what they want to do, what they want to achieve. Ask them if they’re happy in their current role. And if they’re not, discuss the possibility of a change in role and see if your business can provide a new career pathway.

Your people are your biggest asset (not your clients or your projects), they’ll spend more time working for you than doing anything else.

What’s working for you in your world @work?

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Posted in Technical & Operations, The world @work

Money can’t buy you happiness, but flexible working can.

Flexibility now ranks top amongst what’s important to employees (even more than pay), but what does it mean in practice?

Flexible working arrangements can come in many forms. For some people being flexible will mean compressing a five day week into four days; for others it will just be having a long lunch break to fit in a gym session. For many it is just being trusted to get the job done in the timeframe required, no matter where or when you do so. Trust people to do their job and more often than not, they will repay by putting in greater effort whilst working.

For employers, the tangible benefits of workplace flexibility include: reduction in absenteeism, increase in employee morale, higher engagement, greater commitment and improved retention. In fact over 55% of millennials are expected to stay more than five years when given more flexibility at work [Deloitte Millennials Survey]. However there are downsides to promoting some aspects of flexibility, such as working from home. When people are not present in the office it can impact the social aspect of working face-to-face in a team. Despite our connected business world, working remotely online can lead to disconnection or even loneliness. Roles that require regular open and collaborative communication can also be frustrated by flexible working.  A lot of managers report finding it hard to adapt to managing people who they can’t see, which means we still need to work on addressing those concerns.

On the upside, allowing employees to work flexibly can have a massive impact on people’s health. Stress is well-known to be one of the biggest causes of illness, leading to a number of other physical health related problems. For those of us who never seem to have personal time, flexible working hours reduce the stress caused by other pressures in life, allowing us to adapt our schedules to accommodate commitments such as family, sports activities, other hobbies and interests or just get a few chores done. It further relieves pressure on transport infrastructure, saving commuting time, which has environmental and health benefits for those travelling as well.

A major downside to flexible working is that it doesn’t suit everyone, nor every job. Flexible working doesn’t work for people who can’t motivate themselves; some people need supervision to get on with the job. With flexibility comes responsibility, so while there’s no harm in putting on a load of washing while you work, other distractions (your phone, social media, online shopping, what’s going on outside…) are still present. Some managers are still beholden to presenteeism, so if you’re not seen, you may be overlooked to contribute on interesting projects or miss out on career development opportunities.

I understand that flexible working isn’t for everyone and some jobs just aren’t that flexible. But I do think that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and more people should be given flexible working opportunities. Would anyone begrudge that spending a few more hours each week with their families and friends, enjoying hobbies, reading, exercising and travelling wouldn’t have a positive impact on their professional life? To varying degrees it’s already happening in some industries. It’s up to us to make it work.

 

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Perception versus reality

Making the decision to change direction mid-career is not easy.

I spent over a decade in the construction industry, first as a draftsperson, later as a market analyst, working in both Australia and the UK. While for a time the data nerd/maths geek in me enjoyed analysing the dynamics of supply and demand on materials and labour costs across the industry, I found I was becoming more interested in the people and organisations bringing projects to market.

After months of deliberation (and procrastination), I realised further study was the only viable option to take me where I wanted to go in the long-term. I enrolled in a postgraduate Diploma of Psychology with the intention of pursuing it through to a Masters.

Earlier this year, with the majority of my first degree completed, I made the move back home to Melbourne from London. Looking for a role that would leverage my industry knowledge and complement my ongoing studies, an opportunity presented itself… enter Slade Group.

My preconception of the recruitment industry was of pushy twenty-somethings cold-calling businesses in a frantic effort to meet daily sales quotas. Presumably little thought was given to understanding candidates’ personalities and motivations, nor the cultures of the businesses recruiters represented. It seemed to me the odds of landing on a considered, collaborative process, let alone matching the right candidate with the right role, were similar to spinning zero in roulette.

After carefully researching the role, I admit I still had a degree of trepidation when I decided to take on a consulting role. My perception of recruiters had changed, but the reality once I was in the job was even further from those first thoughts.

So, what’s it really like being a recruiter?

Sure, as with all professional services, business development is part of the process of managing a client portfolio. However, calling potential hiring managers with the intent to set-up a face to face discussion is not a pointless numbers game; meeting with employer clients allows us to develop a deeper understanding of their organisation, its vision and mission, and the type of people who are suited to the culture. Typically I have found employers appreciate a consultative approach – the depth of my inquiry to gain a sound understanding of their needs is authentic.

I’ve worked with great companies who are involved in some exciting projects, particularly during the current construction and infrastructure boom in Victoria. And I’ve connected with some highly talented people who will remain in my professional network.

As I return to full-time study to complete the last chapter of the qualifications I mentioned earlier, I’ll be able to apply the practical knowledge I’ve gained in the recruitment business. When it’s my time as a hiring manager, I’ll have a greater appreciation for the tangible benefits that top talent are seeking in a prospective employer (flexibility, a positive culture, development opportunities…). I will also be attuned to some of the prerequisites that can ease frustrations on both side – a well thought through job description, clear strategic hiring objectives and a thorough briefing from the organisation.

What have you learned through experience that has changed your perception about an industry or a particular role?

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Call out for a call back!

Something I learned a number of years ago… always follow through with what you say you are going to do in business. Close out the deal, finish the process, you get the drift. If you say you are going to do something, then do it. If something is going to stop you from delivering on your promise, then face up to it, and come up with a solution.

In recruitment, sometimes we hear people say that recruiters don’t call them back when they have applied for a job. I understand this happens, and I’d like to think our processes are strong enough at Slade Group, that it is not a frequent occurrence with our candidates.

Whether it be an email to say that, unfortunately, you have been unsuccessful with your online application or a phone call to provide feedback after you have interviewed with a prospective employer, it’s the least we can do to be honest with candidates. It’s also the least we want to give – we often provide career advice, referrals to other employment opportunities and build lasting relationships with candidates who in turn become clients over the years. Slade Group is also an ISO 9001 Quality Accredited executive recruitment firm, our reputation with our customers (both clients and candidates) is on the line, so we really do want to get back to you.

For good measure, I always ask every candidate I have met to ensure that they keep in touch with me as well, within a timeframe we have agreed.

It makes sense in business (in fact any relationship) that you’re likely to be more successful if you endeavour to build rapport with the people you are dealing with. For a candidate, the recruitment process typically means taking a big step in their career. For the organisations we represent, there is an element of risk to taking on a new employee and we do our utmost to ensure the candidate we refer is the right fit.

So it’s a little puzzling when, well into negotiations with a candidate, I have put forward a great offer from the company I am representing and then there is… silence, crickets! You begin to wonder what has happened?

Giving the elusive candidate the benefit of the doubt (maybe they are sick or maybe they are caught up in a meeting?) it’s OK to excuse a couple of hours. However, if the candidate is a person who is usually on top of returning calls it can certainly be disconcerting.

Recruitment can be like dating, sitting around waiting for someone to call you… after a while you get the drift, and you know they aren’t going to call. You have most likely experienced it or may have even done it yourself. (Why don’t they call???)

If you are dealing with a recruiter who has put you forward for a role and being a highly sought after talented individual, you receive an offer, I encourage you to act with integrity and finish the process. Talk to your consultant about why you have reservations about taking the role. A good recruiter will listen, see if there is something they can do to help, and if not you can still walk away. Leave a good impression, be professional, finish the process. Regardless of the outcome. It’s polite, courteous and the very least you could do.

 

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There’s an Engineering skills shortage. Here’s one way to solve it.

It might not be news to some, but the current shortage in engineering skills is widening. While there have been many reports on this topic, I haven’t seen one that provides an adequate solution to the ever growing problem.

So what’s the answer, introduce more science and mathematics learning at an early stage? This might be easier said than done, as we are also facing a huge shortage of specialist maths and science teachers. Independent sources attribute a range of factors, including the failure to attract new teachers (particularly men) to the profession, imminent retirements and poor retention rates.

Whether it’s teachers or engineers, recruiting highly skilled migrants in Australia is costly.

One option that has worked for me is re-employing retired engineers into positions where they can add significant value.

Recently I organised a successful meeting for a candidate who had left the workforce with a company that had a short to medium-term contract opportunity.

The mutual benefits were clear: the company hired a highly qualified candidate (an engineer with over 40 years of experience in the Civil/Structural Engineering field) at short notice who could resolve their issues within the timeframe; the candidate enjoyed the flexibility of working on a stimulating project without a long-term commitment.

Employing professionals returning to the workforce has the following benefits for your organisation:

  • Fill short-term roles with an experienced candidate quickly
  • Retirees are more likely to consider a short-term opportunity than a candidate who is ultimately seeking permanent full-time work
  • Older employees can pass on valuable sector knowledge and transfer sought after skills to less experienced employees
  • 40 years + in the workforce brings with it well-established industry networks, and can provide introductions and mentoring opportunities for future leaders
  • Depending on skillsets and recent technical knowledge, minimal training or upskilling is typically required

Returning to the workforce also has benefits for retired and semi-retired candidates:

  • Feeling valued through their work by continuing to contribute to innovation, benefit society, and be involved in the business or the broader community Keeping your mind active, which could be beneficial to longevity[1]
  • Financial benefit

Overall, hiring older professionals in any field helps break down the stigma of ageism and reminds people that age should not be a barrier to work performance. In areas such as engineering, where chronic skills shortages have been identified, it makes perfect sense to reemploy when hiring for project-based roles and short to medium-term opportunities in particular. I’d like to see more employers jump on board and give it a go.

Have you employed a retired professional or do you know someone who has recently returned to the workforce after retirement? What was the experience like for both parties?

 

[1] There have been a number of studies to support this. In 2010 paper by economist Susann Rohwedder of RAND and Robert Willis of the University of Michigan (both were at Age Boom Academy). Looking at data from the U.S., England and 11 European countries, they concluded that retirement had a significant negative impact on the cognitive ability of people in their early 60s. They speculate that retirement can lead to a less stimulating daily environment. The researchers also wonder if people nearing retirement are less mentally engaged in their jobs (source Chris Farrell, Next Avenue Contributor).

 

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