On the night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere and two others, made aware of imminent movement of the British Army on military supplies held by American Revolutionists in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, rode to these towns to warn them of the incoming British forces. This became known as “Paul Revere’s Ride”, romanticised within Longfellow’s poem as having him yell in warning ‘The British Are Coming, The British Are Coming’.
Whether Revere did shout those words is for the historians to argue, but overall, England via their armies were keen to ensure (and enforce) their approach to colonisation was done their way, no matter how much it conflicted with the new American nation’s differing approaches and desire to do things their way.
These days, recruitment has been witnessing a revolution of its own. Here in Australia, there is the unmistakable acknowledgement that those brought up in England and on English approaches are moving and have moved to Australia over the last 10-15 years and taking up a significant share of the recruitment market. This has seen improvements, profitability and some new practices to invigorate part of the industry, yet like their ancestors in the American revolutionary war, are they here to radically change the industry, or just happy to integrate their skills in recruitment within the best country on Earth (this humble blogger’s opinion, only!)?
To put some perspective on the issues with this revolution, a few quick comparisons must be made.
These numbers identify there may be a large disparity between the world of recruitment in London versus the world here in Melbourne or Sydney. However, what the numbers don’t indicate thoroughly is the clear and distinct difference between the recruitment industry in Australia and the UK. The English recruitment industry is highlighted by a highly sales driven environment, where dogmatic sales and the more ‘in-your-face’ approach is commonplace. Where the high-pressure, KPI-centric and churn and burn model is generally the accepted norm. The relationship model is not really concentrated on (though it is there in pockets), and is largely discounted for the quick sale, quick turnaround and quick fee service. Competition is fierce and is reflected in methodologies and approaches. Here, if clients and candidates are burnt there is not really much care held when this happens simply because the market is large enough to have a few casualties along the way. Interestingly, they have more in common with recruiters in the United States than here in Australia as far as approach is concerned, yet have more of the flair and savvyness seen in Australia than their American counterparts
To make it in this market, you need to be aggressive. With the incredibly large numbers of recruitment consultants in Greater London, there is a fight to get the biggest and best names on their books. Transactional recruitment is king and relationships are only a minor tool used in the overall arsenal that is skewed significantly to the aggressive side. Small clients are often ignored or given an even poorer level of service whilst the sport is in chasing those big names. It is an approach that has proved to be effective for the market and conditions there, and I am by no means examining how they conduct business nor am I opining on it. It is placing context into what then happens here.
The Australian approach with is more relationship driven, where reputations are built on the work they put in and by the response of clients and candidates alike. It is here where all clients, no matter of size are treated as if they are incredibly important to that individual consultant. So then, when consultants within the English market make their way out here either permanently or on holiday, friction is caused as two approaches, both different, seek to integrate together. The Australian model contrasts sharply to the London model and this friction is one of the contributing factors to the decline of the recruitment industry’s reputation.
Fortunately, though, this has been seen as a definite issue in some sections and a portion of these imported consultants fit well into the Australian business approach, and have worked successfully at forging and building solid relationships. In fact, this portion go out of their way to dismiss the tactics of their old environment because they understand they will get nowhere adhering to these methods out here.
However, the practice of importing overseas recruiters (primarily from the UK) begs the questions:
- What is it doing to the Australian industry and perceptions of it; and
- Why is this so actively endorsed?
Quite a number of complaints bandied around by candidates and businesses about the industry all seem to be around lack of communication and the ‘cowboy’ attitude some recruiters have. In relatively the same breath, most complainers lament that the industry is now ‘overrun with English recruiters’ (based on observation within one online forum, that focused on IT recruiters). Whether this attached comment is mere circumstance, coincidence or a genuine belief that the two are concurrent is perhaps up to individual contributors, the facts are that a lot see concurrence in the importing of recruitment talent and the poor level of service. This is an observed perception in the market, and whilst semblance to truth may be a little stretched, can there be a real issue of a clash of work practice that has left many in the Australian market put out by the imported practices and the friction that it causes? Indeed there is. However, there is no apportioning of blame here, nor does it feel like that in the market, simply because the clash of workplace cultures is the underlying issue.
However, the point here is not that the English are horrid recruiters, turning the local market into a mire of sales cowboys and poorly treated candidates. No, it is that they will come and keep coming, and it is their lot – and ours – to ensure the integration of an entrenched approached can be exchanged for another.
Today, we are seeing the recruitment industry undergoing a significant upheaval. Brought on from the effects of the GFC, there is a view that the current industry model is outdated and unworkable to cater to changes mentioned. In fact, some elements are already announcing the death of the industry as sourcing candidates internally becomes easier for the average business.
This has seen a lot of recruitment agents leave the market permanently (when you consider that staff turnover for the industry fluctuates between 45% and 48%, there is a problem – even the current figures of 39% are still almost three times acceptable turnover rates). Tenures for consultants seem to average around 2-3 years (sometimes less depending on agency or industry serviced) and there is significant backfill required at any given time. This is the number one reason why importing consultants is seen as the best-fix measure. Recruitment-t0-Recruitment agencies often advertise overseas (some solely look for candidates from the UK) and recruitment firms make sponsorship an attractive proposition for these.
Seemingly, the recruitment agent conundrum is answered, in part, by the imported brand of agent. However, is it geared to success, or merely to fill a panic-inducing hole within an agency? We have an almost boundless supply of eager agents (who wouldn’t want to come out here?!) and their methods are, apparently and according to those attracting them over, are apparently compatible with Australia’s.
In answer, it would seem reasonable to suggest that recruiters from the UK are just better at doing the job, provided they are across exactly what businesses here demand.
Thing is, the old methods of recruitment are not working. The sales approach is flawed and the disproportionately bad comments leveled at the industry increasing. Change is needed, and it needs to be conducted by those with a sway. By this, it is the imported English recruiters that will have a major say as to where the industry is heading. No use saying they are the detriment; it’s too late to question the importation policies of firms and rec-to-recs. The fact is they are here and will continue to arrive. The industry’s survival in Australia will be down to these and how quickly they can adapt to the different environment, culture and business standards expected here. Can these international recruiters sufficiently attend to a market clearly different to that which they come from and in turn bring the industry out of its difficulties and the antipathy it brings and into a return to its vitality and acceptance?
It is a question without an answer…yet.