One of Australia’s best—known names in recruitment, Julia Ross shares her insights on the labour market, skills shortages and industrial relations
Story by PETER SWITZER, PHOTOGRAPHY JOHN FRYZ
JULIA ROSS OPENED JULIA ROSS PERSONNEL in 1988 but the agency quickly became Julia Ross Recruitment. Now the business is a listed entity called Ross Human Directions (RHD). And, about the only thing that has outpaced her name changes has been her company’s growth.
“We listed in 2000 as Julia Ross Recruitment but re-badged at the end of last year to Ross Human Directions to allow us to become broader rather than being considered purely as an office support/secretarial type recruiter,” says Ross. “This was heavily where the Julia Ross brand was.”
The Julia Ross story is the tale of a self-made woman. Ross came to Australia as an executive and she now walks the corridors of her own $350 million tumour operation, which employs 500 workers and engages around 6000 contractors. “I had worked with an international recruitment group and came here from the United Kingdom with them originally, after running a few branches in England,” she recalls.
“I was involved in their Western Australia and Asian business but took on a position as operations director for Australia, New Zealand and Asia,” Ross says.
CONTlNUlTY AND PERFORMANCE
Accounting for her achievements, Ross thinks the retention of her people has provided continuity and a strong performance unit. “We had a very solid team for many years from when I started, certainly up until listing we had a very strong management team. I think the philosophy of promoting people internally and keeping stability of our own staff was very important,” she says.
“I think some of the other things like innovations in the market have helped. We’re seen as being a little different and we sort of challenge the globe a little bit for our position in the market. We’re known to be quite fun and innovative and we have a different slant from our clients’ point of view,” Ross says.
And it is these points of difference that have enhanced the brand, she says.
“We have always been known for being able to get hold of that type of candidate for the client because of our branding,” she says. “We opened a London office where we advertised for people who were coming into the country: We became known to have office support and secretarial candidates who were the best people.“
Ross believes government legislation has played a role in her business growth in varying degrees. “I’ve seen a number of things come and go, some more positive and some negative legislation,” she says. “You might say that industrial relations policy is better today. But we’re facing some pretty severe challenges at the moment with legislation that says casual workers will be treated as permanent employees.”
Ross points to the secure employment test case in the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission — which seeks variations in the number of public and private sector awards — as a major concern for her and the recruitment industry.
Unclear on exactly where it might end, Ross says all sorts of things have been mooted, such as whether there’s an attempt to stop there being an external provider of casual employees to end users. There are also question marks over whether RHD’s casual workers will have to work to on—site agreements or whether they will have to be offered permanent work.
“There are degrees of how severe this legislation will be pushed but all of those things obviously have ramiﬁcations — it is made worse by being in a situation of employment shortage,” Ross says. “Why would you introduce legislation that means that people don’t have flexibility in any way? To me, that only discourages people to be in the workforce if they only want a few
hours or certain days. The best way to encourage employment is to facilitate what people want, I think.”
The current business cycle does not support outsourcing, Ross says, but points out that unusual activities such as talent management and succession planning are being outsourced, driven by organisations trying to stop staff losses.
The trend of women re—entering the workforce has been positive for Ross’s business. “We do our best to encourage it and I think temporary work is one of the ways that women achieve a gentle re—entry at whatever level that suits them,” she says.
Another trend driving the growth of RHD is that businesses are more disposed to use a recruitment ﬁrm rather than advertising, and Ross believes this demonstrates the greater professionalism of both business and employees nowadays.
“I think there are very few candidates who go through advertisements directly, particularly as we get into a candidate shortage,” she says. “People don’t want to do that because they haven’t got time to go around to lots of interviews. They prefer to come to an expert where they can talk about their career and be placed not only once but two or three times during their career, and they come back to the same recruiter.”
“Ross says candidates often forego higher salaries so that they can get the work conditions they want”
Firms such as RHD see the management of their candidate base as a critical goal and make sacriﬁces to do it well. “We stay open late at night and on the weekend because it’s so difficult for candidates to get in to see people now,” Ross explains. “They just don’t have the time — the good candidates are too busy doing what they do.”
And there is even more to get right when it is harder to find workers. Ross’s business services the white—collar market end of the labour market, which last year swung into skills shortage. “It is pronounced in many specialist roles in banking, ﬁnance, accounting — any of those mid-level specialists,” Ross says. “You’ve got unskilled and very senior people available but it’s the mid—level that seems to be missing and that’s where the demand is.”
Ross says information technology (IT) jobs have improved considerably compared to two years ago and since her company’s acquisition of staffing consultants Spherion she is far more interested in IT recruitment.
“The move basically doubled our size, giving us a lot of coverage in New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore, and involvement in other types of recruitment in the technology sector. Again, the problem is skills shortage in th.is sector. The market has reversed enormously from two years ago when IT people weren’t able to get jobs.”
MAINTAIN THE BUZZ
Ross’s tip for attracting and keeping great workers is to create flexible workplaces where people get a buzz out of being there. “Smart employers are offering flexible arrangements. People just don’t want to work in the same conformist way that many of us did,” Ross says.
“Most of my career it was expected that you turned up at a certain time and you worked till a certain time. People don’t come into workplaces with that pre- conceived idea — they expect to have flexibility and don’t want their lives to run that way any more.”
Ross says candidates often forego higher salaries so that they can get the work conditions that they want. “This generation sees quality of life and flexibility as being more important,” she says.
“They’ve got a different take on life. They want to respect and like the people that they work with, they want to learn and they want to have flexibility flexibility, it’s a very different mindset to previously.”