Recruitment in a post-Covid environment

Key points for businesses to consider are attracting, retaining and aligning talent, Scott Mason...
Key points for businesses to consider are attracting, retaining and aligning talent, Scott Mason says. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Sourcing talent is the biggest business constraint facing New Zealand organisations. The Otago-Southland branch of the Institute of Directors is hosting an event in Dunedin tomorrow focused on the labour market. Business editor Sally Rae catches up with two of the speakers, Dean Delaney and Scott Mason, to gauge their thoughts.

Flexibility is the new currency when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.

That’s the belief of recruitment specialist Dean Delaney who says flexibility does not just mean working from home; it has a far wider context.

It is a tough environment for businesses who are facing pressures from all angles; the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is predicting the loss of 125,000 people within a year, primarily from the Gen Z and millennial age-groups, migrating overseas.

There was also internal migration within New Zealand as people moved around companies, wage pressures and higher costs. The market had shifted and it was the candidate — rather than the employer — who was now "calling all the shots", Mr Delaney said.

In the recruitment world, there was a need to educate clients that the market was now very different. Pre-Covid-19, an employer might post a job advertisement and get 60 applications; now they might get six, five from overseas — the sixth was likely unsuitable.

For some organisations, the ability to attract and retain talent was the biggest constraint on growth.

As for what has been dubbed the Great Resignation and whether it was an urban myth, Mr Delaney said there was no doubt it was a real thing — it was definitely happening in the United States — but he believed it had not hit New Zealand yet at the pace of other countries.

Fundamentally, he believed that was driven by one factor — job security. As recession loomed and employees had mortgages to pay and families to feed, among swirling uncertainty, there was "real comfort" in staying in a job they knew.

Covid-19 had accelerated people reflecting on what they did and how they did it. And while the Gen Zers and Millennials tended to get a harder time, it was happening right across the generations.

"I think people are looking for that balance," Mr Delaney said.

And allowing people to balance their work and personal lives would attract talent. But flexibility was not a one-size-fits-all approach.

There was much talk about purpose-driven organisations, that genuinely cared for their people. There were things on the table that had never been there before, such as diversion and inclusion committees, and more sustainable options. When added up, there was more pressure on organisations than ever before, he believed.

Mr Delaney saw a "real gap" being created between the public and private sector; the public sector was too slow and bureaucratic whereas the private sector was more agile and able to quickly create policies to look after their people.

And it was not just about installing a foosball table or a dart board in the staff cafeteria. It had to be genuinely meaningful change.

Another challenge for organisations was how to blend a workforce with younger workers who were not prepared to work after 5pm. Organisations were having to "almost bend over and break their backs" to make it workable for the different expectations that workers now had.

It was all incredibly complex and leaders of organisations could no longer manage people, they needed to lead. And emotional intelligence, to understand their people and get the best from them, was paramount, Mr Delaney said.

Scott Mason has been a practising chartered accountant for more than 30 years. His governance career has been building over the past 10 years and he is now primarily a professional director across a range of industries and entity types, with a special interest in early/mid-stage tech companies. His roles include directorships with City Forests, NomosOne, Southern Motor Group, Banqer, Get Home Safe and Bison Group.

When it came to talent, the key factors for businesses to consider were to attract, to retain and to align; focusing on any one of those, at the exclusion of others, did not tend to work, Mr Mason said.

A comprehensive view needed to be taken, as organisations looked at what set them apart from other employers and what would make people want to stay there.

When it came to culture, that started with the owners of the business and the culture had to be natural for the organisation. There was no point "trying to be something you’re not" and it did not have to be identical to every other business.

Like also attracted like and business people needed to be visible to do that. They tended to attract people predisposed to the particular type of culture and they brought people who were the same.

There was was always a risk that businesses would "jump on the latest fad" and become confused, moving away from who they were. Culture was not something that was locked in stone. It was about owning your culture and accepting that it did not have to be identical to everyone else or what was in management books, he said.

There were tools in the toolbox, whether financially, economically or from a wellbeing perspective, to make engagement positive. Employees wanted to be in a business that cared for people, but businesses should not try to be "all things for all people".

They should look for things that aligned to that culture, crafted to their particular situation. For family-oriented businesses, it might be that family health plans were important whereas that might not be as important for those in their early 20s in an early-stage tech business, but a share option plan could be appealing.

In the trades, strong training and a clear progression was needed, so young men and women coming in at the bottom could see what their pathway is.

Mr Mason urged businesses to take a step back and think about their own situation to determine what they were trying to achieve as a business. Even just going through that process of thinking about your business "sets you apart", he said.

He agreed with Mr Delaney about flexibility, saying it was not just a unique proposition to Gen Zers, people in general were thinking about it more.

Flexibility could come in various forms; even businesses that were physical in their nature had options around that. It may be that businesses considered an overall resourcing approach, recognising that they needed 10 people full-time to achieve their business, then that might entail 12 people on a flexible roster.

Encouraging existing employees to be involved in the recruitment process was also important. Reaffirming the culture also made it more likely they would stay.

Talent mobility was no longer within the constraints of an industry, as on-the-job training became increasingly more important.

"All I want is good people," Mr Mason said.

If you could start with a good person, then they could be trained to do a job. On-the-job training was at the centre of businesses’ ability to attract people "from all over the place".

If there was an investment in their education and training, they would be more likely to stay and there was a side-benefit that employers could train them the way they wanted them. And that was "pretty exciting".

For Mr Mason, the future of professions was where people studied whatever degree that "spun their wheels" and then went to a business and received training. From that, came diversity of thought.

Drive to study initially spurred by feeling of ‘imposter syndrome’

Platinum Recruitment director Dean Delaney with his daughter Harper (8) following his graduation...
Platinum Recruitment director Dean Delaney with his daughter Harper (8) following his graduation with a commerce degree from the University of Otago. Photo: Emily Mitchell
Dean Delaney could not wait to enter the workforce.

Just after he turned 16, he left school and entered the retail industry. Work was nothing new to him — he had been working part time since he was 10, sorting and delivering mail.

He candidly acknowledges that school "just wasn’t for me" and all he wanted to do was start a working career. None of his family had ever had a tertiary education.

Mr Delaney’s career progressed from retail to digital imaging and the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) sector before he moved into recruitment in 2014.

Dealing with lots of senior leaders, he was often asked where he attended university and his journey to acquire a tertiary qualification was initially born out of a feeling of "imposter syndrome".

"I literally didn’t feel good enough to be at the table. I thought I needed a piece of paper to prove I was good enough."

After doing one paper a semester over seven years, he graduated last weekend from the University of Otago with a bachelor of commerce, with a double major in human resource management and management.

While it started out driven by imposter syndrome, that changed and it quickly developed into being more about him, and he had learned and grown more than he ever could have imagined, Mr Delaney said.

Completing the degree was something he was "immensely proud of" and he was grateful to everyone who had supported him over the years. There was no doubt it had been a balancing act, as he juggled both busy family and work lives, along with governance roles within the not-for-profit sector.

He encouraged anyone contemplating tertiary education to take a gap year and either work or travel and get some life experience as it was such a valuable thing to have.

A director at Platinum Recruitment in Dunedin, he relished being part of the recruitment industry because of the relationships, and also the scope to be connected to "amazing eco-systems" both in Dunedin and further afield.

He genuinely enjoyed helping and connecting people and there was a real sense of achievement when a positive outcome was achieved.

"I love recruitment. I love the brutality, the fast-paced nature of it. It’s a tough gig sometimes, but one I enjoy."