Issues In Job Recruitment and Research

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Does BC Really Need All Those Temps?

It's that pregnant man syndrome again.

In the 1970s, the mayor of Montreal assured his nervous taxpayers that the Olympic Games in the city could no more go into cost overruns than a man could get pregnant. Montreal is only now, three expensive decades later, able to retire the debt load the 1976 Olympics created there.

In early February, the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympics (VANOC) elicited angry responses from critics by announcing the need for the provincial and federal governments to cough up another $55 million each to cover projected cost overruns on games construction.

The BTY Group, a research organization serving the local construction industry, is currently predicting construction costs in BC will escalate by 50 percent between 2005 and 2010.

To date, there are no reports of male pregnancy in BC, but the call for additional funding has sparked a vigorous debate about Olympic costs, especially those expenses associated with wages for skilled workers.

Spokespeople for the non-union sector of the construction industry, like the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association's Philip Hochstein, have blamed escalating labour costs for the overrun, with increases in land, material and fuel costs also implicated.

Now, calls are being heard in some business circles for the federal government to solve the problem of rising labour costs by bringing large numbers of foreign workers into the country on temporary permits.

The Sydney approach

Contacted by The Tyee, Maureen Douglas, a media spokeswoman for VANOC, was unable to comment on how much of the expected overrun was due to labour costs. She also declined to comment on whether VANOC supported Hochstein's call for the federal government to admit a large number of temporary workers during the pre-games building boom.

Colin Hansen, the BC minister responsible for the Olympics, was unavailable for comment on these questions before this story went to press. However, the new BC budget, announced February 21, set aside four hundred million dollars over the next four years for skills and training initiatives.

Union spokespeople within the construction trades are highly skeptical about the foreign worker proposal, noting that they have been predicting Olympic cost overruns for years and offering governments and games organizers a deal that would avoid such losses.

They blame the government and VANOC's unwillingness to create a labour accord similar to the one that kept costs within budget at the Sydney games in 2000, as well as the Campbell Liberals' creation of budget-busting "fast track" arrangements for Olympic construction contracts for creating the problem.

They say the non-union construction industry wants to import off-shore labour to address problems it created by failing to train adequate numbers of new apprentices and by lobbying government to fast-track Olympic projects and exempt these projects from almost all existing statutes. As early as 2003, the BC and Yukon Building and Construction Trades Council's Wayne Peppard warned that legislation designed to fast-track Olympic construction and exempt it from ordinary regulatory procedures ran the risk of creating a disaster for taxpayers. In 2005, Peppard told CBC radio news that a failure to negotiate an umbrella labour accord for the Olympics meant that the games building projects were in danger of out of control cost increases and possible job actions.

Service Canada 'captured'

The Tyee met with Hochstein, whose presentation was laced with equal measures of salty language, power point slides and statistics. The construction industry in BC suffered during the NDP years in the 90s, he said, as did the industry across Canada, which experienced one year (1993) of losses and many of minimal profits. In BC, the industry only began to recover when the Campbell Liberals took power. Now, facing the prospect of over eighty billion dollars in Olympic and other major project construction between now and 2010, the industry is plagued by shortages of skilled journeymen in most construction trades and needs the federal government to speed up admission of skilled workers on temporary work permits immediately.

However, Hochstein claims Service Canada, the federal body within Human Resources and Skills Development Canada responsible for assessing the need for such permits, has been "captured" by organized labour and this takeover means that the industry is unable to import the temporary workers it needs to hit 2010's ambitious building goals.

Hochstein says there is a productivity crisis in the Canadian construction industry, driven, in part, by the rapid expansion in the industry work force in the last few years and the lack of older journeymen to mentor and train the thousands of new hires generated by the industry turnaround and pre-Olympics expansion. He says that real construction wages fell significantly during the 90s when measured in constant dollars. The loss to workers, he says, helped subsidize lower prices for the industry's customers as it coped with increasingly costly supplies and materials.

20,000 new temps?

In 1966, Hochstein said, 9.6 percent of immigrants to Canada were construction workers. By 1994, only 1.3 percent of landed immigrants were construction workers, and by now, that figure was below one percent. In 2004, Hochstein said, 74 percent of landed immigrants were non-workers.

"We need," he said, "to change this distorted mix in immigration. We need a system that will make it as easy to bring in construction workers as it is now to bring in information technology workers. Everybody understands there is a shortage, but the structure for bringing in construction workers is unrealistic and bureaucratic. The trade union movement has captured Service Canada. The unions have been very effective in getting government to put up barriers."

Hochstein told The Tyee that the last federal government was "too close to labour," but that he and his member companies were hopeful the Harper Conservatives would be more sympathetic. He would, he said, like to see up to 20,000 additional construction workers admitted on work permits between now and 2010. These workers, he said, would not only help control labour costs, but also would help train and mentor younger Canadian workers, helping to address productivity problems within the industry.

In 2004/2005, work permits for foreign workers in all categories brought just fewer than 20,000 workers to BC, according to a spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Roughly a third of these permit-holding workers in BC are "live-in caregivers", the government's euphemism for nannies and figures provided by Service Canada suggest that construction workers constitute only a small section of the remaining workers admitted.

Hochstein's call for 20,000 additional temporary workers may seem like a lot, but it is modest in comparison to the ambitions of Curtis Panke of World Wide Immigration Consultancy Services, a Toronto-based company, who told the Times of India in February 2005 that "British Columbia is on the lookout for 30,000 skilled tradesmen from India to build necessary infrastructure for the 2010 Winter Olympics….Initially these people will get work permits. Late, they will be offered permanent residency."

How great a shortage?

Richard McPhee, a Vancouver lawyer specializing in immigration law, has worked for BC construction companies who want to see skilled workers admitted to Canada as soon as possible to address what they see as a crisis in labour supply.

"There is strong anecdotal evidence there is a shortage of skilled labour in construction," he told The Tyee. "But when the Service Canada Foreign Worker Recruitment Program tries to document this for a Labour Market Opinion, they have problems completing it, and they have to consider what the unions say. The unions tell me they're telling the feds that there is no shortage. Definitely, the LMO is at the heart of the problem."

LMO's are documents assessing labour supply. The procedure for issuing temporary work permits for foreign workers depends upon an LMO that suggests workers are in short supply in a particular job category in Canada, and upon requirements that companies wanting to import temporary foreign workers advertise widely in Canada to try to fill their job openings on shore. If Service Canada issues an LMO that identifies a need in the labour market, the final responsibility for issuing work permits falls to Citizenship and Immigration Canada. This ministry, contacted by The Tyee, declined to comment for this story and referred all questions to Service Canada.

At the Vancouver offices of Service Canada, Ron Marshall, a ministry spokesman, was dismissive of Hochstein's suggestion that unions had captured his office.

"We work on applications as they come in, on a case by case basis. We're non-partisan. Our Labour Market Opinions determine whether permissions are granted," he said.

Attempt at agreement failed

So, are the trade unions now controlling Canadian immigration policy, and, in the process, crippling efforts to bring in the Olympic Games on time and on budget? Not guilty, say union spokespeople contacted by The Tyee.

Peppard rejects the claim that he or any other trade union official has captured the federal bureaucracy. Further, he regrets what he sees as a lost Olympic opportunity.

"We supported the games bid, and early on, we tried to initiate discussions with Jack Poole and then John Furlong at the organizing committee, as well as with federal and provincial politicians. We were arguing for the sort of umbrella agreement on labour that worked so well at the Sydney games," Peppard said.

"After a series of meetings over two and a half years," Peppard said, "it became clear that there would be no project agreement. When we have project agreements, we're always willing to give when we get. If they'd linked us into a project agreement for venues, the byproduct would have been an established, collaborative agreement. We have contacts across Canada and internationally. We could have helped with labour supply and training. But these guys are slaves to their free market philosophy."

Peppard said temporary workers from offshore are a problem in themselves. "We support workers immigrating to Canada, but temporary worker programs never work."

'Targeting aboriginal communities'

A provincial program, the BC Provincial Nominee Program, based on an agreement between the province and the federal government, nominates workers and business people for landed immigrant status, as opposed to temporary work permits. This program nominated just fewer than 600 potential immigrants in fiscal year 2005-2006, Ian Mellor, Investor Services Director at the provincial program, told The Tyee. Approximately 100 of these nominees were business people, and not all the remaining nominees were construction trades people, so this alternative entry path does not begin to address the number of foreign workers that Hochstein wants to see admitted.

Perley Holmes is skeptical about Hochstein's claim that BC needs foreign workers on temporary documents to reach its Olympic goals. Holmes, the business manager for Local 97 of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers, spoke to The Tyee in a recent phone interview.

"We haven't had a problem staffing jobs," Holmes said. "We've got 15 locals in Canada and 180 in the US. I've currently got 100 ironworkers on a list waiting to come out. We're running a training course now with a union firm and we graduate 10 a month. We're targeting aboriginal communities and preparing young people for good jobs. It's the companies that don't train apprentices that want to bring in foreign workers."

"There's a pattern here," said Holmes. "Hochstein and the BC Liberals worked to sabotage apprenticeship programs run by government and non-union companies do very little to train apprentices. Now they want to bring in offshore workers on a temporary basis to try to fix the problems they've created."

Both Holmes and Peppard had a similar response when they were asked about the claim that unions had captured and blocked the admission process for foreign workers: a hearty laugh and rueful suggestion they wish they had as much power as Hochstein attributes to them.

And so the debate continues, as voices on both sides grow, in the words of the Olympic motto, "faster, stronger, higher."

It remains to be seen whether the new Conservative government will respond to business pressure to increase admissions for foreign construction workers and whether such co-operation with the business agenda will protect taxpayers from an ugly debt surprise the day after the Olympic torch is quenched.

Construction industry spokesmen continue to call for more foreign workers and union leaders continue to bemoan lost opportunities for a collaborative arrangement that would have created an event both fairer and more affordable.

As usual, some of the most interesting and strenuous Olympic events are occurring off the ski slope and playing field, in back offices and public policy arguments.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Golden Age For Job Headhunters

Skills shortages are forcing employers to become more creative in their recruitment. As Susannah Moran reports, some Australian companies are even waiting at the school gate.

"We have found the younger generation less interested in the brand and more what the organisation can offer them."

Jacqui Davis

NAB spokeswoman For 19-year-old former Australian schoolboys' rugby captain Pauliasi Taumoepeau it was an offer too good to refuse – a gig with Macquarie Bank earning good money and schmoozing the top end of town.

Skills shortages, the booming economy and poaching by overseas firms mean million-dollar recruitment programmes run by local companies are looking beyond university graduates towards mature-age career changers and school leavers like Taumoepeau.

Increases in vacancies for graduates in Australia this year range from 7.4 per cent in banking to almost 50% in the mining sector.

As such, most new recruits across accounting, law and finance start work next week firmly in control.

Some fresh-faced graduates in their early 20s have been paid sign-on bonuses and will spend their first year earning close to six-figure salaries.

Others have demanded evidence of work-life balance and the opportunity for free overseas jaunts as part of their training – even though companies know staff feel increasingly able to jump ship when a better offer arises.

Next month about 150 graduates will start at Macquarie in Australia, and up to 100 more will join the bank worldwide next month.

A spokeswoman says the bank has increased its intake of graduates into accounting, risk management and property roles as well as the more traditional corporate finance, research, sales and trading.

But there are also places available for recent school leavers, she says.

Taumoepeau was approached after he finished private school in 2004 and has spent the past year working at Macquarie Bank Sport, an offshoot of the bank that aims to introduce children to sports.

As well as coaching students Taumoepeau gets to work within the investment bank.

At the moment he is learning about trading and foreign commodities.

Taumoepeau, who plays rugby for the University of Sydney and studies at the Australian College of Physical Education, speaks highly of the opportunities and business knowledge that Macquarie Bank has given him – as well as the perks such as lunches.

"(There's) too much of that sometimes, you get spoilt," he says.

It's a far cry from the days of the early 1990s, when even postgraduates struggled to find a job, let alone one of their choice.

The accounting sector, which hires about a quarter of all graduates, has increased the number of its graduate roles on offer this year by 12.6%, according to research by the Australian Association of Graduate Employees.

Another major recruiter, the banking and finance sector, has boosted its intake by 7.4%.

The largest growth in vacancies was in mining (up 49.2%) and in pharmaceuticals and chemicals (up 42.3%).

Graduate salaries are also on the rise, by about 3% across all industries; those starting out in the mining and banking sectors enjoy the highest pay packets. For example, the average starting salary in the mining industry is $A58,000 ($NZ63,716), according to AAGE, and aspiring investment bankers start on an average of $A53,800. But that's before perks such as bonuses, cars and other benefits.

Graduate recruitment has become a big business – many firms have a dedicated team of people that work campuses year-round. Others outsource stages of the process, such as assessment days, to large recruitment firms such as Hudson.

But to get a placement at the firm of their choice today's graduates will have to attend interviews, undergo psychology tests and be analysed on how well they work within a team in a series of role-plays.

Firms may sponsor campus activities, career fairs and offer free seminars but grads soon learn there is no such thing as a free drink – even an invitation to a cocktail party is a thinly disguised attempt by the firm to observe their graduates in a social environment.

And they have to be all-rounders with a job history, hobbies and other interests and be interesting to talk to. Playing on a sports team is highly regarded.

NAB has about 200 graduates across Australia, most of whom joined the bank this month. They will be placed across business units such as MLC, the banks' wealth-management arm, business and private banking, technology, agribusiness and finance.

Graduate recruitment has become a big business – many firms have a dedicated team of people that work campuses year-round.

Spokeswoman Jacqui Davis says the bank has done a lot of research on graduates and what they think of banking. "We have found the younger generation less interested in the brand and more what the organisation can offer them," she says.

As a result, this year the bank will focus more on "soft skills" such as leadership, communication and problem-solving abilities.

At ANZ, the program manager of the graduate program, Jarrod Stooke, says the bank is happy to take on people in their 30s and 40s who have had a career change – former teachers or policemen – as they often bring personal experience and understanding to the job.

About 220 recruits will start with the bank this year in areas such as banking, human resources and information technology, and Stooke says not all are drawn from the commerce faculties.

"We are a diverse employer, it doesn't matter what they have studied, we look at arts and humanities students." He says graduates have a short-term outlook and his challenge is to convince them that the bank can meet their career goals in the long term.

Top-tier law firm Mallesons, which will take on about 120 graduates this year, is changing its training program to take into account the fact that young lawyers are moving into in-house positions, to investment banks or heading overseas after just a few years as a lawyer. Young lawyers are now thinking in two-year blocks, rather than three or five or even 10 years.

"You will not have people coming in to law firms thinking this is where they will necessarily end up," says partner Julie Ward. "So what we are offering them is to make them a bit more commercial."

Ward says the firm is also able to attract top students by being able to offer them overseas experience, and after the firm's recent merger with Hong Kong firm Kwok & Yih, it is now offering grad placements in Hong Kong.

Adele Brady, HR director at Freehills, says the firm sells itself on its clients and the type of work it does. "We find that (in view of) the quality of work (and) the fact that we consistently win awards, we don't have to do a lot to differentiate ourselves in their mind."

Brady says the lawyers often don't start with the law, instead they are taught about how a typical business works.

Law firm Clayton Utz, according to recruitment manager Fiona Spender, has increased its graduate numbers, developed good relationships with universities and offered students seminars and workshops as well as "generous" sponsorship of law societies.

Investment bank UBS also plans an aggressive boost of its graduate programme. Mike Davies, head of HR in the Asia-Pacific region, says this year UBS has 22 graduates starting on above-average salaries, and next year it is aiming to almost double its intake to 40. Graduates also get to spend six weeks at UBS's "finance academy" in London or America.

This year the investment bank is going to start a "UBS Bank Challenge" in five universities to show students what life is like working on a deal transaction.

Naturally, there will be a winner who will get to spend time with UBS.

At BHP Billiton, graduates are recruited for specific roles and are not treated as trainees, a spokeswoman says.

About 100 graduates are recruited each year to Australia's biggest mining company, from finance to geologists. A three-year development programme usually includes a short stint overseas.

A spokeswoman says the resources industry has difficulty finding skilled graduates, but given the skills shortage the problem is not limited to graduates.

One concern in the sector is that London firms are recruiting directly from universities, the HR director at Minter Ellison, Rolf Moses, says. The firm will take on about 85 graduates from some 2000 applications.

The accounting sector has one of the most widely respected recruitment processes – all the big firms have agreed to a code of conduct and have to make offers by a certain date.

Ernst & Young receives about 3000 applications for the several hundred jobs on offer and says that while good marks are important, they are looking for people who have other interests such as music, sport or drama.

But reassuringly for those not destined to shine, the firm looks for team players.

"We don't want everyone to be leaders," says the firm's national graduate recruitment manager, Melanie Machin.

She says Ernst & Young is changing its recruitment process so that instead of heading out to campus, they are inviting graduates to come in and meet staff and partners.

So, what happens if after all the investment the graduates just don't work out? Gaden's managing director, Michael Bradley, says it is best to let them know early.

While the recruitment process is designed to pick "Gaden's person" – a sense of humour is important – "sometimes we get it wrong".

"It is a short but sweet relationship," Bradley says. "We're very aggressive about letting people know where they stand at all areas of their career.

"If it is not going to work, we move them on. In a sense it's brutal but far more fair than just let them wither."

Friday, February 03, 2006

Careers in Human Resources

Careers in Human Resources
Among the career options available to management graduates, the field of human resources is fast emerging as a challenging and lucrative one.

Among the different career options available to management graduates, the field of human resources (HR) is fast-emerging as a challenging and lucrative option. Before the 1990s, HR management meant administration and personnel management along with industrial relations. Post-90s, with liberalisation and globalisation, the concept of HR changed.

Once the economy opened, the economy moved from being manufacturing-based, to being knowledge-based and retail and IT etc., gained prominence. With globalisation, came competition. The products and services offered by Indian companies had to compete with global brands. This put pressure on organisational productivity and performance. Since organisational efficiency depended, to a large extent, on people, the way HR was managed changed and a lot of career options became available in HR. Also, with globalisation, companies began operating from different countries and hiring a workforce comprising various nationalities. The cultural challenges thus thrown up contributed to changing the way HR was perceived and managed.

“As an HR professional, one can be either a generalist or a specialist,” says Sanjeev Saxena, Manager, Organisational Effectiveness, Infosys. Some important specialist functions in HR are as follows:

Industrial relations

An IR professional takes care of the legal aspects of running an organisation in the context of HR. It is his job to ensure that all statutory requirements are met and there is an environment of peace within the organisation so that the employees can work effectively.


The objective of the recruitment section is to ensure that the organisation has the right set of people at the right time. “The recruitment function in emerging sectors like BPOs is very important because the attrition in these sectors is double-digit and the growth is 30-40 per cent. This calls for recruitment in large numbers,” says Nimish Khare, Manager HRD, Wipro. A recruitment executive needs the skills of a salesperson, that is, he needs to be number-oriented and target-driven. A recruitment executive would be required to handle different components like recruitment strategy, advertisement, screening, scheduling, selection, offer, joining, induction, market research and tools for recruitment.

To work in the recruitment function, one needs an MBA, preferably with a specialisation in HR, but increasingly those with a sales and marketing background are also getting into this field.

Compensation and benefits

Earlier compensation and benefits was just about payrolls, but now there is much more to it. Benchmark studies, which are used to gauge the industry norm for compensation for a particular profile, are an important part of compensation and benefits. “Compensation is both a motivation and an expense. Ideally, an organisation would like to maximise the former and minimise the latter. This makes the compensation function challenging,” says Saxena. This role has acquired additional significance in view of the fact that most companies operate in a global context these days. “For instance, Infosys is operating in 36 countries and in each country, it has to comply with the labour rules of that country. It is the job of the compensation and benefits section to ensure this happens,” adds Saxena.

To get into the recruitment function of any organisation, an MBA with a specialisation in HR is required. Those with a finance background generally have an edge over others.

Employee relations/ generalist HR

“It is the job of an executive working as a generalist HR professional to ensure the implementation of HR systems and processes. These include induction, employee welfare, performance appraisal, handling employee grievances, employee motivation and manpower planning and allocation,” says Khare. Those aspiring to get into the field of generalist HR must have an MBA with a specialisation in HR.

Organisational effectiveness/organisational development

Though these terms are used interchangeably, there is a difference between them. Organisational effectiveness focuses on design and implementation of new HR systems and policies. It deals with employee satisfaction, job evaluation, performance management, external and internal branding, HR strategy, HR analysis and advisory role. Organisational development focuses on developing the capability of employees through training and interventions. Both these functions require a high level of understanding of HR concepts and behavourial psychology.

A person who wants to make a career in any of these functions can get an MBA degree with a specialisation in HR and then develop as a generalist or specialist, based on their interest.


Apart from working in the HR function of an organisation, an HR professional can also opt for consulting. Consulting is a good option for people who have a passion for creative solutions and have conceptual clarity. “It offers a steep learning curve, but at the same time is very challenging. Some of these challenges are working in the client environment, extensive travel and working with ambiguity,” says Saxena.

Where to study

Almost all MBA institutes, including the IIMs, offer a specialisation in HR. The best-known colleges for studying HR in India are Xaviers Labour Relations Institute, Jamshedpur; Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai; and Symbiosys, Pune.

Prerana Trehan