Issues In Job Recruitment and Research

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."