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Australia’s Charles van Heerden’s Shares 30 Years of Staffing Observations

Posted on November 29, 2009
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Six Degrees: How many applicants at your present employer do you estimate are hired from your corporate website as compared to how many are hired through referrals?

Charles: Firstly a qualification – in my current consulting role (WaveBox) we refer all recruitment to external recruiters. All my responses regarding present employer will in fact refer to my most recent role as General Manager People & Culture at Warrnambool Cheese and Butter, the only dairy company listed on the ASX. Our strategy has been to leverage off existing job boards rather the corporate web site, which only covers our employer branding and employment conditions. We would employ by far the majority through referrals. There is quite a transactional overhead and getting unsolicited applications can become a real administrative burden.

In a previous role we received 20,000 unsolicited applications per year, which created a contract role just to screen and reply to all these applications. This was an eye opener of the load on TPR’s.

Six Degrees: What is the source of the “Most Hires” collected from at your present employer? (In terms of Quantity #)

Charles: By far the most effective hires would be casuals or seasonal staff that have been appointed in permanent roles. The business is seasonal and being in the dairy industry, there is a strong need for flexibility of labor. Being amongst the top three employers in the region, as well as a reputation as a preferred employer by treating staff very well, means we get a lot of unsolicited applications.

Six Degrees: What is the source of your “LOWEST COST OF HIRES” – (least amount of invested resources for the easiest hires, regardless of quality) at your present employer?

Charles: Developing a proactive approach to recruitment included building a database of applicants, which may have been interviewed but not employed, or that have completed casual or seasonal work. I would regard this as a low cost, as we have done all the work, from advertising, screening and interviewing. The real benefit is being to fill roles extremely fast, sometimes days, as well as at lowest cost.

Six Degrees: What talent niche groups do you target and are these particular talent areas specialized under your review?

Charles: Our core competency is being an efficient manufacturer and we have a strategic focus in building strong supervisory leadership capability, with a deliberate program of moving talented team leaders across different business units.

Six Degrees: What types of training in sourcing/recruitment are available to you and have you taken advantage of?

Charles: There are good training programs available by various providers, but I prefer to bring external trainers spend a half-day with the HR team, focusing on a specific topic or need, such as on assessment, or on-boarding, at least every few months. I would attend specific sessions on a regular basis to get a good feel of new trends and developments, though I prefer shorter sessions, rather than being away for a number of days at a conference. My best source of information is by talking to other HR Managers.

Six Degrees: What recruitment software tools do you use in your day to day recruitment activities & do they translate effectively within all of the different countries where you recruit?

Charles: Job boards would be the main sources of talent, with a targeted approach for different countries or industries. On the odd occasion we would use paper ads for local jobs, as everyone reads the local paper and advertising cost is similar.

Six Degrees: What tools did you first encounter early in your recruitment career?

Charles: The old application form brings back a lot of memories. I remember developing a structured application formal with point scoring to assist with screening. I had a PA that would watch candidates completing forms. Rhonda would check if the candidate would complete the form or his spouse. This was in the mining industry and the wives always wanted to ask heaps of questions about the company housing.

Six Degrees: How did your expectations of being a recruiter compare to the actual, first time you got on the phone or in the cubicle? In your opinion, how do people’s assumptions about our vocation differ from reality?

Charles: I honestly didn’t realize how much paper work is involved with recruitment. As an applicant you only experience the actual interview, without a full understanding of the volume. For many HR people recruitment is just not sexy and they quickly delegate this to a junior staff member. After many years in HR, I am now convinced that if more attention is devoted to recruitment, many of the other HR issues will be easier to manage.

Six Degrees: Worst mistake, biggest goof, lousiest practice you thought would fly but didn’t…and how that was a learning experience?

Charles: The story I always share with managers is my worst mistake, appointing a receptionist/typist. She worked at the airport company as a telex operator and it was October 1981. We had snow that year (unusual for Johannesburg) and I am convinced I was suffering from some illness as on the very first day she started, after a couple of hours, it became evident that she couldn’t type or format a letter to safe her life. I encouraged her the next day to check if her previous role was still vacant. It was and I paid her notice and she was gone on the third day. What a lucky break as she was not able to do the role, though she was a nice person! I learned to be much more thorough, often inviting a new team member twice for an interview.

Six Degrees: How do you personally expect to facilitate change within our industry, and/or at your place of work? If you started that process, outline the problem, your solutions, and the vision.

Charles: Being an HR Change expert, the essence of change is being a role model and through visionary leadership, by providing a clear focus and direction of making a company a great place to work. This includes communicating and sharing information on best practices and to engage all stakeholders, though a transparent process of consultation. Once the change has been effectively achieved, it is important to take time to celebrate the journey (the process) and the destination (the outcome).

Using this positive change process, which we at WaveBox refer to as the 4C model, the recruitment industry needs to become talent managers and move from the traditional recruitment model, to become involved in talent sourcing, but in a more value added basis. The current model means TPR’s are only involved on an assignment basis, rather than on a more strategic basis.

Six Degrees: “Best practice” you are most proud of developing (now or in the past) in your recruiting career?

Charles: This is an easy answer as I have been privileged in developing a recognized best practice system, working with Management Search International as a recruitment partner whilst working as GM of HR at Feltex Group. We reduced recruitment costs by 30% and improved the quality of recruitment processes, improved retention rates and great feedback from candidates, hiring managers and the business.

A number of companies have asked us to share our journey with them, culminating in doing a joint presentation at a major conference. This was also profiled as a case study by Benchmark Communications.

Six Degrees: What are some of the frustrating aspects/obstacles to your day to day as a staffing professional and in general?

Charles: As a corporate recruiter, I have come to realize that arguably the most difficult decision a manager has to make is to decide which candidate to appoint. Some managers really procrastinate by asking to see more candidates. Some managers don’t do a lot of recruitment. But they often think they are recruitment experts as most managers do interviewing (often badly). I promise not to tell them how to do make cheese if they promise not to tell me how to do recruiting. Mutual respect goes a long way.

Six Degrees: What are the most common themes of strategic and/or tactical mishaps involving past or present HR/Staffing org?

Charles: Employer branding is again becoming a key focus, though HR is so much at the mercy of other parts of the business. Two examples in Australia – the recent iSnack 2.0 saga, which has really backfired for Kraft; another is the massive reaction after Pacific Brands move a number of operations to China resulting in major job losses. In both cases serious damage has occurred not only to the brand, but also to the brand as an employer.

Six Degrees: Considering all of the frustrations you have experienced in your career as a recruiter, what inspires you as you continue in your career?

Charles: There is some great talent in any company. The challenge is how we unlock and discover that talent. I am not here referring to the top talent, but those that have the potential to grow into more senior roles. We had a young girl who worked as a casual since year 10 (age 16) at the retail store. After school she studied full-time at the local university in chemistry whilst working every weekend. After 5 years we appointed her into a Lab assistant role. What inspires me is creating enterprise-wide systems and processes that enable ordinary people to grow to their full potential.

Six Degrees: What one thing do you ideally hope to accomplish in 2009?

Charles: My biggest goal this year is to position my company as a thought leader in talent management. We are working hard on using a combination of knowledge streams to deliver some creative strategies to companies. Having operated on an international basis, we are able to take an UFO view looking at issues from a different perspective.

Six Degrees: Anything you want to plug?

Charles: Thanks, great time to profile WaveBox. I am the founder and we are working with companies to implement and deliver positive change. WAVEBOX has developed a powerful strategic change process that delivers positive change. Tried and tested in organizations in different industries and various sizes, the 4C model has consistently resulted in successful and sustainable strategic change. The benefits for clients are that the 4C model delivers change faster, with higher employee engagement and improved business results.

Six Degrees: How Are You Going To Change The Recruitment Industry?

Charles: I like to question the status quo, as well as looking at different ways of doing things, by combining my background as VP of HR, experienced consultant and senior line manager. With technology we have widened the pool of talent; with the changes in how we work we have changed the type of roles we are recruiting for. Doing recruitment differently and doing it well is the real challenge and working on an international basis with clients would a great opportunity.


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