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When I was recruiting temp accountants for Recruitment Solutions in Sydney during the 1990s, I took a lot of satisfaction in placing many ‘number crunchers’ who didn’t have ‘Australian experience’.   

These arrivals to the Great Southern Land had permanently left homes in countries such as Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Fiji, to name just a few. None of these accountants had previously set foot in a workplace full of Vegemite lovers, yet I was able to secure them assignments with my varied clients , covering industries such as Financial Services, Travel, Freight & Logistics, Telecommunications and Property.   

I accomplished this in an environment   where ‘skills shortage’ was barely a glint in the amorous eye of the Australian labour market. For the benefit of the Gen Y’s reading this, who were merely a glint in their father’s eye, at the time, unemployment took four years to move down a   miniscule 1.5 percentage points (9.7% in July 1994 to 8.2% in July 1998) as the Australian economy slowly built up steam after the ‘recession we had to have’.   

When I hear today’s recruiters moan about any alleged ‘skills shortage’ in their market, I am always interested to know how many candidates without   ‘Australian experience’ they have placed or even referred to their clients recently. The response that is typically shot back at me is ‘my clients won’t look at them’.     

Really?   And as expert in your field of work, you accept this response?   

What a cop out!   

It’s a lame excuse typical of an unskilled, under-trained or lazy recruiter – or all three.   

Why is it a lame excuse? Because competence at work is determined by behavior.        

Australian workplace behavior is NOT  unique – it has far more similarities than differences when compared to other workplaces around the world.     

Humans tend to observe differences and exaggerate their magnitude and significance far beyond what objective analysis would justify. Believing that workplace behaviours found in other countries are not replicated in Australia (or vice versa) is ignorant, arrogant, naïve and patently false.     

No matter in what workplace or which country a candidate has gained their experience, they will have developed a range of competencies to a certain level. The fundamental job of ANY recruiter is to identify these competencies and assess whether the level of these competencies at least matches the minimum level   required for the job the candidate has applied for.     

In circumstances where ‘Australian experience’ is   relevant it is mostly tied to appropriate standards and qualifications required of immigrants by professional associations, as distinct from a specific amount of experience in an Australian workplace (eg medicine, accounting).     

Even so, I still placed plenty of ‘No Australian Experience Candidates’ (NAECs)   into temp roles that required competency in accounting skills (eg management accounting, reconciliations etc) rather than Australian-specific accounting knowledge areas (eg tax and law).   

So was I a politically correct, bleeding heart, do-gooder leftie who had a personal crusade against discrimination in Australian workplaces? LOL. Far from it!     

As a recruiter, I was one of the most hard-arsed, commercially driven recruiters around. I only placed candidates that were the best possible candidates for my clients’ jobs, regardless of Australian work experience or not.     

It made huge commercial sense for me to place accountants without land girt by sea experience. Here are the major reasons why:   

Skill:    Accounting fundamentals around the world are the same. As long as I asked the right questions I could quickly ascertain how well matched the skills of a NAEC were to my client’s requirements.  

Reliability, loyalty and commitment:     An Australian reference, even from a 4 week temp job, was seen as invaluable to NAECs, so they worked hard, never complained and completed their assignments as agreed.   

Flexibility:     After all the inevitable patience, drama and organisation required to relocate to Australia, changing trains, catching buses or working in grungy, off-the-beaten-track, Sydney suburban offices, didn’t phase a NAEC as much as it did my true-blue Aussie candidates.   

Value:    Grateful for a job, NAECs accepted a fair rate for the job and never attempted to negotiate an unjustified rate increase half way through their assignment.   

No distracting perm interviews:     Because perm recruiters put my NAECs in the ‘too hard basket’, my candidates were not distracted by calls and interviews for perm jobs.   

Temp-to-perm pot of gold:     As skilled workers who were also reliable and committed, it didn’t take too long for my clients to be convinced of the excellent value offered by my NAECs.  Perm job offers often followed and were never turned down.   

Referrals:      NAECs had close-knit, well-connected communities and networks and as a result I always had a steady stream of quality referrals (candidates AND clients).   

Given this long and not exhaustive list, it would seem that it’s a no-brainer to place competent NAECs into relevant roles – so why isn’t it happening in recruitment agencies all over Australia?

To find out the answer click here to read part 2.

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Thank you for this article. I totally agree with you on this and personally feel a lot of recruiters have to change their style of selecting talent. Saying "You dont have Australian Experience" is such a lame and inappropriate excuse. If people migrated into the country under the "Skilled Migration" category, then it only means the country requires your skill or trade. But unfortunately, most recruiters are so narrow minded and cannot think out of the box but they expect their candidates to be Positive, and innovative, and a list of other blah blahs… am just disappointed in the entire recruitment system. People its time you used your intuition and not just your rules.



Jeremy Symes

Often safety is hidden behind when claiming rejection for having no Australian experience and I believe you're right, it's racism.

Your supporting statements backing your success are real validations and if enough hard nosed recruiters see the commercial success in following that path, we could help break down that door.

Great post.


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