people2people show the way 28 years after Leon Lau’s pioneering step

This week I completed my current season of the Rookie Recruiter Training Program; my live-hosted webinar weekly program for recent entrants to the recruitment industry that I have been running since 2010.

The participants in the current season were a microcosm of a very welcome trend that has become more apparent to me over the last few years.

A list of dozen participants from the program’s total of 36 registrations makes the trend obvious: Naz Khan, Molikha Dy, Fren Sagum, Shakeel Jeeawody, Manisha, Jadoo, Marissa Kang, Arran Batish, Pauline Jesudoss, Marissa Cedro, Bill Egarchos, Kaajal Khelewan and Julie Ngo.

It’s very encouraging to witness such ethnic diversity now starting to push through our industry. It’s especially encouraging to witness a surge of names that suggest that the children of immigrants from the Indian sub-continent and Asia are now starting to reflect the reality of Australia’s ethnically diverse workforce in the twenty first century.

How can we truly understand and represent that diversity unless, as an industry, we reflect that diversity within our ranks?

For all of the 1990s the Australian recruitment agency market was dominated by recruiters with traditional Anglo names. Every other display ad in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review requested an application be forwarded to a David, a Michael, a Peter, an Andrew, a Geoff/Jeff, a Malcolm, Robert, John or a Graham/Graeme. In the classified ads, where most of the office support jobs were advertised you would typically be calling a Carol/Caroline, a Julia/Julie, a Michelle, a Karen, a Barbara, a Susan/Sue, a Wendy or a Helen, when enquiring about an advertised vacancy.

A quick review of the Australian RCSA Life Members, numbering just over 50, shows that the closest we have to Life Member with a name indicating non-Anglo or non-Western European origins would be George Zammit.

A very early pioneer (maybe even the first?) in ethnic diversity among Australian recruitment agency owners was Leon Lau. Lau has proven to be one of the most astute and successful Australian recruitment agency owners of the past 30 years. He founded Peoplebank in 1990 and went on to lead its successful listing on the ASX in 2005 having acquired DMA, Leaders in IT, Gambit and Mastech in the previous four years followed by acquisition of competitor, Ambit, for $100 million at the end of 2007. In 2009 Lau and his private equity partners, Navis Capital, privatised Peoplebank, valuing the company at $58 million and subsequently sold the company to Japanese recruitment giant, Recruit Holdings in 2015 for $122 million.

I remember the impact of seeing Jamal Khan’s name for the first time when it appeared in a display ad in The Age, sometime in 2006. Khan is now Managing Partner at Amrop Carmichael Fisher, based in Melbourne

A dozen years later I now see the names of  Oshan de Silva (Director, Ensure Recruitment), Supun Wali, (Director, Chris Barnard Health, Pavan Kashyap (Director, inDmand Career Solutions), Zvi Azimov, (Director, ZACK Group),  Roland Youakim (Director, Platinum People Group) and Renzo Habashi (Director, Veracity Talent Solutions) as examples of how the diversity in the ownership of recruitment agencies is beginning to reflect the diversity within recruitment agency employees ranks.

The agency that is certainly one of the pacesetters in ethnic diversity is people2people.. Fourteen years old in February 2019, people2people (p2) registers every rookie they hire into my Rookie Recruiter Training Program. Across three RRTPs this calendar year, p2p, registered 23 of their rookies into the program of which 12 had names indicating a family of ethically diverse origins.

I spoke to p2p Managing Director, Mark Smith, about this trend and asked him whether this flow of rookies represented a deliberate strategy to broaden his company’s ethnic mix.

“No it’s not. The ethnic diversity in our rookie intake reflects the ethnic diversity within our applicant pool. We are very focused on hiring against competencies.  To assist us do that we use an assessment tool (PXT) during our hiring process. This maximises the likelihood that we are accurately assessing each candidate, regardless of their background, objectively against the p2p high performer benchmark set of competencies.”

Digging further into the backgrounds of his company’s ethnically diverse rookies Smith told me that almost all of p2p’s ethnically diverse rookies were graduates who had completed all their education in Australia. Typically, they were born in Australia, or came to Australia as a young child, of parents who were both born outside of Australia.

“At a staff event we had during the most recent Olympics (2016) I discovered that there were 17 different countries represented (as countries of birth or parental ethnic origin) amongst our staff.”

In 2018 Australia the principal ancestral ethnicity or nationality remains firmly British (67.4%) and Irish (8.4%) however an increasingly larger proportion of this 75.8% of Australians is no longer in the workforce. Although the Australian Bureau of Statistics does not report workforce data by ethnic origin or nationality it’s clear to any recruiter, especially in the state capitals, that the workforce is becoming increasingly ethnically diverse and, encouragingly, the recruitment industry is rapidly improving its contribution to that trend.

Let’s keep it up so we can continue to claim that our industry is “leading in the world of work”.

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