The Hits and Misses of 2019: a reflection on the year that was

February marked the 30th anniversary of my first job in recruitment. I shared some extracts from my 1989 journal about my first few months as an agency recruiter at Accountancy Personnel (now Hays) in London.

State-based labour licensing is now a reality around Australia. It marks a new elevation in the compliance obligations of recruitment agency owners and employees. The outcomes, in 2020 and beyond, of various class actions commenced in 2019 against a small number of recruitment agencies will be noted by every single owner in the contracting/on-hire sector of our industry.

As always I focused on both ends of the quality spectrum in the recruitment industry. It was a delight to shine the light on a tiny Adelaide-based recruiter, Underwood Executive, who shared the HRD 2019 Recruiter of the Year honours with the largest (by sales) recruitment agency in the world, Randstad.

I highlighted the competencies of people2people’s Group Managing Director, Mark Smith, in a June blog. Interviews with other industry award winners and leaders such as Talent’s Richard Earl, Consult’s Angela Cameron, Davidson’s Seamus Scanlon and RCSA CEO Charles Cameron were all highly enjoyable parts of my year in blogging.

The other end of the quality spectrum was less enjoyable.

SEEK chief executive and co-founder, Andrew Bassat’s announcement of disgraced former Commonwealth Bank CEO, Ian Narev’s appointment to the dual role of Chief Operating Offer and Asia Pacific & Americas  CEO, was a PR disaster, confirming the tin ear that many in our industry experience from the company he co-founded and still leads.

SEEK’s massive price rises, that I flagged in mid-May were implemented five months later. I reported on the industry response and made a few predictions for what might be ahead.

A Current Affair aired an excellent segment exposing the hypocrisy of a Perth-based employer who drew laughable conclusions about a job seeker’s suitability for a vacancy based on a cursory viewing of her Facebook profile.

My wife and daughter experienced inexplicable, illegal and baffling behaviour from employers (I named names) in the past twelve months. They certainly weren’t alone as the Fair Work Ombudsman made announcements every week or two in which they identified, yet another employer who had underpaid employees’ wages and/or superannuation.  Bunnings, Woolworths, the ABC, 7-Eleven, Domino’s, Caltex, Michael Hill Jeweller and Retail Food Group were just some of the employers who were named and shamed. Expect much more of this in 2020.

After four years of the board’s incompetence, self-serving hypocrisy, obfuscation, lying and withholding of material Rubicor finally collapsed. Bizarrely, one the directors, Angus Mason, then attempted to retake control of the company before it was eventually liquidated. It was a sad end (especially for shareholders and employees) for a once-excellent company.

Recruitment industry disruptor, RecruitLoop, folded after eight roller-coaster years and Ignite/Clarius seems to be on the precipice of going the same way, although for very different reasons.    

This time last year I reflected on the poor political leadership witnessed throughout 2018 and asked “Surely 2019 has to be better?” Sadly, the answer has been “No”.

The political response to the bushfire emergency in Australia’s eastern states has been both underwhelming and inadequate.

I am a person who values and respects the evidence of subject-matter experts. The Prime Minister’s refusal, seven months ago, to respect the urgings of current and former emergency services leaders to immediately improve firefighting resources ahead of an extended bushfire season is symptomatic of the current political attitude to relevant experts. It’s profoundly dispiriting. 

The 2019 RCSA World Employment Conference on the Gold Coast was a cracker from which I drew sufficient material to detail some musings and then list some recommendations.

The saddest news of 2019 was undoubtedly the passing, in mid- August, of one of the true legends of the Australian recruitment industry; Victor John Plummer, FRCSA (Life), at 91 years of age. Mr Plummer was best known as the owner and Managing Director of Centacom Staff for thirty years, which he sold to the Adia Group (now known as Adecco) in 1988. Mr Plummer was equally well known for being a highly-involved and effective leader and member of various industry bodies and committees.

The brightest industry news of the year was the publishing of Greg Savage’s memoir, The Savage Truth, which hit the bookshops in late October. Pushed along by pop-up events in late 2019 and an announcement of Greg’s Final Speaking Tour in early 2020 the book’s sales have exceeded expectations and it’s sure to keep selling deep into next year.

My most read blog of the year was Australia’s worst directors culpable as Rubicor collapses.

Second (Bad news for Rubicor shareholders and staff comes in threes) and third (Big bang start-ups: The rise and fall of FutureYou (parts 1, 2 & 3) on the list were both written in 2018.

Two other Rubicor blogs (Rubicor: the incompetence and delusion continues and Rubicor creditors stare into the abyss of incompetence and debt)  rounded out my top five most-viewed blogs of 2019. 

The two issues that I believe will significantly shape the future of recruitment agencies, and differentiate the winners from the losers over the next five years, are the four-day-week-for-five-days-pay (together with the associated work/life balance)  and the effective understanding and use of machine learning/AI.

I’ll sign off 2019 with a taste of what’s ahead, two days ago The Jerusalem Post reported on the launch of a recruitment agency, MusashiAI, for robots. The Japanese-Israeli partnership will supply fully-autonomous AI robots to work alongside humans in industrial workplaces.

Rather than investing significant sums in purchasing robots, MusashiAI’s “employment agency” model, which has already commenced operations, enables companies to hire robots by the hour or according to tasks completed. 

“We want people and companies to be able to allocate repetitive but essential work to robot workers, while humans focus on the more complex and engaging tasks, where they have a competitive advantage over machines,” said SixAI founder and chairman Ran Poliakine. 

“Our robot employment agency is a game-changer. It will provide capacity in markets that struggle with labor availability, either through the difficulty of the work itself or the cost pressures they face. By offering hourly or task-related salary rates, our autonomous robotic AI employees are easy to plan for and integrate in any factory work flow.”

Enjoy your festive season and thanks for all the feedback and support across the year.

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