COVID-19 inquiry exposes another recruitment industry ‘disruptor’

The inquiries into clusters of COVID-19 infections and deaths in both Victoria and New South Wales have uncovered an astonishing level of political and bureaucratic ignorance and naivety about both the recruitment industry and the technology platforms that deliver recruitment and on-hire staffing services.

As I wrote in my blog four months ago; 

In April a $5.77 million contract, covering the period until 30 June, for the provision of “surge workforce” capacity to aged care facilities experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, was awarded to Mable. 

Mable is a tech platform that matches people seeking work as aged and disability carers with people or organisations seeking workers with corresponding skills. 

The contract was awarded without a tender and without any input from the relevant peak bodies; the Association of Nursing Recruitment Agencies (ANRA), the Association of Private Nursing Service (APNS) and the Australian Industry Community Alliance (ACIA). 

The report into the Newmarch House COVID-19 outbreak where 71 residents were infected, lays bare the complete inadequacy of Mable to successfully respond to the level of demand for skilled aged-care and disability-care staff that the Minister responsible for awarding Mable the contract, asserted its platform could service.

As reported (subscriber link) by news site, Crikey on 25 August 2020:

Two days after the start of the Newmarch House outbreak, Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck boasted that the Commonwealth had emergency response teams to help aged care providers deal with a residential facility outbreak. 

Colbeck was unequivocal: “as unlikely as it might be, we have plans in place for worst case scenarios where an outbreak in aged care facilities mean local staff are unable to continue to provide care … while it’s unlikely, we need to ensure we’re planning for parts of the workforce being unable to work.” 

Colbeck’s media release identified Aspen Medical and the Mable workforce platform as sources for emergency staff once providers “exhausted usual recruitment channels”. 

The Newmarch House report details exactly how effective Mable was in its effectiveness in sourcing the quantity and quality of staff required (page 18, my bold) as permanent staff at Newmarch House were infected or required to self-isolate:

Anglicare (owner and manager of Newmarch House) initially rejected offers to utilise the Department of Health’s surge workforce program (via Aspen Medical and Mable®) on the basis that some of these staff were reportedly unsuitable or that it would be able to source its own staff. They successfully utilised several other agencies to bolster the workforce during this challenging time. 

During the outbreak period, Aspen Medical and Mable® provided less than 20% of the non-Anglicare care workforce with the remainder sourced from other agencies, including St Vincent’s Hospital, which assisted specifically with the provision of Registered Nurses. 

Mable® was unable to meet the urgent requirement to identify appropriately credentialed staff. It was reported by a Newmarch House manager that an initial review identified that, of 64 “expressions of interest”, there were just four suitable staff. 

Workplace insurance for Mable® contractors also proved challenging and this required Anglicare to purchase additional insurance cover for staff working at Newmarch House. 

It was also acknowledged that the Mable® platform had not been previously involved in residential aged care and there were a number of teething issues. 

The unvarnished details of Mable’s incompetency is, predictably, at odds with the puffery served up in May by the company to an aged-care industry news site, The Weekly Source, a month after the company was awarded the multi-million dollar contract.

The aged care disrupter is expanding its online platform in the wake of its partnership with the Federal Government to supply staff to providers left short by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At the time (of the Federal Government contract being awarded), Mable had 8,000 staff available, but now tell us they have access to over 10,000 independent support people offering nursing, personal care, allied health, domestic assistance and social support across Australia.

You should always be deeply suspicious when a company labels itself a ‘disruptor’.

When I have looked into these self-styled recruitment industry ‘disruptors’, beyond their self-aggrandising promotional material and uncritical media coverage, I have discovered founder ignorance or disrespect, mainstream media naivety (especially from supposedly quality outlets like Fairfax Media) and unprofitable business models.

In the Newmarch House report, authors Professor Lyn Gilbert and Adjunct Professor Alan Lilly, list twenty Key Learnings in the report’s appendix (pages 32 & 33).

The only mention of recruitment is contained in point 8:

8 (i) Approved Providers should consider surge workforce capacity on the premise that a minimum of 50% of its staff may be furloughed; 

8 (ii) The Department of Health should consider expanding its surge workforce capacity providers in order to provide scaled support for individual Approved Providers;

Given the contracted supplier was completely out of its depth these two pints are significantly short of what the “learnings” really are.

Let me help the report’s authors with my own recommendations:

  • Don’t award important contracts in areas of supply you know little about without a tender
  • Exclude from tender consideration any company that is owned and run by people who have no recruitment industry experience (especially if they represent private equity interests)
  • Exclude from tender consideration any company that labels itself a ‘disruptor’
  • If there is insufficient time to run a tender process don’t award contracts to staffing suppliers who provide an ‘all care, no responsibility’ approach to providing on-hire staffing
  • Before awarding a staffing tender consult with ANRA, APNS and ACIA, who, as representatives bodies, are best placed to provide expert input and advice on matters of staffing.
  • Form and build long term relationships with the aforementioned three representative bodies to maximise the likelihood that when rapid response staffing solutions are next required in the aged-care sector (as they inevitably will), the departmental response is informed by sector extensive knowledge, rather than the political connections of one or two companies.

It’s almost certain the Federal Government will learn none of the lessons about recruitment and staffing that are staring them in the face as a result of the unnecessary infections and deaths at Newmarch House and the whole, avoidable, disaster will be repeated in the not-too-distant future.

Related blogs
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You won’t believe the disruption the legal recruitment sector is facing!

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3 Comments

  1. James on 03/09/2020 at 8:57 am

    No wonder Mable were “expanding its online platform” with a $5.77m free funding boost!

  2. Greg on 03/09/2020 at 4:47 pm

    So a $5.77m fee for 4 candidates who might be suitable? WTF?

  3. Blake on 15/09/2020 at 9:06 pm

    You have to wonder where all the money went for the surge workforce went. $5.77m is an enormous lump sum for what sounds like a complete failure.

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