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(Left to right, Charles in WFH mode, September 2020 and, at the WEC conference in Geneva, March 2020)

RCSA Chief Executive, Charles Cameron, is a few months past his four year anniversary in our industry’s hottest seat. As if he hasn’t got enough to do he has now been elected as one of the two Vice-Presidents of the World Employment Confederation, the voice of the global staffing and recruitment industry.

The last six months are ones that have tested the mettle of every organisational leader as the impact of COVID-19 on our country’s physical and economic health has been without modern precedent.

Charles kindly carved out some time last week to answer my questions about how he has navigated 2020 so far.

Ross: The last six months have been rather extraordinary times for us all. The recruitment industry has been harder hit than most industries. Firstly, how has your family managed during the past six months, given that as residents of Victoria they, like mine, have been subjected to the most severe restriction of movement in the country?  

Charles: Extraordinary indeed Ross.  To think that on 16 March I was sitting in a jazz bar in Montreal, with colleagues from the World Employment Confederation (WEC) board not knowing that it was to be my last supper before six months of lock-down is quite surreal.  Glad I squeezed in that last drink.

My daughter is completing VCE and I am so impressed with how she has coped.  I think most of us parents had a feeling that our children have had it relatively easy in life and that their resilience levels weren’t necessarily up to a major shock but hey….how wrong I have been.  All of us have been lucky, and we only have to think about being locked down in a high density part of India to know we’ve got it easy.

For me, I turned to baking, and now… on a diet.  Everyone in Melbourne knows what I’m talking about in some way or another.

How have you, and the rest of the RCSA head office team, coped with WFH? 

We are great thanks, Ross.  When I returned from Montreal, the team was already implementing new tools, training and support for members to cope with COVID 19.  I think any manager knows they have a great team when things just happen without you needing to kick it off.

That said, a few of our team, who I would have assessed as being the most resilient, became quite overwhelmed in July when the (second) lockdown was a couple of weeks in.  Even I had the wobbles for a while, but we have come together and really focused on sharing our strategies for coping and promoting our employee assistance program.

WFH has created ‘unprecedented’ (yep had to say it)….inclusion.  Having everyone on a Zoom has been amazing.  It has broken down some silos we had and we haven’t looked back.  Friday@4 trivia has been a highlight.  So much fun!

As CEO what have been your major insights about the future of remote work and what changes, if any, will there be to the operations of the RCSA when there is a return to the office?

Once again, it is the inclusion and caring, that has taken me by complete surprise; both in relation to members and staff.  The big question for me is how we keep this inclusion continuing.  I’m not sure having hybrid meetings will work, where some are in a room and others on Zoom. I am trying to work out if it is sustainable to have everyone dial in from their desks.  Maybe we just axe the office altogether, and offer a smaller work den for those that need to get away from home.

What have members most needed from the RCSA during the past six months and how has the RCSA responded?

Connection, comparison, and content.

I love that we had built a strong RCSA community before going into this COVID thing!  It meant that there was sharing and caring; genuine stuff, not just words.  The willingness of the recruitment and staffing community to break down barriers and competition to help each other has been phenomenal.

Our new Talent Executive Network peer support program, where executive leaders come together each quarter to help each other out, across competition lines, is the culmination of the RCSA community spirit.

Also, we have had huge support for the content we’ve sent out as templates, guidance, and pathways through the regulatory stuff.  We have been overwhelmed by the feedback, which is so gratifying.  We’ve had more calls from members, saying thank you and well done, than ever before.  I love our members! 

The inability of recruitment and on-hire tech platforms to deliver a level of performance commensurate with their claims is a topic I, and others, have highlighted during the COVID-19 crisis. What do you hope state and federal politicians and bureaucrats have learned from this brutal reality check?

Put simply ‘all that glitters is not gold’!  Let’s face it, most of the new tech solutions come with great marketing and slogans, and why not.  There are loads of tech solutions that are amazing but when it comes to a time of need, I think we’ve seen that people need people!

The procurement debacle, that is the Victorian Government sourcing and engagement of security contracting firms, is a great example of why you need to take advice and work with industry people of experience.

The bottom line is that platforms can’t ‘pivot’ (there I got that in, too) like people.  Look at how RCSA members have adapted and changed at a rapid pace and are doing really well as a result.

Of greatest concern to me is the willingness of politicians and bureaucrats to simply ignore the regulatory requirements and certifications necessary for, and acquired by, existing staffing service providers, when awarding contracts. Do you have any insight into how this came to happen (at both state and federal level)?

There’s a real problem in this country, and possibly others, that government is not prepared to take a risk and recognise non-government and industry accreditation programs because these programs are outside of their control.

We live in a really complex world these days, with so much change, so the government needs to be prepared to partner up with industry on accreditation.

I put to the Attorney General, last week, that they need to introduce ‘smart regulation’ where there is licensing and specific legislation for high-risk work and business and ‘trusted trader’ programs for low-risk work.

This takes the resources away from low risk and focuses it on the problem children.  The AG said it made sense, but my concern is that the bureaucrats and regulatory agencies don’t like to let go.

What are your expectations for future government contracts now it’s clear that the staffing service providers (including tech platforms) who failed to deliver after being awarded these contracts, would have been ineligible for these contracts had the governments’ own regulations been applied?

To be honest Ross, I don’t have an answer.  This was a unique scenario and the Commonwealth Government needed to go to trusted providers at very short notice.  I’m actually amazed they responded to our approach, shortly thereafter, and agreed to take a chance by using RCSA as a workforce services matcher.

If I were to hope, and promote, one thing it is the value of working with an industry body that really knows the market and can mobilise good providers at short notice.  I think this whole affair shows the importance of industry bodies, like RCSA, and how we are on their side.

Some government officials have been inherently suspicious of relying upon industry bodies because the maybe felt we would just promote members at all costs.  But, it clearly hasn’t been the case.  Whether it is the Aged Care Surge Workforce Program or the Jobs Finder Queensland Program, RCSA has mandated that it be open to any suitable staffing firm.  I think it has been a bit of a turning point.  Industry bodies are highly professional and have the ability to be fair and equitable.  Who would have thought, huh! 

Part 2 

Congratulations, Charles, on your recent election as a VP of the World Employment Confederation. How long is your term of office and what is does your role entail? 

It’s a three-year term, Ross, and I will be supporting the new President, Bettina Schaller who is the Global Head of Public Affairs for Adecco Group, based in Switzerland.

I’m joined by John Healy of Kelly, who is the Managing Director of the Office of the Future of Work.  The Vice President role will focus more on WEC strategy and effective communication of the virtues of the recruitment and staffing industry globally.

It may come as no surprise to you, Ross, or your readers that I’m pretty passionate about promoting the industry and how it helps people get ahead and manage their lives.

I’m also super keen to promote a wider voice for the WEC outside of Europe.  The WEC is particularly strong in Europe, which is fantastic, but I’m keen on building a stronger voice in the APAC and North Asian regions by giving voice to the workers and businesses that grow and prosper through their partnership with agencies. 

One of the RCSA’s four channels of member centricity; Networking and Celebration has been especially challenged this year with no Winter Ball and no annual conference, which was originally scheduled for Byron Bay in early September. No doubt the members, including me, who are regular Winter Ball annual conference attendees, keenly felt the absence of both events. What are the RCSA’s plans for the 2021 Winter Ball and 2021 conference?

Yep, we are all yearning for some sun ‘n’ glamour.  Seriously, though, I am so proud of what Jodie and her team have achieved with the Reform and Revival online conferences.  Nearly 1,000 people have enjoyed these online conferences and we have learned so much.  I love that more of our members can attend, as money and distance are less of an impediment (that inclusion concept again!).  SHAPE 2021 is definitely on for Byron in September 2021….yep only 330 sleeps, Ross!

The Awards Night/Winter Ball is something I really missed also this year.  I thought we could do it online, but some things need people, emotion, and glitter and the online thing doesn’t cut it.  I’d love to think we could run it in June 2021 but it may be hard.  I’m thinking that we may have regional events where people can join in their capital and we dial everyone in as one big celebration.  This mixed with online attendance for the regional members or those that can’t attend in person.

The recent RCSA regional council elections were keenly contested affairs with large fields of owners and leaders keen to be more deeply involved with the RCSA and the industry generally. To what do you attribute this level of interest?

RCSA stands for something!  Yep, I think purpose and pride become a little infectious.  The validation of our brand and our actions through member volunteerism is gold, Ross.

I also think more members are talking about the fact that the Councils mean something and offer great connection, insights and capacity to lead change.  We, in the A-Team, were truly humbled by the number of members wanting to do more and get out front.  Did I say I love our members?  We, the RCS A-Team, love our members.

What have been your personal highlights from the past six months, Charles?

Returning to Australia on 20 March and seeing the RCS A-Team already in fourth gear for our members. Our great team knew what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.

The sharing and caring of our RCSA Community; CEOs helping other CEOs, life members stepping up to offer wisdom, and members putting people before profit.

The adaptation of the membership; our industry is Arnie in the Terminator 2…..never dead, always morphing and always caring.  Watch out as we come out of COVID, the future is ours for the making.  And we will.

What are the RCSA’s priorities for 2021?

We developed five new strategic priorities in February, at our strategy retreat and they have stood the challenge of COVID.

  • Leadership and Vision:  Getting out front and being more prominent in charting a way forward in a complex new world of work.
  • Commerciality today, for tomorrow:  As governments understand how great RCSA can be in helping solve problems, through our members, we want to commercialise this to ensure the members’ great association has plenty of surplus for purpose.
  • Members as promoters.  Enhance the capacity of members to attract new members so we are strong and united.
  • Expand community reach and relevance:  We want to get our presence, leadership, and support into like communities of industry and professionals so we can give and guide at scale.
  • Grow next-gen professionals:  The next generation will need our help after COVID 19 settles down and we all know how we need to be better at attracting tomorrow’s internal talent.  This one is really important.  Everyone needs a hand, and we can learn so much by giving the next generation a stronger voice.

Assuming you have been like me, consuming far more television than normal during the past six months, what’s at the top of your recommended viewing?

Bates Motel – it’s a prequel to Psycho (starring Norman Bates).

Unorthodox – ultra-orthodox Jewish woman from New York breaks free.

Which books, podcasts, and music standout from your 2020 reading and listening? 

I’m trying to untangle the whole China thing at the moment so my podcast is Policy, Guns & Money, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.  Dry…but better with rye whisky!

Book is Station Eleven.  Read it in January, as part of my Daughter’s VCE text list.  Global pandemic kills 99% of population and the rest asks us how we put society back together again, but better.  Fate tempting stuff!

Album is The Flood in Color by Joe Pug.  I was walking the streets of Christchurch in December and randomly headed off to a gig with one of the staff from a Kiwi member, out in the ‘burbs and fell in love with the music of this Irish American folk music singer.  It’s a 2019 release, but a 2020 friend.  Another good reminder to always let the moment take you, Ross. 

What have you missed the most from being in Stage 4 lockdown?    

Live music for sure, but as a positive person, I’m going to focus on the good and say that I’ve spent huge amounts of time with my 85-year-old father in the country, on caring visits, in a way that I never would without COVID.

He had surgery for cancer in January and again last month but, boy, he is unbreakable.  It has taught me that he is one of my best friends.  How lucky am I?

Mum always said, ‘Good comes from bad, Charlie’.  I think she’s watching over us.

Thanks, Charles, I greatly appreciate your time. 

Thank you, Ross.  You’re a legend!


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