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Global Talent: Going, Going Gone

21 Feb 2013

The University of Sydney Business School

By Diane van den Broek, Dimitria Groutsis and Will Harvey

Australia needs to develop the means to utilise, retain and manage its skilled workforce, argue Dr Di van den Broek, Dr Dimitria Groutsis and Dr Will Harvey.

Global labour shortages have resulted in an auction-style recruitment war. Bidding is fast, furious and avoids endless CV culling and face-to-face interviews. Recruiting talent can get desperate, and this kind of desperation has led to internet sites like DeveloperAuction. Launched in April 2012, it is designed to help professionals gauge their market value based on employer bids. Candidates register via social media and pay a fee while the site charges employers 15% of each hire's first-year salary. This US-initiated site stays ahead of the game by focusing their efforts on the 5 percent of engineers who are never out of work.

The site claims that in its first auction in August 2012 over 30,000 professionals put themselves up for 'sale' with 142 employers yielding more than $30 million in job offers. They also claim that it's a win-win as employers save 30-50 percent on traditional recruitment fees, and professionals save time by only interviewing with companies who can afford them.

Websites like this are becoming more popular, particularly in areas where competition and poaching is rife. Since April this year, the Australian site FIFObids, has allowed employers to bid on the anonymous skill profiles of fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers. More than 14,000 job hunters and 500 companies registered with the online service. The site registers workers anonymously, listing skills and experience, location, roster and job preferences, minimum hourly rate and availability. Companies search the database for matches and make bids accordingly. Workers use the site for free, while companies pay fees based on the accepted hourly rate bid.

Whatever one thinks of online global talent auctions, the global talent war behind this novel approach to recruitment is set to intensify with significant economic and social consequences for Australia. While a lot of public attention has focused on asylum seekers, refugee policy and off shore processing, skilled migration has become the fastest growing component of total immigration over the past few decades for many developed countries including Australia, accounting for 68% of the migrant Australian migrant intake in 2012. Skilled migration is a major source of potential (competitive) advantage for companies who tap this resource.

Despite the turbulent global economic conditions, ManpowerGroup, a global recruitment firm, says that over one in three employers encounter difficulties in filling skilled positions, with employers in the Asia Pacific region experiencing the most acute shortages. This was corroborated at a recent talk hosted by the Diversity in Work Research Group at the University of Sydney's Business School, where Alec Bashinsky, National Partner, People and Performance at Deloitte highlighted the endless struggle firms have to recruit the right talent as they compete in a global recruitment field.

The Gillard Government's recent Asian Century White Paper also made it clear that in order to prosper, Australia must understand the forces that underpin the recruitment and transfer of migrant workers in our region. The paper highlights the need for brain transfer saying that, "Two-way people movements between Australia and the rest of the region will further strengthen the fabric of Australian society and our way of life". It goes on to say that Australia is well positioned to continue attracting highly skilled and talented people from the region to live, study and work in Australia - just as Australians have much to offer the region in return (White paper, 2012:2).

However we also need to be careful about win-win predictions. OECD data suggests that skilled migrants who enter countries without substantial information remain 'unutilised'. Making sure that the skills we import are not under-utilised and that worker integration and retention are not forgotten, should be a priority for both employers and government. Picking up on this point, the Asian Century White Paper suggests that: "one-third of board members of Australia's top 200 publicly listed companies and Commonwealth bodies should have deep experience in and knowledge of Asia", which is a good starting point to capitalise on global talent. However we all need to recognise the need for employers and the government to provide significant follow through.

Auctions can create momentum which is a good thing in today's war for talent. But attracting highly skilled and talented people from within and outside the region to live, study and work is surely only the opening bid. We also need to ensure that we follow up the bid by utilising, retaining and managing talent effectively, otherwise these workers will be back at the auction and perhaps one outside of Australia. The current feeling is that while we may be occasionally winning the auction, that's the easy part. What we aren't so good at is capitalising on the win by developing a robust dialogue between policy makers, employers, and other intermediaries and researchers in the field of skilled migration.

Dr Di van den Broek, Dr Dimitria Groutsis and Dr Will Harvey  
Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies, University of Sydney Business School

First published in The University of Sydney Business School

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