Educating the masses
Sellen, dropped out of high school in Year 10, worked at KFC in Adelaide and then joined a training company as a workplace trainer and assessor.
He quickly developed a passion for the sector, but then disaster struck - the company he worked for went bankrupt, leaving him jobless. The collapse also left the company's major client, Foxtel, desperate for someone to train its call centre staff.
"I saw an opportunity come up within the industry that I decided to seize," Sellen says.
He approached Foxtel with a proposal, not expecting to win the tender. But they gave him the contract outright and Sellen was in business. There was just one problem - he had a contract to train 1,200 call centre employees for Foxtel, but no office, no money, no backing and no staff.
Sellen though made it work, and today the business has annual revenue of $10 million, 70 staff (this is expected to double in the next financial year) and over 4,000 international and domestic students. Sellen, who has just moved the business into a 2,500-square-mete office overlooking the beach in St Kilda, is aiming for revenue growth of 120% over the next financial year.
Sellen is at the centre of one of Australia's best performing industries. Education services are Australia's third largest export and international student activity contributed $15.5 billion in export income to the Australian economy in 2008, up 23.4% from the previous year.
While most of the Australian economy has been hit hard by the downturn in 2009, education has remained resilient. On the international front, student numbers have increased by about 20% so far this year, thanks to the relatively strong position of the Chinese economy and the weaker Australian dollar. Sellen's specific area of vocational education is the fastest growing part of the education market in terms of both enrollments (40.7%) and commencements (34.1%).
"The international student market is still growing strong," he says. "There is still a continuation of enrollment from all of the countries we work with and the Federal Government is also making sure there's really strong support from their level because international education is the third larges export in the country."
The domestic market has also been well supported. Higher unemployment has forced the Government to pump money into the sector, helping to insulate training providers. Sellen says companies have also ramped up accredited training programs to up-skill employees during the downturn.
While the education sector remains relatively strong, competition is intense, and Sellen has worked hard to differentiate his company.
In many ways, this goes back to the experience of winning and servicing that Foxtel contract. Given Sellen has no office or facilities (other than a single desk in the corner of his one-bedroom apartment) Marcus conducted all of the training in the call centre out of necessity, stumbling upon the on-site training model that has made his business so successful.
"All of our campus-based training is delivered through experiential based learning so we have state-of-the-art simulated labs," Marcus says "We have centres set up here where students can have hands-on experience as if they were in a workplace and we've invested a significant amount of money to make sure that what the students get is exactly the same as a real-life experience."
"But I don't want to talk too much about the labs because that's my point of difference and if I tell you too much about it everyone else will go and do it," he says.
Sellen, who is aged 30, also admits his relative youth has played a constant barrier into an industry steeped in tradition and conservatism.
"It has been a big challenge to try and get people to see ‘your way' as a ‘new way' rather than the ‘wrong way'," he says.