How I find staff from overseas and protect them from poachers
Velrada is an IT management and systems integration firm working in the resources industry. Based in Perth, the SME has been riding the resources boom, turning over $8.4 million last year.
Chief executive Robert Evans says one of the biggest keys to its success is finding staff overseas, and then keeping them safe from competitors who may want to snatch them away.
How’s business been for you?
We have an office now in Adelaide. We’re doing well but there are elements of national problems manifesting themselves here in areas like banking and retail.
There’s also a two-speed thing happening now in the resources base. Prices of aluminium and nickel have dropped so much, whereas iron ore and gas and gold are very strong. There’s a big problem with costs.
But we’re doing well. We have a talent for finding people. We tend to go elsewhere and find them as we get more interested in coming overseas than people here.
Which is a big part of your business. Are you finding staff because they have better skills, or because they’re somewhat cheaper?
Both. The nature of the requirement is a big component. There are better skills in the US where you have resources companies doing major projects there, but we’ve pulled a lot from the UK as well.
One of our main advantages is actually being here, and therefore being local and aligned with our customers. There is a big structural change and advantage to being here. That’s not to say British or Indian firms don’t have value in certain areas but I think we have an advantage to be sure.
Is it a hard process to find staff overseas?
It is difficult, but at the same time it’s getting much easier. The Government has really sped up the process, so whereas it used to take three to six months, things seem to have really sped up. It’s a matter of weeks now.
The criteria are much stricter, however. There seems to be a lot more focus now on the rules and that they are being followed. Agencies were just bringing staff in and contracting them out, and now there seems to be a lot more checking and policing.
Would the regulation be a burden?
It’s not, really. The thing that has changed the most was the living away from home concession that applied to workers overseas, but it doesn’t change the local concession. We give everyone an allowance for relocation, and that hasn’t been affected so far.
We really put a big emphasis on the value proposition of our firm. We want to do more of testing that through “Best place to work” surveys and so on.
And that’s how you intend to keep them away from your competitors.
It’s a challenge in a competitive market for good people. We just have people in demand and sometimes they are targeted.
But you can’t just throw money at them, it doesn’t work. So if folks are purely driven by money then they’ll move on. And if we’re not doing what we should be in terms of the rest of the value proposition, then we need to work on that.
You need to have that proposition around the business where people trust their leadership, and the management. You look at businesses that regularly appear in those surveys, and there’s a theme of trust and culture and standing for something, especially with Generation Y.
What other aspects of the company do you promote to keep staff?
We’re big on personal development and training, social community and charitable stuff as well. We do a lot of sponsorship type events and programs. We don’t do straight up donations, but if anyone is working on a charitable action we’ll often match what the staff are doing.
Is there anything you’re looking at improving?
We have a working group that’s looking at this right now. We want to look at the development opportunities we can provide, and the nature of our work means we can have people learning new skills all the time.
It’s just showing a healthy amount of respect for the staff. We have plenty of social events as well, including barbeques, functions, Friday night drinks and so on.
Communication often comes up as an area we can improve. People don’t read long emails or Power Points and hear what the management is doing, so we’re looking at how we can transform that.
If all goes well then, what’s the outlook for 2012?
All the indicators are that 2012 will be a good year. All these large projects are committed, and even though the world economy is in jitters, we may be over the worst of it. We’re set to grow our head count.
If we’re twice the size we are now in two years’ time, then I’ll be pretty happy.