PODCAST: The science behind attracting the right team

PODCAST: The science behind attracting the right team

The science behind attracting the right staff
Assembling the right team - Commonwealth of Australia

After a successful military career and over a decade in defence industry recruitment, Rob Kremer, director of Kinexus, has seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to companies trying to recruit and keep the perfect team.

Rob joins the team at Defence Connect to talk through his experiences and gives some solid, practical advice for the industry. Listen in and find out how your business measures up in the recruitment process.

 

Listen to previous episodes of the Defence Connect podcast:

Episode 45: SPECIAL EDITION: Peace, prosperity and the journey to independence, His Excellency Dr Jose Ramos-Horta
Episode 44: PODCAST: Breaking defence industry’s glass ceiling, Christine Zeitz, Leidos Australia
Episode 43: PODCAST: AmCham in Australia’s defence industry, Niels Marquardt, CEO AmCham in Australia
Episode 42: PODCAST: Minehunter experience creates SME opportunity – Darren Burrowes, ATSA Defence Services
Episode 41: PODCAST: Realising the potential of Australia’s manufacturing industry – Diane Edgerton, Direct Edge
Episode 40: PODCAST: Government treachery and the hidden side of war revealed – Frank Walker, author
Episode 39: PODCAST: Growing Australia’s defence capabilities indigenously – David Ruff, Babcock Australasia
Episode 38: PODCAST: Getting stronger, smarter and connected – NSW Department of Industry’s Peter Scott details the state’s strategy to attract defence business
Episode 37: BONUS PODCAST: Anti-submarine warfare and the Type 26 Global Combat Ship – Nigel Stewart, BAE Systems
Episode 36: PODCAST: Cyber security and the modern battlefront – Mohan Koo, Dtex

Full transcript - Rob Kremer

Announcer:

Welcome to the Defence Connect Podcast, with your host, Phil Tarrant.

 

Phil:

Good day everyone, welcome to the Defence Connect Podcast. Thanks for tuning in, I'm Phil Tarrant, I'm the director of Defence Connect, I'm also your host of the show. I'm joined today by my regular co-host, Paul Robinson. Paul, how you going, mate?

 

Paul:

Very good Phil, yourself?

 

Phil:

Good, mate. I'm really pumped about this podcast, I'm very excited. We've got a really interesting guest who I think for our listeners is probably going to answer a lot of those questions that they have and probably want to ask but never have the opportunity to ask, but also get inside the mind of a guy who has a background in Defence and has transitioned that into a very interesting business that today helps connect the very talented and capable people we have in our defence industry with the businesses operating within it. I'd like to welcome Rob Kremer on to the show. Rob, how you going, mate?

 

Rob:

Hey Phil, I'm very good. Thanks for having me.

 

Phil:

Yeah, thanks for coming along. Your business is Kinexus. Tell us a little bit about it.

 

Rob:

We've been around for about 15 years, we were previously known as Kinetic Recruitment, we re-branded about three months ago. Predominately, we're an engineering and technology recruitment organisation. A vast majority of what we do is in the defence industry, so we support a range of government and commercial organisations, prime contractors, SME's, and consulting companies to basically de-risk their decision making around recruiting, making workforce planning decisions, on occasions give them competitive advantage at the tender phase as well. Also, to just help the overall defence industry community to connect and make good decisions.

 

Phil:

Defence is an interesting industry, because yes, it has some amazing kit, and the kit, in many ways, provides the advantage for us in the field, but it's very much a people business. You could have the best kit in the world, and if you don't have the people to either use it or build it or sustain it, it's largely irrelevant. It is a people business, and I imagine that guys like yourself in the business that you do, and from Paul, you can chat about this, the conversations that we have with industry, finding the right people for any particular project, whether it's at tender phase or whether it's in process, is largely one of the hardest things that people struggle with. Is that a fair assessment?

 

Rob:

It can be, yes. Particularly as we're heading into this phase of increased Defence spending, new capital equipment purchasing, and also the opening of new domains of warfare as well, it's going to be increasingly difficult to find the right people for your business. You're right, technology is a force multiplier, but so is the correctly motivated and trained individuals, whether they are wearing a uniform or sort of wearing a logo on their shirt as well.

 

Phil:

With the market today, Defence sometimes spins in roundabouts. I feel as though we're in an environment right now and by and large and it's what we're here for in the market. Most players in the space are very bullish in their opportunities in terms of business in Defence, which is great. The government's release of the White Paper and a lot of the work coming out of CASG right now would indicate greater opportunities for defence industry, from Prime and SME land. You've been in this game for 15 years, you've seen the market move through that, how would you articulate, how would you explain the current state of defence industry today versus how it has been over those last ten years?

 

Rob:

Everybody is very optimistic. I think bullish is a good term to use. Up until about 2009, it was also a very busy project environment here, Defence industry was fully employed, employed about 29-odd thousand civilians in supporting Defence. GFC didn't slow it down too much at the time, because there were still programs that needed to be delivered. However, roundabout 2010, a lot of the project life cycles finished and there was no new investment for about four or five years, and the defence industry contracted from about 29 to about 23 thousand people. It wasn't a really happy place to be. That has changed in the last 18 months. We're seeing hiring activity increasing, we've obviously got the White Paper and the associated Integrated Investment Plan, which gives some companies some insight into the finances and the money that's going to be committed over the period of time. Companies are making plans, they're investing, they're hiring people, they're looking for partnerships, and they're engaging with Defence in government. There's a lot of optimism out there.

 

Phil:

What do you think is the biggest challenge at the moment for defence industry in attracting and retaining the right talent to help them capitalize on increased expenditure?

 

Rob:

I think generally speaking, supply and demand of Defence talent is in equilibrium. It's fallen out in places like Canberra, where there's not enough supply to meet demand of experienced Defence people, and that will also occur in other centres as programs come online. What we don't have is a resources construction boom to compete with as we did back in the 2000's, which is good. However, it's important to note that as resources industry goes from construction to production, they're looking for increasing ways to increase their efficiency, and that means sustaining, maintaining operating their equipment at optimal levels, and that means our people are still attractive to them. They're still looking to hire people out of places like Navy, Air Force, Army, etc.

 

Phil:

Defence industry, where are the majority of their key staff coming from? Is it out of services still?

 

Rob:

A proportion, absolutely. Defence, I think would pay them very well to have that in mind when they look to attract and train the uniform workforce. There's a lot of them can, if not actually do, move into industry, which is ultimately an input to capability as well.

 

Phil:

You're ex-Navy, is that right?

 

Rob:

Yes.

 

Phil:

How did you find the transition from being uniformed to civvy street?

 

Rob:

I went and played accountant for a little while.

 

Phil:

What did you train as in the Navy?

 

Rob:

I went to the Defence Academy in Canberra and got a bachelor of arts in history and management.

 

Phil:

Very useful.

 

Rob:

Very useful, actually the history sometimes. Then I went to and learned how to drive warships so I controlled boats - guided missile destroyers. I got an exchange to the UK to do the same, which was wonderful, and I finished my career here, training junior warfare officers out of HMAS Watson. I then transitioned without a job, by reasoning that 20-odd million Australians were feeding and clothing themselves and with my background, I'd probably find something. I'd been doing some extra studying at the time around the accounting field and ended up working for an American bank. I learned a lot about the importance of organisational and sector culture there, and how not all organisations or sectors are the same. That's something that new entrants into the defence industry I think should be mindful of as well.

 

Phil:

When you moved into civvy street, do you feel as though you were equipped to drive a path or career within defence industry? Was that something when you were in the service you were thinking about?

 

Rob:

I left Navy because I had just come into contact with more and more people who were outside Defence in business, and that interested me. I broadened my reading as well. I wouldn't say that I had a clear idea about what I wanted to do outside of Defence, but I got to a point where I decided I didn't want to be captain of a warship, and I wanted to chart a new path outside of Defence. That was really exciting, even though I didn't have an actual plan when I left.

 

Phil:

You guys recruit key people for business or industry, but you also look after your more commoditised administrative people, or people who aren't Defence-specific, is that correct?

 

Rob:

Most of the people that we recruit for organisations have Defence backgrounds, however there are certainly a percentage who don't. It's very important to evaluate the people who don't against the criteria that we know are important to our clients.

 

Phil:

In terms of the dynamics, and this is coming from the perspective of our readers, whether I'm running an SME or I'm a senior guy within a Prime or I'm an HR person within a Prime, when I'm going over the process of developing my human capital, so developing the talent I have within my business to not only achieve or underpin some of the projects we have in place now, but also looking forward - when you're identifying the right type of people coming out of the services, what are the sort of key things you really want to look for, for those guys you feel as though can actually make that management, coming from a more institutionalised environment, a hierarchical environment, into something which is a lot more fluid - business? What are those key things that you really want to try to find in those guys?

 

Rob:

We really start with just trying to understand what their expectations are, and what their drivers are for leaving uniform. That's true if they're coming out of a non-uniform background as well, but it's particularly important in uniform, because many people like myself, I had no experience outside of Defence. I didn't really know what I didn't know - that was a reality. We look to educate people on that. It's not a move that I suggest people take lightly, because it's hard to go back to Defence. It's a very different culture on the outside, I suppose.

 

 

It's a way of life in Defence. You won't find most of the things you have in Defence on the outside. I think the important things for Defence people to prepare for is to really try and understand the values and cultures of the organisations that they're joining, because Defence has a very strong culture, very defined culture. One thing that I learned when I left was that that's not universally shared in the business world. One piece of advice I would love to pass onto people looking to leave uniform is you do not need to compromise your morals, your ethics, the culture that you hold dear in Defence to be successful out and about.

 

Phil:

From an industry perspective, how can you build a business which is going to be most attractive to getting the best talent coming out of uniform? How do you do that?

 

Rob:

I would recommend building a relationship with them. Companies with strong brands, companies that are recognisable by people in Defence and where people in Defence have had a good relationship or good interaction with that company, they're the ones who find it easiest to attract people coming out of uniform. When I started recruiting in the defence sector, there were certain companies out there that we found difficult to attract Defence candidates to, because right or wrong, they had a bad perception through experiences in their time in uniform.

 

Phil:

So, people are taking some of their prejudices perhaps, or some of their past experience with industry out of Defence and therefore choosing not to join those organisations? That's very interesting.

 

Rob:

Sometimes, right or wrong, but yeah, sometimes.

 

Phil:

I'd like to have a quick chat around the dynamics of people jumping shop within Defence, moving from prime to prime, or prime to SME, or SME to prime, and the work that you do as a recruiter. Can you give me a percentage, a look in terms of taking people from uniformed into defence industry versus people currently within Defence industry moving from business to business? How do those two things work in unison?

 

Rob:

I would say about a quarter to probably a third of the work that we do is with people transitioning out of Defence, so out of uniform. Most of the remainder of people who already have industry experience working in pure Defence-focused companies or companies that do that as a part of what they do, and then there is a small remainder of people that are new to the industry that we're able to introduce successfully.

 

Phil:

What would you say the satisfaction levels are of people currently working within Defence? We do a lot of work in some of the other communities that we operate within where, I'll take law for example, satisfaction levels are that 50% of people within the law are not very satisfied with their current law firm, and if the opportunity arose, they would move to another firm. What does that look like in Defence?

 

Rob:

We regularly survey our communities, and that's a question that we ask of people. I think we did one recently, I think it was the military communication information system community, and I think it was about 23 per cent of people said, "Hey, I'm going to actively look for a new role in the next six months."

 

Phil:

Active candidates that would actually go out there and actually start?

 

Rob:

Start looking for something new, yeah.

 

Phil:

Where would they typically start? Seek.com?

 

Rob:

Yeah, Seek, LinkedIn. Word of mouth is also quite popular, because it's not a huge industry, quite close-knit communities within certain specialisations. A number of avenues.

 

Phil:

What about "passive candidates"? People who aren't actively looking, however if the opportunity arose, and Paul you know, we've been chatting about this, if the opportunity arose that they would consider a new opportunity? I guess that comes down to how good you guys are as recruiters, to connect and engage and let people understand of new opportunities and sell them on those. Is that a lot of the work that you do?

 

Rob:

Over a period of 15 years, you build up a big community, and many relationships. We need to be mindful of how we use those in the industry. There are often people that will come to us and say, "When this type of role arrives, we want to be considered for it, and we would like you to call us." One of the things that we're increasingly doing with the companies that we're working with is acting as advocates for them in the market. When we're out there and we're conversing with our communities, it's not just about a particular role or job or project, but it's certainly transmitting to that community some of the insights from a particular organisation to help them build their awareness, their relationship with our company so that when the time does come, whether through us or otherwise, then they're sort of more likely to engage with that organisation.

 

Phil:

Do you think that the businesses within defence industry, because of the nature of the work that happens, happy to let you inside their tent to let you understand some of the more sensitive drivers of their operation so you can be informed and armed and aware to potentially go and find the people they need to find?

 

Rob:

I love coming in the tent early, and the reason why I love that is so that yes, when they do come to us and ask us to recruit them, I know those people are there and we can actually achieve that for them. Also, I love it because I love defence industry, I love the capability that it brings to our nation, I only want to see it work well, and so I want people to make as informed decisions as possible when they're doing their workforce planning. If I see an organisation that's looking to stand up a workforce in a particular location, I really love being able to share our insights into the supply, the demand, the expectations of that workforce with them at their planning phase so they can de-risk their decision making around that.

 

Phil:

How do you deal with potential conflicts? If you have two different camps looking to win the same bid, and they're speaking to you about trying to identify to help underpin their tender, I imagine that happens a lot, because you guys are good at what you do. How do you go about managing that?

 

Rob:

Honesty is important, and that goes back to my point around not having to compromise your values in Defence, wearing uniform out in industry. Every situation is unique, but you address that with the parties in as open a fashion as you possibly can, so that there's no conflict there.

 

Phil:

Do you remember where you were when you first read the White Paper?

 

Rob:

Probably in my office, actually.

 

Phil:

It's quite an interesting thing because everyone views it in a very different way, depending on where you come from. When you started flicking through it, your highlighter out and highlighting stuff that was important to you, what were the things that you said, "This is great for industry, and importantly, this is great for me and the business that I do?" What were those things?

 

Rob:

Well, there weren't many surprises in there. We'd been focusing on that for quite a long time. Just the fact that we're re-capitalising most of our platforms, it's very exciting; lots of new technology, new entrants into the market as well. I was a little concerned about how we were going to orchestrate that, that being over such a short time line as well, that was where my thinking went immediately. That's what I like talking to companies, to government about, is to help them try and be aware of how these things may interact when it comes to the supply and demand of the workforces that are going to deliver them.

 

Phil:

For your business, what do you find the biggest challenge on a day to day basis, in terms of delivering what you deliver to customers or clients? What are the things that are the difficult parts?

 

Rob:

That's a good question.

 

Phil:

Yeah, put you on the spot. By the way, just so our listeners know, there's no pre-scripted questions here, this is just a bit of a chat. It's intriguing because the role that you guys play in terms of equipping defence business with the capabilities for them to go out and not only win this work and any investment the government's putting in Defence, but the delivery of it is absolutely fundamental. Defence has a history of often not delivering what they forecast to deliver at particular times, and a lot of the time it comes down to people. It's interesting how you guys get mandated by business to deliver for them. How do you do it?

 

Rob:

Having thought on that, we've got many opportunities to contribute to the decision making industry. It's just finding the best places to go and do that. We've recently invested in freeing up a few of our people to be able to go out and have more of those conversations within the domains that we're working in Defence, to try and understand what industry and government are trying to achieve, the known knowns and the known unknowns, and then maybe the unknown unknowns, and then finding ways of using our view and our insights to help them. That's probably the greatest challenge, because that's new for most people in the industry.

 

Phil:

Do you think defence industry does the whole HR bit well?

 

Rob:

Reasonably. I kind of actually claim to be an expert in other industries. You get insights into it, particularly the adjacent ones, like resources or rail. I think they do a reasonably good job, given the insights they're given from Defence, but like all organisations, a combined arms approach between your sales, your operations, your HR people will pay dividends for any company looking to grow. Some companies do that better than others. Some companies also understand the importance of engaging early with their customer and also with their potential new workforce early as well, at a different level.

 

Phil:

Are they the businesses you work with, the ones if I said to you, I wouldn't ask for a name, but what's the DNA of a company, whether a prime or an SME that does it really well? Is every prime created equal in this regards? Or for you, would there be one or two absolute stand-outs that absolutely have it nailed, and therefore they get the right people?

 

Rob:

The companies that invest in building relationships with their future worker communities, they're going to be the ones who are most likely to get access to those people in the future. In that respect, it's companies that build familiarity with graduates during their time of study, so that the graduates get to see what that company stands for, what they're doing, why their technology is cool, and what the opportunity would be for the graduate. That's a two way street, that also gives an organisation an ability to see what's out there and coming down the line. Organisations that might put industry days or free or cheap training on for experienced professionals to come in and see what that company does, or maybe even get a first insight into defence industry as well, that's a good way of building a relationship with potential new entrants. That's what smart organisations are doing to get access to the people that everybody else isn't going to be fighting and scrapping over and adjusting time basis over the next few years.

 

Phil:

Do you think defence industry is in a competition for the best candidates coming out of, whether it's engineering or technology in universities? Do you think defence industry is getting the right guys? In terms of the competition for the guys, do you think they're at the top of the tree, or an afterthought or a second thing?

 

Rob:

There's not a level of awareness out there in the community around Defence or defence industry that there might be in other countries. If you look at the US for instance, it's much more front-of-mind, be that to a person in the street or a Pumski graduate, something like that. There is a lot of competition for some of those new skill sets that Defence will need, particularly ICT, Cyber. It's a new domain of warfare, not just for Defence, but also for any company out there as well, that is in the media a lot. We'll be competing with every industry for those types of professionals.

 

Phil:

What do you think we can do better to get the best candidates and bring them into Defence?

 

Rob:

Commonly what I hear from people moving into defence industry from other industries, or maybe exiting Defence for a while and working in somewhere different, is that the technology and the reason for the technology is usually more interesting for those individuals. By nature, it's usually cutting edge relative to other industries, and many people really identify with the importance of the mission, I suppose.

 

Phil:

Quite conscious I've been dominating this, Paul.

 

Paul:

There was something you mentioned earlier, one of your concerns about reading the White Paper was the fact that it was such a short period of time that all these different things were going to come into play, all these new projects, new technologies, which means new staffing. Do you find that the industry is in a bit of a Catch-22, that they kind of need to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to staffing?

 

Rob:

Yeah, we're sort of there for many skill sets, not all of them. Some things like naval ship building, there's a drop off in demand, and hopefully we'll be able to maintain contact with those people until demand picks up in the next couple of years. There are some unique requirements in defence industry, particularly in the technology area and engineering around security clearances. That can take a period of time, to vet somebody, from go to woe before they're even allowed to work on some of the pieces of technology that we're using. That's a barrier that could be addressed, if government were to be able to invest in a increased vetting capability and maybe work with industry to pre-clear groups of people that they know the industry will need at a given point, that would be a good initiative. There aren't many examples out there where I can think of where industry's been able to spend money bringing in a workforce that's not actually needed at this point, just anticipating what's coming along.

 

Paul:

Even with the SME's? I was thinking about that, to bring on a new staff member might be quite a significant move for an SME in the hope that they could get some work, but they're not guaranteed that, but then reacting like taking that time and then hiring someone.

 

Rob:

Yeah, it's Catch-22, and with the companies that we work with, we acknowledge reality and we understand that sometimes they can't bring people in, but what we do encourage them to do, whether it's through us or their own networks or whatever else, is to start building relationships with the types of people they think they might need, so when they do need them, there's already that relationship, they'll heed the call, they'll join your company rather than the one that they're just learning about. They're going to have a lot of choice in the future. Everybody's going to be recruiting, so it's going to be those organisations with the best relationships with those workers that are going to get first pick.

 

Phil:

I'm just thinking as an SME investing in, and this is theme you’re on Paul, getting the right talent in to give them a competitive place in the marketplace, how many people commencing their career in defence industry within SME-land who are eyeing a job up into the primes? Is that a sort of standard path? Do you see people moving up, or is it the other way around?

 

Rob:

Not necessarily. We're all different, we all have our different hopes and dreams and values. My experience is that companies with clear visions who have clear values, who actually live those as well, they're the ones who have lower staff turnover, regardless of size, or even business units within large organisations. It's the ones with strong leadership, clear vision, and honesty, they're the ones that retain people.

 

Phil:

That's good.

 

Paul:

Is there a bit of a skill set in keeping people? It's one thing to recruit the right people. Is it a bit of a skill set in keeping them? What are some of the keys?

 

Rob:

Leadership and management are two different things. It's the people in leadership positions that get that mix right, engage with their staff. We've seen initiatives that companies have taken around surveying their people, listening to what's important to them, what's going well or not well in an organisation. Follow-up and action on that is very important. That's a great way of understanding, "Are my people coming along with me or not?"

 

Phil:

We've run out of time, Rob. It's gone.

 

Paul:

Really?

 

Phil:

Yeah, finished.

 

Rob:

There’s so much more to talk about.

 

Phil:

There is! I've really enjoyed this. A couple of things I would take out of this conversation, I think it's about three things: number one, having the foresight to plan and prepare and actually have that engagement with uniform as a potential hunting ground for the right talent in your business, and that doesn't happen overnight. That's a long incubation period.

 

 

Running on the side of that, and a very important point I thought you made, was that the perception that uniform have of your business prior to even thinking about a potential career in defence industry can really impact whether or not you're going to get the right talent. I think that's good. That's a very important point. The other thing I'd say with this, and like the industry by and large, we're very bullish about the current environment in Defence right now, and I think it's great to see the opportunities that are coming in particularly for our SME's who have a unique proposition, who are competitive, but who have the aptitude and the attitude to go into Defence and do it the right way.

 

 

That all comes down to people. Guys like yourself who are supporting the SME space, I think it's a fundamental process that needs to happen, and it's happening quite well. We'll have to get you back in and keep chatting about this stuff. How do people find out more about you guys?

 

Rob:

They can look at our website, kinexus.com.au, we've also got a presence on Linkedin, many consultants are out and about, that's always a great place to start.

 

Phil:

Okay, nice one. Appreciate it. Paul, thanks mate.

 

Paul:

Thank you very much, Phil. Thank you very much, Rob.

 

Phil:

We enjoyed it. It was good. Keep tuning in for the Defence Connect podcast, we're here every single week. If you like to ask us any questions about the podcast or if you're keen to come on and have a bit of a chat with us, it's pretty easy, isn't it Rob?

 

Rob:

It's great, been great.

 

Phil:

You can contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., you can also go to our website, defenceconnect.com.au, and you can follow us on all the social media channels, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. You can follow me @PhillipTarrant on Twitter if you like. Yeah, but tune in again next week. Thanks for joining us. Bye-bye.

 

 

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