Industry Luminary - John Harland


John Harland has been involved in recruitment in New Zealand and Australia since 1995 and is the director of ERG Recruitment Group, a RCSA member of 24 years - now a Life Member with many years of service to RCSA’s NZ Council. We take a look back at his experience and adventures during this time.

Not many people realise veteran recruiter John Harland’s (pictured right) beloved rugby union career lasted longer than his time in recruitment to date. Yes, his rugby career was not quite as stellar, but it has been a passion he has pursued through a career in recruitment that spans New Zealand and Australia.

His ambitions of being a professional rugby player had been dashed, though he had played the game since he was five and represented Wellington for three years at a senior second level, playing alongside and against players who became All Blacks.

Harland started his working career with the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, and after a 15 year tenure, where he had risen through the ranks to occupy the role of Principal Staff Officer and HR Policy Advisor, he knew he wanted a change, but didn’t quite know what that would be.

It was a chance meeting with recruitment industry veteran and fellow RCSA Life Member Malcolm Jackman that was to change his career trajectory.

“Malcolm and I were in class together at Wellington College,” John says. “I was working as the HR and Admin Manager for NZI Life at the time and Malcolm was working with Slade Consulting in Auckland. He suggested recruitment might be the right career for me given my experience.”

However, by the time Harland was ready to make the jump into recruitment a few years later, Jackman was in charge of the West Coast for Adecco in the US.

But then, in 1995, Harland saw a recruitment job advertised with Kelly Services, applied, won the role and so started his successful career in our sector. A career that saw him hold senior management positions with the likes of Manpower, Chandler Macleod, and later start ERG Recruitment Group in August 2008.

However, it’s his time with Manpower that Harland is particularly proud of. He started with Manpower in 1997, where he held a number of roles from being a contract temporary recruitment consultant to becoming branch manager in Auckland, the New Zealand National Operations Manager and finally with BDM Queensland, based in Brisbane. “When I first took over the Auckland branch, we were doing about 900 hours,” he says. “We relocated the business to South Auckland and within three years we were doing 7,600 hours and our temp workforce grew from 30 to around 250 on assignment each day. This was a branch with seven staff, three Temp Consultants, two Permanent Recruiters, an administrator and me.

“It was hyper growth for Manpower at the time and was very exciting to be a part of. Within four years, it had become a $400+ million business across Australia and NZ and in NZ it had grown from zero to over $20 million.

“I often see Malcolm, the last time being at our 50-year Wellington College reunion in March 2019. I have thanked him many times for introducing me to the sector.”

During his time with Manpower, Harland says the achievement he is most proud is his branch being only one of four out of around 80 in Australia and NZ in 1999 to win a Chairman’s Award for exceeding budget. No mean achievement when budgets were increasing at 30 per cent year on year.

He says it was also great to be a part of the Manpower team which was at the forefront of industry innovation including: introducing 24/7 service to clients, leading innovation in the assessment process and bulk recruitment, managed services, and using computer-based candidate and client management systems.

There are also those unforgettable moments where the company name was confused with that of the group of male strippers.

“My time with Manpower made my career but it also made for some moments I may never be able to erase from my memory,” he laughs.

“We did have people applying for jobs with us where they clearly didn’t read the ad or were just plain confused. There were strippers applying for jobs with us.

“We had a woman turn up once all decked out, clearly thinking she was applying for job with the male dance group. To this day I don’t know what she thought she was going to do, given it was group of male strippers. Maybe she thought her job would be ‘oiling strippers’.

He says he has learned a lot in his time in the industry, but also warns there is a need for the sector to keep working together to achieve the best outcomes.

“I love the environment of recruitment,” he says. “We are able to genuinely change people’s lives definitely challenging work. The contact I have had with the so-called ‘competition’ has been less in recent years and I think we need to have more of that as an industry. Our industry is under attack and we are stronger as a group than we will ever be as individuals.”

For the sector itself, Harland believes the focus needs to be returned to individuals in a world of rapidly evolving technology and metrics.

“We manage business on metrics but we need to always focus on results rather than the metrics to get there,” he says. “It is important to maintain a company culture your staff can buy into. This is particularly important for the younger generations.

“We are also moving towards more specialisation which may benefit small boutique agencies if the large participants fail to rapidly diversify and specialised their offering. And as ever, the challenge of retaining good staff will always remain.

“I think the training that was required to be a good consultant doesn’t hold the same value any more. We need to give people that training so they can be confident in what they do.

“But I remain very positive for the sector. There will be change and innovation, some jobs will become obsolete but many others will be created to fill the void and it will always remain about the people; He Tangata, He Tangata” John has now stepped back from his business to a semi-retirement role where he maintains the financials, his wife Fiona manages social media and a branch manager looks after the operational side.

The move allows the Harlands to pursue their passion for helping the community. They are involved with a rehabilitation program for female prisoners and youth employment programs.

And of course, John continues to be heavily involved with rugby union in the Hawke’s Bay area, having played the game for 25 years and spent the past 32 years as a referee. He continues to excel, being named Hawke’s Bay Referee Coach of the Year in 2018.

The Harlands have five children and eight grandchildren. No doubt John will lure at least one of them into playing rugby and he may even encourage them to follow a career in recruitment.

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