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Yvonne Tay-Corbett - a Young Gun of New Zealand’s recruitment industry

If Yvonne Tay-Corbett has her way, she will leave a lasting legacy in New Zealand’s tech recruitment industry.

She may be one of the younger brigade herself, but the Manager of Technology at Robert Walters Auckland is focused on ensuring the industry does more to help tech graduates coming through the ranks.

Which is why, for the past two years, she has organised a “hackathon” to expose the next generation of top tech talent to potential employers.

Hackathons are events at which talented people come together in teams, usually with others they don’t know or haven’t worked with before, and work on an assigned real-world problem by brainstorming concepts and finding solutions.

They then pitch their ideas and solutions back to potential employers or judging panels.

Despite being regularly used in the tech industry, the hackathons Yvonne organised in 2018 and 2019 were the first for the recruitment industry in New Zealand, and possibly the world.

The programs, which resulted in dozens of graduates finding jobs, saw 28-year-old Yvonne named the 2019 Rising Star at the New Zealand RCSA Awards.

“I first floated the idea of holding hackathons because I believed we weren’t investing in grads,” she says.

“I saw hackathons not as a way of making money but as a way to put something back into the industry.

“I would approach employers and they would say ‘we would love to employ grads but there is so much time involved in recruiting them’, ‘we don’t have any programs in place’, ‘there’s so much paperwork involved’.

“Despite the fact they are the future of the tech industry, we just weren’t investing in them“I said to them ‘if I do this, will you support me and get involved?’.

“They did and it was really cool.”

The daughter of Chinese-Malaysian entrepreneur parents, Yvonne was taught the benefits of having a strong work ethic from a young age.

“Nothing was handed to us as children and as the offspring of a migrant family we had a lot of support, but also high expectations,” she says.

“We also had to learn the New Zealand culture, how things are done, how people work.

“So I was very determined and independent from a young age. Essentially I had to build a life here for myself and stand on my own two feet.”

Yvonne came to the recruitment industry by a circuitous route, studying arts and commerce at Auckland University, majored in psychology, marketing and commercial law but with no idea of what she wanted to do.

She did social work while hoping to get accepted into a clinical psychology course, spending time as a frontline worker with the disadvantaged but became disheartened by the fact many of the people she was trying to help were not prepared to help themselves.

After a brief spell with a tech start-up that didn’t succeed, a friend introduced Yvonne to the recruitment industry and after a tough first few months she realised all her previous roles and experiences meant she was good at it.

She says the Rising Star Award is not only recognition of her efforts, she hopes the hackathons she started will have a lasting impact.

“They provide employers with a chance to watch the next generation of top tech talent in action and see if there are any bright minds that they’d like to offer a job,” Yvonne says.

“We all know that we’re in a talent short market, so why not support the next generation into jobs and play a significant part in moulding the future candidate pool?”

“If you are applying for a graduate program, you would normally submit an application and then go through the selection process. My concept was to use hackathons as external assessment centre so clients could see and interact with the grads.”

Yvonne says the concept has been well received and spread to other Robert Walters agencies in New Zealand and Australia.

Not only has it resulted in a number of graduates finding work, she says it has “started an important conversation”.

“I think we have achieved what we set out to do – to get people talking about the graduate market and start investing in it.

“I wanted to start a conversation and have people take responsibility for the future generations and it’s amazing that they have.”

Yvonne believes it’s the “human touch” that will be most important to the recruitment industry in the future.

“Technology will be important, there is no doubt about that and there is heaps of technology out there making life cool. But at the end of the day it boils down to remembering that we are dealing with humans,” she says.

“The way in which we interact with each other will change and the level of service expected of us will change.

“I like to think we are going to move into a space where we have to be less transactional and more relationship based.

“I’ve met many people in the tech industry who don’t have an appreciation of what we do. The only way we can change that is improving our levels of service.

“If we are just there to put bums on seats, it will never challenge the status quo.

“I believe we need to take our interaction and relationships more seriously.

“We need to be in it for the long run with our candidates and we need to invest more in our candidate experience and our client relationships.”“Life is full-on but I’m living proof that with a strong support team and a supportive company behind you, anything is possible.”

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