‘Be proud, brave and adaptable’ urges recruitment industry leader

One of Australia’s most experienced recruiters has urged his colleagues to “stay brave”, be adaptable to change and remain proud of their industry as they negotiate the COVID-19 crisis.

Geoff Morgan, a veteran of more than 40 years in recruitment, says agencies which not only have the ability to adapt to rapid change but also the courage to make mistakes along the way will survive the pandemic when others don’t.

“A lot of people won’t survive this pandemic but recruiters who are quick to adapt, flexible and willing to look at what’s happening around them and change will have the best chance,” the co-founder of the iconic Morgan & Banks agency said.

“Recruiters can’t afford to be stuck in a rut – not now, not ever.

“It is time to be brave and to be courageous enough to make mistakes and learn from them.”

Survival will be the key focus of Mr Morgan’s keynote address at RCSA’s ReForm Conference on May 28. The event is the organisation’s first fully digital conference and will help equip recruiters with the tools to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing industry landscape.

Morgan & Banks, which Mr Morgan co-founded in 1985, went onto become a dominant global recruitment force and he says helping people find jobs is “one of the most important things you can do in life”.

But he also admits the industry is far from perfect and, among other things, believes it should be doing more to help minority groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, refugees, asylum seekers and people with disabilities.

Recruitment was an industry Mr Morgan knew something about when he was growing up, as his mother was one of Australia’s first recruiters, based in Parramatta. But it was not his first career choice.

He says spending his formative years in the Scouting movement before working as a wool classer in shearing sheds across Australia, with the unions on the docks in the UK, in European restaurants and in his own restaurant in Sydney, taught him how to work with people from all walks of life, as well as instilling in him a deep empathy for others.

They are skills that proved invaluable when he joined the recruitment sector in London.

“While I was working on the waterfront, I was liaising with four unions,” Mr Morgan recalls.

“I talked myself into that job when I told them ‘if you think managing people on the waterfront is hard, try managing shearers in a woolshed’.

“Between those jobs, and waiting on tables in the restaurant, by the time I landed a job in recruitment I had gained plenty of skills in dealing with people and having an empathy and understanding for them.

“I had also learnt a lot about negotiation, having a thick skin and the importance of persevering and not giving up.

“They are all so important at the moment.

“I also learnt how powerful being honest and truthful with people is. In the end, if you are honest, they respect you, even though it is sometimes hard.

“I also learnt to believe in people and that everyone deserves to have a job.”

A childhood in Cubs and Scouts had also instilled in Mr Morgan a love for learning, which continues to this day.

After his job as a wool classer meant he couldn’t be in one place long enough to remain in Scouts, he reconnected with the movement in later years and is now on the international board of the World Scout Foundation and is Chairman of the Foundation in Australia.

“Scouting equipped me with a thirst for learning – it is the last place in the world for responsible risk taking,” he says.

“You learn about making decisions and leadership. You are taught to trust your judgment, take responsible risks and learn from your mistakes.

“I always ask if someone is a Scout when I interview them.

“When you are invested as a Cub, you make a promise to help others and be the best person you can be, every day.

“That sticks with you for life.”

What has also stuck with him is an empathy for minorities who, he says, have so much to offer but are too often overlooked by the recruitment industry.

“As an industry we – and I include myself in this – should be working harder to understand the situations of people in minority groups and making a commitment to always push our clients to include people from minority groups.

“In recruitment, the client only wants ‘the best people’ – that’s what they pay their fee for – and you could ask who are the ‘best people’?

“The number of people with disabilities in the workplace is miniscule – if recruiters knew the actual figure, they would all be ashamed. Yet people with disabilities are the most incredibly loyal, hard- working people.

“And if you give a refugee a break, you will also find you have a loyal, hard-working, talented and often well qualified employee.

“I believe we have a responsibility as recruiters to push our clients harder to have more diversity in their workplaces.

“We don’t make the final appointments, but we do put the shortlists together and if we can have more diversity on our shortlists, then we can make a difference.

“The same goes for women. There is still more work to be done there.

“We still don’t have a proper representation of women in senior roles yet when you look at countries that are doing a good job, they are mostly led by women.”

Mr Morgan was made a Member of the Order of Australia in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours in recognition of his service to the Scouting movement and to the community through executive roles in business, Indigenous education and sporting organisations.

While the use of technology may be the greatest change during his time in recruitment (not always for the better), he believes the vastly improved reputation of recruiter and their industry has also been significant.

“I remember when you would go to a dinner party and tell the person beside you that you worked in recruitment, they would turn and talk to the person on the other side,” he says.

“We have so much credibility now. I can sit next to a heart surgeon and compare notes and hold my head high.

“That’s been a significant change – our reputation.

“We need to understand that and be proud of it.”

He is also keen for his colleagues – particularly the younger ones – to be willing to make mistakes - as long as they learn from them.

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes and still make them. If you don’t learn from failure, then you just keep failing,” he says.

“I believe successful people fail more often than most, because they try more often.

“You can learn a lot from failure - just don’t make the same mistakes over and over.

“People will make mistakes during this pandemic but that’s okay, as long as they learn from them. As long as it makes them a better and stronger person, going forward.

“I love our industry with a passion and love the people in it. We do spectacularly good and important work and now, more than ever, I think recruiters need to realise that and be proud of it.

“I believe that helping people find jobs is one of the most important things you can do in life.”

For details on the ReForm Conference go to rcsa.com.au

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