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Q&A with one Australia's leading STEM recruiting specialists, Kerry McMahon

We had the privilege of talking to Kerry McMahon, one Australia's leading STEM recruiting specialists, Director of KE Select and founder of the 6 Step / 6 Week Career Coaching Program.

Kerry specialises in helping employers to build the most productive and specialised team possible within the scientific, medical, healthcare, and engineering sector.

Kerry offers a unique and professional approach to the recruitment process and sat down with The Brief to share her story of how she and her team reacted to the COVID outbreak, making quick business decisions to assist the healthcare industry during the pandemic.

Tell us about KE Select before COVID hit. What were the industries you specialised in and how big was your team?

I founded KE Select in Aug 2012 alongside my partner, Evelyn Parker. It was initially a humble, low budget approach to a temporary venture into Australia’s Life Science, Medical Technology and Pathology market.

With a degree in Biomedical Science, as well as 10 years of experience in these sectors in the UK, an entrepreneurial mindset and a trusting relationship, it seemed like a great idea to offer our niche but highly successful headhunting practices to the many global manufacturers and local testing laboratories that were showing interest.

The loyalty, trust and overall success with our clients allowed KE Select to continue on a further eight year journey to COVID in 2020 where I took on a lead role (recruiting and client liaison) and Evelyn took a side step to look after the back end of KE Select. To date we maintain a very strong bank of loyal key accounts, emerging as agency of choice for a large portion of our specialist market – Australia and New Zealand wide.

What happened to you and your business when the COVID outbreak hit in 2020?

In December 2019, KE Select had three employees and 70% of our business was built of permanent recruitment offerings to the commercial areas of Life Science, Medical Technology and Pathology market in Australia and New Zealand. We also had a handful of casuals on our books – managed by a third-party organisation.

In January 2021, Covid had just hit, our industry was under pressure, our country was in disarray, our Pathology sector was forced to react – but with what resources?

KE Select offered a helping hand to a long-standing loyal client, Greg Granger, COO of SydPath, St Vincent’s hospital.

Initially no financial gain was intended. We offered a free recruitment service for a few weeks just to help Greg deploy “a few” covid swabbing testers and a handful of laboratory aides to support the testing and diagnosis process.

I, alongside Greg and our team here at KE Select, eventually created a structured and community focused plan of attack to set up and staff multiple testing sites throughout NSW and, in turn, to set up and staff additional laboratory resources. This plan has resulted in 400 Australians gaining employment via KE Select and has supported more than 300,000 patients being tested in NSW alone.

After 50-60 hour weeks of reacting to outbreaks and supporting the setup of testing centres, it was time to implement new practices into our small business. We had to make quick business decisions that would allow us to support this ‘pivot’ in practices. It was a brave move; it took trust from our clients and our belief in ourselves.

Fast forward to the present day – KE Select now employ 14 qualified and experienced staff members, this team is made up of highly experienced scientific and medical consultants, admin support and a small finance team (internal payroll implemented).

I remain hands on within the business as a Managing Consultant. Everyone at KE Select works extremely hard. We are still responding to outbreaks and we now have a dedicated COVID-19 Response team. However, when an outbreak occurs, every single employee of KE Select will play a part in ensuring that we meet the community testing demands as well as the unintentional demands from our Pathology based clients.

At this point we now support many pathology providers; SydPath, St Vincent’s Hospital, NSW Health, Australian Clinical Labs, QML, Dorevitch, WestLab and many more. We are supporting Pathology (testing and diagnostics) throughout Australia nationally. 50% of the KE Select business is still supporting our commercial and technical permanent roles across all of our divisions.

KE Select now have 2 offices – one in Sydney, another in Brisbane, and we are in the throes of setting up a Melbourne based office.

During the COVID pandemic and subsequent outbreaks across Sydney and Brisbane, you have helped to provide employment for over 800 unemployed Australians across the country. You also helped to upskill and train a significant number of Pathology Collectors and administration staff and were pivotal in swabbing and testing approximately 500,000 people across NSW, VIC and QLD. How did you mobilise and motivate your fast-growing team to achieve these remarkable outcomes?

KE Select reacted in line with our clients, it is no secret that our ability to support our clients and the community came with some very quick business decisions. Organically we grew the team internally to keep pace with the changes we were experiencing.

One of our key changes was to hire a Business Manager with supporting consultants to manage outbreaks and the overall COVID recruitment plan.

As the pandemic evolved so did our team. We built internal systems, upgraded our CRM and struck advertising deals with Australia-based job boards. We worked closely with LinkedIn and we worked closely with one another. Our support of each other allowed for great internal collaboration. New ideas were heard, and innovative advertising and networking plans were put in place to ensure that we had access to the talent needed to test and diagnose.

We drove relationships with NSW Health training programs and with external pathology-based training programs and, of course, we implemented our own induction and training programs, OSH, onsite support and laboratory support.

The infrastructure that has been put in place in the last 12 months has been incredible and I thank my team for all of this. They are an incredibly professional, personable and highly skilled bunch. Every decision we have made has been made as a team.

KE Select has been successful in staffing approximately 40 testing sites across NSW, VIC, QLD and now WA. Our staff have tested more than 500,000 patients and we have employed approximately 800 Australians (casually) during this pandemic. Some have managed just one shift and some are still with us out on site over a year later.

What are some of your learnings through this period in terms of management and business growth?

Trust your team and trust your professional gut instinct when you need to make a snap decision. Remain close to your clients by keeping up the communication to ensure that you change your approach as and when they change theirs.

It’s so important to genuinely care about and connect with people. Every person along the way has their own needs, fears and personal story – including KE Select staff, Clients, Casual employees, patients, everyone…!)

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that you remain kind and understanding.

We will continue to grow, as a business, as a team and as people. We are excited for the future and our impact on the Life Science, Medical and Pathology space.

Finally, never keep all eggs in one basket. KE Select now have a strong focus on non-COVID recruitment activities, while managing to support our Pathology clients as and when required.

What are the longer-term results – both for KE Select, your clients and the candidates you provided employment for?

After clocking up nine years of success within the Australian Life Science, Medical and Pathology space, our candidate networks are highly specific and, current and reactive. Our clients are growing and our service offering is unique, collaborative and effective.

KE Select strive to continue to open further opportunities – for our internal staff, for our vast casual pool and for our clients.

We are excited to grow and will bring everyone who associates along with us.

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