Australia’s booming resources sector is starved of qualified people and with demand for skilled staff far outstripping supply, Perth-based recruiter New Latitude thinks it has the answer.
New Latitude caters exclusively to the resources sector with a focus on international talent, specifically from the US, and it is this—and the background of New Latitudes senior staff—that sets the firm apart, says Managing Director Joshua Dundon.
“We primarily focus on sourcing engineering talent out of the United States. Our focused approach on sourcing international talent is something that differentiates us from the rest. Second: we come from the mining sector so we have hands-on experience and knowledge of the industry and that results in better placements.”
Dundon points to the labour mobility challenges Australia faces and the reluctance of some to work away from home or move to the country’s west, ground zero for the resources boom, and to the lead time involved in upskilling untrained local talent as driving the need to look offshore for talent.
“Today’s problem is resourcing today’s projects—of which there’s a huge pipeline—and the demands on the resources sector puts pressure on other industries as well,” he says. “On the west coast, where there are a lot of projects happening up north, it’s taking a lot of people away from commercial building sectors, putting pressure on smaller engineering and services firms because they’re losing people every day to the resources sector.”
The labour shortage leads to other practical disadvantages, says Dundon.
“Due to the high demand on employment we’re starting to see people being pushed into more senior positions that they aren’t necessarily qualified or have the experience for. We’re effectively recycling talent because we don’t have the skills available.”
Two recent changes in Federal government policy have facilitated the new interest in American skilled workers: a streamlining of the visa process and a new procedure for the recognition of skills to ease the transition for foreign skilled workers wanting to capitalize on Australia’s resources boom.
Prior to the changes, an applicant with trade level skills would have had to come to Australia first and then apply for a provisional licence, which could have taken six to twelve months to be granted. Under the streamlined policy, those skills can be recognized prior to immigration so the tradesperson steps off the plane with a provisional licence and is thus able to work immediately.
Even more encouraging for New Latitude is the reaction of American attendees of the recent Skills Australia Needs event in Houston, organized by the Australian government and targeted at skilled resources personnel. New Latitude’s kiosk at the event, held in the US in May for the first time after several similar European events, attracted 650 people over two days, and the attitude Dundon found was, “keen. And relocating was not a deal breaker.”
In fact the Americans displayed a readiness to move countries that surprised even New Latitude’s in-house immigration expert, herself an American.
“These people had come with an attitude that their bags were packed, they’d spoken to their family, they were ready and willing for an opportunity and we can see that [even] after the event in some of the CVs that we’re continuing to receive.” Even now, Dundon says, candidates continue to contact New Latitudes’ Perth office “saying ‘we’re ready, we’re ready and willing [to move].’”
“We’ve been inundated with CVs and interest from US candidates. We’ve started putting these candidates in front of our clients. We’ve had really positive feedback on the high calibre of candidate, the professionalism and also the skill level.”
And the openness to moving to the other side of the world often goes hand in hand with a greater than expected awareness of Australia. Dundon, anticipating a low awareness of Australia in general and the Aussie resources boom in particular made a point of engaging candidates at the event not only on their experience and qualifications, but on “what they knew about Australia, what they knew about the opportunity,” and was pleasantly surprised to see the level of awareness was much higher than expected.
“America is certainly changing, Americans, especially the younger generation are beginning to adopt a more flexible approach in terms of where they are willing to work, with many wishing to permanently relocate themselves and their family here in Australia.”
It’s easy to see why the firm is so drawn to American-trained personnel—they have a first class education, speak the language fluently and are subject to few major cultural stumbling blocks.
“There’s no obvious cultural barrier,” says Dundon. “We do need to understand that despite the fact we’re two English speaking cultures, both from the western world, we do have some very different ways and some people could come here and not find they settle in the way they expected.”
However Dundon’s contact with the ever-growing American expat community in Perth is reassuring.
“What we’re finding is that the majority of Americans we speak to are very happy, very content and don’t want to go back, at least not in the immediate future.”
With the Aussie dollar at par with the greenback and pay rates that routinely exceed American equivalents, it’s easy to see why the Australian opportunities are so attractive for Americans reeling from recession.
“We’re finding a lot of [American expats] are quite happy and they value the opportunity compared against what their situation could be if they were in the States right now, their earning capacity, and there’s benefits there that are quite attractive to them,” says Dundon.
And with the Australian recruiter specializing solely in international talent, Dundon says “we’re only getting better at the process and at understanding the challenges.” In business since January, the firm has already managed to best more established firms who place talent with a six to seven week lead time.
“We can have the process tied up in four to five weeks, that’s pretty good for an end to end process,” says Dundon.
The firm boasts dedicated personnel in the US—an immigration expert in Atlanta and a regional manager in Dallas “focussed on continually sourcing people”; and of course the background of the two directors in mining and construction brings a new appreciation of what employers are looking for.
“I think we’ve learned a lot along the way; we’ve been able to delve more into what the expectations are. That really helped in that process —what we’ve been able to achieve out of that is better placement times,” concludes Dundon.
“We’re getting quite good feedback on what we’re doing at the moment so we can continually build on that over the next 18 months.”