TECHNOLOGY SPECTATOR: NBN Co's hiring precision

While urgency is the name of the game in the NBN's troubled rollout, the company behind the project is ultra-cautious in its recruitment policy – for very good reasons.

Technology Spectator

The NBN rollout may be picking up speed slowly but it's full steam ahead for NBN Co when it comes to hiring the talent to make the network a reality. However, filling the roles on offer is just one part of the equation, finding the right person for the job is quite another matter.

The company is currently offering around 55 different positions ranging from software engineers to rollout technicians – and those are just the jobs that are available on its website.

But just because there is an abundance of positions doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone can walk into a job. In fact, according to Michael Bromley, one of NBN Co’s general manager of customer experience, it’s quite the opposite.

Speaking at the Agile Australia 2012 conference last week, Bromley told the audience that NBN Co has a very clear idea of what type of employee it wants.

According to Bromley, protecting the "culture” of the workplace is of paramount importance and while the shortage of skilled labour has increasingly become a feature of our economic landscape, NBN Co is taking a very measured approach to hiring.

The approach may seem a little unusual given the urgency of getting the NBN rolled out as quickly as possible, but as Technology Spectator discovered last month, Bromley’s tactics are more or less in step with the rest of the IT sector.

There are plenty of jobs in the sector, but employers are holding back on hiring just anyone for the roles, they’re looking for innovators among the pack. Currently, the biggest challenge in the tech employment is uncovering talent among the large pool of candidates and stopping your competitors from snagging it.

What is ‘talent’?

Bromley was clear when outlining what personality traits are inherent in good employees. He’s looking for people that are self-motivated, curious and are selfless enough to "seek what’s best for the company first”.

He also says that it's crucial that the staff he hires are willing to learn from their mistakes as well as have the courage to stand up to management if they feel the company is going in the wrong direction.

"And when you find these traits, hire them fast and pay them well.” Bromley says.

However, Bromley also pointed out some "red flag” traits that employers should watch out for when looking for their next IT pro. He says that NBN Co avoids perfectionists or those who show signs of being afraid of change.

For EWK International senior executive recruiter David Spencer, finding the ‘right person’ for the job changes with every brief.

He says that every company has its own cultural fits and requirements for their staff, but overall they seek people who have "the ability to deliver outcomes and manage change”. He adds that when hiring for tech companies he needs someone that is not only technologically apt but has strong business acumen.

No love lost with headhunting

While the use of headhunters is a common feature of the recruitment market, NBN Co is steering clear of that path with most of the staff hired through job ads and recommendations.

However, while NBN Co may not feel the need to utilise headhunters to fill positions, other companies do. According to Spencer, headhunting has become so common that there is almost an "expectation” among companies that at some point one of their star players will be pinched by the competition. To this point, Spencer says his firm is kept on retainer by multiple companies, to immediately fill any job gaps that may arise.

Keeping them happy

Of course, one way to avoid your staff from being poached is to ensure their happiness at work and that’s something at the top of NBN Co’s mind.

Bromley says that the easiest way to keep staff happy is to give them control over their own work. He says the micro-management of staff and a ‘top-down’ management style kill creativity and in turn kill workplace satisfaction as well.

But regardless of an employer’s efforts, the modern worker will tend to drift from company to company, according to Spencer. He says that in the current work climate, having employees committed to a company for an extended period of time is a rarity. He adds that if he has done his job and selected the right person for the job, his recruit will make a noticeable difference to the company, but may not stick around for longer than two to three years.

Spencer has a point because despite’s NBN Co’s best efforts staff retention isn’t a straightforward proposition for the company. When one of the audience members asked how many staff NBN Co retains from its seemingly forensic hiring processes, Bromley wouldn’t put a figure to the question.

"We turn over people,” Bromley told the audience but added that retention rates aren’t the right metric.

According to Bromley, NBN Co ignores that metric in the pursuit of quality and is more interested in the type of staff it keeps, not how many it keeps.