Brisbane-based entrepreneur Grant Wechsel (pictured right) has been champing at the bit to start a new workforce management venture, but the sale of One Key Resources to Fircroft in 2016 meant a restraint clause was hanging over him for four years.
Over that time Wechsel has kept busy with a range of investments and board roles including mining projects accelerator MPX, but it wasn't until this month that he was allowed to reapply his vision of a more sophisticated labour hire business model.
And that is exactly what he has done, launching Managed Workforce Group with rugby league legend and experienced company director Darren Lockyer (pictured left).
The pair had worked together at One Key Resources achieving $250 million in annual sales before the business was acquired, but after the sale Wechsel felt a certain lack of control over his own destiny with the business in new hands.
"Both Darren and I got to the point where the restraint period was up and we thought we've got a lot of value to add," he tells Business News Australia.
"It's been a few years since we sold the business to Fircroft and a lot happens in that time. I think the market's changed a lot, the industrial relations framework in Australia continues to change, and we got the opportunity to develop some of the ideas that we'd had prior to selling the business."
The new group comprises three subsidiaries: One Track Workforce focused on major infrastructure and resource projects; Mining Pro catering to the coal sector; and Crew People servicing the mining sector more broadly.
With One Track Workforce, Wechsel and Lockyer have their sights on servicing projects driving the COVID-19 recovery, with work beginning on major tunnel, rail and mining projects across Queensland and New South Wales immediately.
"We've got a couple of hundred people kicking off across those projects externally [in June], and we have a goal to build that up to around 1000 people under management by the end of the year with the pipeline that we've got," says Wechsel.
"Beyond that we see it building up significantly more than that; we had a couple of thousand people under management at One Key by the time we stepped down.
"Internally we'll just build our teams on a project basis. It's very early days but we still have five to 10 people in the team internally."
Wechsel believes delays to some projects will translate to strong demand for skilled labour with the recovery underway, while technology is playing a major role in allowing workforces to be managed remotely.
"A lot of work we do is remote, whether it be mine sites or gas projects or large infrastructure projects that support those industries," he says.
"With the technology available now you track people's clocking in and clocking out of projects, and make sure they geolocate within a certain boundary of those projects so that you know that they're there, and you can get messaging to people so much easier via those platforms.
Wechsel says at One Key he innovated labour supply models so that it was more about taking responsibility of and managing labour, so that mining or infrastructure project managers can better focus on the core priorities at hand.
"I put those models in place prior to selling, and I think there's some expansion of that that I can do again," he says.
He also points to the recent Federal Court ruling concerning double dipping of leave entitlements for a long-time casual worker at Workpac; an issue Wechsel thinks is going to have a huge impact on Australian business.
"Our view of where a managed workforce can fit into that is in that managing external contingent workforces, whether it be casual or actually managing them on a permanent contract basis, there's an opportunity to reinvent the wheel.
"Our view is that there's probably a space there to work in between those where we take the responsibility for managing those risks and workforces, on a permanent basis as well."
It has now been 10 years since Wechsel founded One Key Resources, and he is excited to be starting a new venture with someone of Darren Lockyer's calibre.
"Darren is a true professional. Like in his sporting career, he just learned to do what he said he was going to do, to show up and take all the steps that he needs to take to make sure that he achieves positive outcomes," he says.
"There is a similarity between sport and particularly mining and large construction projects in that you have large groups of people involved, and everyone has to do their job and everyone has to be focused on safety and culture.
"In terms of my experience, I'm always very innovative on the front foot with our clients to try and come up with the best solutions we can in the market, and then act quickly."Never miss a news update, subscribe here. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter.
Business News Australia
Get our daily business news
Sign up to our free email news updates.
Help us deliver quality journalism to you.
As a free and independent news site providing daily updates
during a period of unprecedented challenges for businesses everywhere
we call on your support