Working for the man

Unemployment may be expected to peak at 7 per cent but Australia’s largest private recruitment firm Workpac has made record sales recently, providing a steady labour supply for mines, infrastructure works and hospitals around the country.

Managing director Phil Smart says Workpac has targeted industries that have strong demand for contract work like the mining industry, as well as those with government-backing such as infrastructure and health.

“There were a few sleepless nights in January but we’re having record sales now, compared to a time before there was any inkling of an economic downturn,” says Smart.

“In mining, while profits might be down there’s still a lot of dirt to be moved – we’re in the labour supply business and when the climate is doubtful the mining companies come to us to contract out, instead of having their own workforce.

“Our forte is technical recruitment, which is what the health and mining sector both need — in a downturn the government spends a lot of money on infrastructure and with an ageing trend in the Australian population, the health market is only going to get stronger.”

Smart cites a change in the recruitment industry since the downturn, with firms taking more care to hire appropriate staff rather than filling positions with an attitude of ‘anyone who can breathe, let’s get them on site’.

“Before, the mining market was white hot. Our job is to protect clients from employing who they shouldn’t and there are systems we’ve put in place over the years to protect people and clients, but in the mining boom that was almost thrown out the window.

Now it’s a saner market and companies are looking at how to recruit the right people,” he says.

Smart says the major development at Workpac is that with revenue of $250 million it’s been business as usual, with a lot of cross-over in recruitment between the mining and infrastructure sectors.

“The only difference between tunnels in Brisbane and in the Bowen Basin is that you don’t use the stuff you’re pulling out.”

With 250 staff and 250,000 people registered on its books for recruitment Workpac holds a continual hiring policy.

And so too do its clients, it seems.

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