Thought Leaders Series: Adam Wadi, Managing Director at Get Qualified Australia

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Growth through partnerships, cold calling to HR and building a brand in B2B

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Adam Wadi from Get Qualified Australia.

Get Qualified Australia have built a significant and fast growing business focused solely on RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning). In less than five years, Adam has built a business employing 60+ staff and helping thousands of Australian employees to ‘get qualified’ every year. Much of that success is built on Adam’s “show me the money” approach to marketing.

In the interview we talk about why Get Qualified Australia has focused on growth through partnerships, how the business is marketing to both B2B and B2C and why Adam is still a big fan of cold calling.

The interview:

Steve Pell: Let’s start with your elevator pitch in terms of what Get Qualified Australia is? What you do?

Adam Wadi: Get Qualified Australia is an Australian company that specialises and focuses on skills recognition or recognition of prior learning as a concept. Some people know it as RPL.

Basically the concept is very similar to university exemptions. At university, when you enrol in a course, you get as much credit as you can prove that you know. You could get up to 50% of a university degree, but with recognition of prior learning, it could be the full qualification from either a certificate 1, 2, 3 or 3, diploma, advanced diploma, graduate certificate, graduate diploma.

It depends how many years of experience and how many things that you have done in life. It could be a hobby where you’ve developed skills. It’s all in mapping your skills and knowledge and experience, or even partial studies, to a certain qualification. It can be done in any industry.

RPL is a great concept that the Australian government came up with. We’ve utilised the concept and we’ve put it in a business model where we created an online platform. All colleges that we partner with, they give us access to that scope to carry out the skills recognition for all the qualifications that they have at their school.

Steve Pell: Are you marketing directly to the end consumer or also to businesses as well?

Adam Wadi: That’s a good question because in the first three years, we focused on B2C. As I started the business, so the marketing budget was limited. We decided, “Okay, we’ll go AdWords, Facebook on a limited scale, and we’ll target the end user.

However, this year we decided, “Okay, we’re set up. We’ve got enough employees and structure to go and knock on the big players like Qantas and Telstra and talk to their HR managers. Because with group recognition you might have 10 people for the same qualification.

That’s what we have started about a month ago. We created a group of lead generators, telemarketing, and they communicate with businesses and HR managers. They invite us to go in and pitch skills recognition and show them how their staff can benefit from it, and how they can reduce retention, they can reduce the cost of training, and reduce the dropout rate which they see always in online study or a classroom commitment study.

With RPL, the process can be, on an average, between four to six weeks and you’ll have your qualification if you are motivated to provide the evidence. When you compare it to online study, there’s a lot of commitment. You might commit to a one year course, and that’s why you see dropout. HR managers, they want to see their employees engaging in professional development, and not dropping out early. They want to see them in an effective program, getting the same qualification that if they would get if they commit to a year and sit in a classroom.

Steve Pell: How’s that going? Are you getting good buy-in from the businesses that you’re talking to?

Adam Wadi: Because we started it recently, we don’t have conversion statistics. Everyone that we have spoken to in multiple industries is interested. We generated in the first month 100 appointments, and when our BDMs are walking into meetings people are saying, “Finally, a specialised company in skills recognition.”

Steve Pell: It’s interesting that you’re coming at the marketing challenge of reaching HR managers from a telemarketing perspective. Talk me through the strategy of telemarketing?

Adam Wadi: I’ve always wanted to go into B2B but marketing is not my background.

So my first attempt at B2B, I said “Okay, we’ll hire a BDM.” The BDM did not generate any enrolments. So I said, “Okay, what exactly did I do wrong basically?” I was in a meeting in India with an IT development company and they got me to do guest speaking to 70 of their lead gen staff and I clicked and said “Okay, that’s where I went wrong.”

To win in B2B you need to market to B2B. How do you market to B2B? You need to have telemarketers that will obviously go through lists, through agencies, call that person and have a chat with them. If they find it interesting, they’ll invite you in to talk about what qualifications and how the details of the concept. I guess that’s where we went wrong at the beginning.

Now we’re seeing better results. The first team of 6 generated a hundred appointments in the first month, and that’s where we said, “Okay, the more telemarketing agents, the more appointments we’re going to have.” Because we have qualifications from every industry, you want telemarketing agents to focus on certain industries.

Steve Pell: We sit here and your business is growing incredibly fast. It sounds like you’ve done a lot of that growth through partnerships.

Adam Wadi: Correct.

Steve Pell: If you were giving advice to someone who was going to grow their business through a partner channel, what advice would you give?

Adam Wadi: I would say I’m a big fan of partnerships. I like how people come together in a relationship to do something. So partnership is exactly what it is. You are working with other organisations to benefit them and benefit yourself, benefit their customers and your customers.

The important thing in partnerships, the most important, is choosing the right partners that you are proud to be partnered with. That’s something that helped me grow in the business.

We want, at the end of the day, the customer to walk away happy, the partner to walk away happy, and us to walk away happy. Once you go into that partnership and you feel, “Okay, there is one thing for them, the partners, and for us but not the consumer,” it’s not going to work. You want it a win-win situation for everyone.

Steve Pell: You talk a lot about this platform idea, that you’re building a platform like iSelect. For platforms to work, you need really strong brand strength. How are you planning on building this brand. How will everyone know about GQAustralia?

Adam Wadi: That’s a good question. The first two years, I spoke to multiple consultants in marketing. Once they started talking to me about objectives and brand building and brand strategy, I said to them, “I don’t have big deep pockets. I want leads. I want leads so I can convert these leads. I’ll deal with the brand building later.”

But now, as we’re going into B2B, this became a priority for us. I don’t want my BDMs to walk into Telstra and speak with the HR manager, and the HR manager says, “I haven’t heard of you.” I want them to relate to the brand and say “Yes, we’ve seen it on TV. Yes, we’ve heard it on radio. Yes, we’ve seen it on Facebook, online, it’s everywhere the brand.”

Steve Pell: It’s an interesting challenge that not many companies get to in terms of building brand directly for B2B. I’m interested to hear how you’re planning on going about it?

In terms of taking it into the B2B, we get a lot of leverage from the business marketing our offer to their end users, which is their staff.

For example I’m sitting with Qantas HR manager, they might like us and they promote it to their staff. If they’ve got 30,000 staff, that’s 30,000 customers that I’ve just marketed to by creating one B2B lead.

I guess in terms of building a brand within B2B you’ve got to look at what you have in terms of resources and find a way to build that brand in a cost effective way.

Steve Pell: This is interesting and very smart. You’re using HR managers as a tool for brand building across the broader organisation.

Adam Wadi: Correct, and not just HR managers but as well associations, unions, government organisations. If they see the benefit for Australians to get their skills recognised, then they will promote it.

Steve Pell: It seems that there’s a real opportunity for you to set the agenda around the future of L&D. Is this something you’re doing at the moment?

Adam Wadi: We are now tapping into expos. I think next month we have EduTech, the month after we have AHRI (Australia Human Resource Institute Expo).

We’re tapping into expos to market for HR and L&D, to tell them how to link RPL with online, with classroom, with pathway to university, with professional development, with in-house training programmes that they already have.

We’re showing them how to map their in-house programmes to national recognised qualifications, how to do a skills recognition for all their staff as a group and assess them.

Steve Pell: Fantastic. It’s been really interesting. Thank you for taking the time to have a chat about what is a very interesting business.

Adam Wadi: Thank you for having me.

Steve Pell: Thank you.

Thought Leaders Series: Ben Thompson, CEO at Employment Innovations

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The future of work, leveraging technology and the power of free(mium)

In this edition of our Thought Leaders Series, I chat with Ben Thompson, the CEO at Employment Innovations. Employment Innovations is a group of three HR/employment aligned businesses that deliver:

  • Legal services and outsourced HR
  • Employee reward and recognition (Power2Motivate)
  • A cloud based HRIS (EmploymentHero)

In this interview we talk about Ben’s strong views on the future of work, the power of technology to reinvent the way that we manage employment and why “free” can be such a powerful marketing channel.

The interview:

Steve Pell: Ben, thanks for having a chat today. Perhaps if you could start by telling me a little bit about Employment Innovations?

Ben Thompson: Thanks Steve, my pleasure to be involved.

Employment Innovations has a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, which is to improve the way that employment is managed around the world. We do this in a range of ways.

We’ve got a twenty-five year legacy. Starting with employment law, we’ve got a team of leading employment lawyers and migration agents working in house to keep business compliant. Then we help people manage the day-to-day administration of employment through payroll management, HR technology, HR consulting and safety.

We have a global employee reward and recognition platform called Power2Motivate, to guide the softer side of people management.

More recently what we’ve added, and this is where we’re really excited, is employmenthero.com which is a HR software platform that gives a small and medium sized business all the tools to manage employment from recruitment through to payroll, to performance management and employee benefits.

The platform manages the entire HR process and what we’ve discovered is that businesses who previously never had access to these tools are now finding they can employ more staff, be more efficient, and even for HR managers who had been tied down in administration, by using technology we can give them a hand to get up and start being really strategic.

Steve Pell: Could you talk about who some of your clients are at the moment?

Ben Thompson: Yes, we’ve got a really broad spread of clients. Everyone from your mum and dad biz corner store and franchises, we work with many of Australia’s leading franchise groups. We’re comfortable working with a small business, single store enterprise or a start-up business, giving them the tools and the HR expertise that they need to get started.

Then we move up into supplementing an existing HR function, taking on a lot of the day-to-day payroll services and those types of things. A good example of this would be Mamamia, which is an online publication.

Then we move into more enterprise type clients, like ANZ Bank for example, where we run a large employee reward and recognition program – and we do this for a range of global organisations too.

Another interesting area is businesses that have come into Australia from off shore and have no exposure to the Australian employment law landscape. CGI Glass Lewis is an example of this and we’ve run a lot of its HR services as well.

So it’s a broad spectrum, we’ve worked with everyone from Baker’s Delight and Michel’s Patisserie through to ANZ Bank.

Steve Pell: I’m interested, you’ve evolved from law towards perhaps some of the softer parts of HR like reward and recognition. Has the way you sell and market changed materially as you’ve kind of evolved the group that way?

Ben Thompson: Yes, it definitely has. When you’re an employment lawyer, you’re waiting for people to have a problem. You need to be known but you can’t really sell your product.

I really like products. I like taking all of that intellectual property and turning it into an affordable commodity that every business can use. Again, it’s part of our Big Hairy Audacious Goal to make employment easier and to improve the way employment is managed. If we can package that and achieve it in a product, then we can take that out to market and sell it. Marketing that is a very different thing.

Steve Pell: Let’s talk about that a little bit because it’s a great goal. To have that goal though, you’ve got to have pretty strong views around what work is potentially going to look like in 10 years’ time compared to today.

Ben Thompson: Thanks Steve, this is an area that I could talk all day about, as I’m so passionate and intrigued by it. There are two massive changes in our economy and around the planet that will dramatically affect work.

The first one is digitising technology. So, through 3D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence, and just a general digitisation of work that’s not currently digitised, you’re going to see a massive change and reduction in the number of jobs that exist.

We’re seeing that happen already and at the same time at this stage only 40% of the world’s population have internet access. As our existing jobs are changing, a further 60% of the planet’s population will enter the workforce – and they’ll be educated online too using their tablet or phone. You’re going to have this massive supply of work, and a change to the work that needs to be done.

As these two things happen, what I think you’ll see arise is an on demand workforce. We’re already seeing this with Uber and Delivery Hero and all sorts of other on demand services emerging.

I think we’ll see that work actually starts to change, and rather than seeing the job as being a 38 hour a week permanent fixture, businesses will start to look at all of the things they need done. Then they’ll break those down into tasks, and they’ll have access to an abundant workforce all over the planet that can work on those tasks. It’ll be a matter of matching tasks with the best people and the most efficient way to get them done.

Steve Pell: Let’s talk about from there how you come back and integrate those insights into your current product suite?

Ben Thompson: Yes, it’s a big leap, isn’t it? It’s really hard to reconcile where things are going over 20 years and where we are today. Certainly for us, we’re digitising what we did five years ago. We’re a law firm, we’re an HR consultancy – Employment Hero is digitising what we do.

We can deliver employment contracts, award interpretation, time and attendance systems, HR policies, all that intellectual property that you would normally go and see a lawyer to get. Now we’ve put that into a platform, we can deliver it to thousands upon thousands of employers with lawyers sitting back here in the office regularly updating the entire system.

Steve Pell: Do you see yourself as a thought leader in the future of work? Is that like a role that you have in the business?

Ben Thompson: Yes, it is. By setting a Big Hairy Audacious Goal to permanently improve the way employment is managed around the world, it means that we have to be thinking about how employment is currently managed and how it will be in the future.

I’m always thinking about that. In fact, I’m obsessed by it. I’m thinking about it day in and day out, and it causes the team to be thinking that way too.

For me, to set a big goal like that is something that requires a lot of thought, and then it is to lead by example in coming up with ideas and innovating around that particular problem.

Steve Pell: Let’s talk about how you market and sell the business right now. What channels are you getting the most leverage out of across the business?

Ben Thompson: We’ve got a bunch of things going on. The first is a form of marketing but also part of our product. A key element of Employment Hero is that it’s free. We offer candidate management tools, a jobs board and paperless onboarding process, so employers can easily induct somebody into their business. All of that is free. Getting that product out there and giving it away is probably the best form of marketing that we can do.

Since December, we’ve signed up just on 5,000 businesses, which I think is phenomenal growth for any web platform in this country. Closer to home to traditional marketing, we’re investing a lot on the website and in content. We have an in-house professional content writer, who is producing great content across a whole bunch of products, again, across employee reward and recognition, the legal side of the business, every part of the business.

We’re taking that thought, that content, and we’re propagating it to create conversations and a dialogue with our interested fans and parties across all of social media, from LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook and even getting into things like Instagram too.

Steve Pell: Fantastic. I’m interested to jump into a little bit of the social media. Are you getting leverage, into the B2B side of your marketing? Or is it more from the consumer adoption side?

Ben Thompson: It is more from the consumer adoption side.

But look, I was probably a little late to the game in online social media marketing.

A few years later, that’s where the people are and the engagement rates are high. For example Instagram, which I think is like 80% engagement, that’s incredibly high and there’s a huge population en masse moving towards it.

It doesn’t have the spite that Twitter has either; it’s a pleasant place to be most of the time. If that’s where people are going because they love it, then that’s where you need to go too. You don’t say, “Oh, that’s a place for consumers, for the consumer market only.” It’s where they are, so speak to them. That’s why we’re going down that path.

Steve Pell: What about your big passions over the next couple of years? Where are you going to be driving the business?

Ben Thompson: For me as the thought leader in the business, it’s understanding those radical changes to the structure of work and making sure that we’re ahead of the curve. It’s building the ability to manage work online through a clever platform, and ensuring our product evolves down that track as quickly as the market evolves. That’s my piece.

Where the business will go? The market has moved to mobile, so we need to move 100% mobile and expand globally. As I said, we’ve extending our footprint into Asia and into the UK with Power2Motivate, and we can follow that with Employment Hero shortly.

Steve Pell: Fantastic. Ben, that’s been really interesting. Thank you so much for taking the time to have a chat.

Ben Thompson: No worries, thanks Steve.

Thought Leaders Series: Julie Mills, CEO at ITCRA

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Julie Mills_Bio_Pic_2014

Julie Mills on building a community, social media and always finding the time to blog

In this week’s HR Thought Leader interview, we feature Julie Mills. Julie is the CEO of ITCRA (the professional body for the ICT contracting and recruitment sector in Australia and New Zealand). As an association, ITCRA continues to generate significant attention using some very interesting approaches to research, partnership and social media.

In the interview, Julie chats to Steve Pell about the ITCRA approach to thought leadership, the importance of research and data and how ITCRA has significantly increased its returns from social media.

The interview:

Steve Pell: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me Julie. Let’s jump straight in with the subject of Associations and thought leadership. There are a bunch of the Associations who’ve just gone straight for thought leadership as the core of everything they do. Is this something you buy into?

Julie Mills: I think the whole thought leadership thing is really around what you cultivate rather than just making big statements. It’s about what you cultivate within the network that the Association represents as – opposed to getting out there and making big bold change-the-world statements.

Our CEO Circle for instance, at ITCRA, is a classic example. It was originally branded as a thought leadership process. What it’s ended up with is really just a conversation. It’s 30 of the industry’s CEOs sitting around a table. So it’s around bringing a whole lot of people that wouldn’t normally sit in a room together and engaging in discussion that makes recommendations for the improvement and benefit of the whole industry. Is that thought leadership or just leadership?

Steve Pell: What about your own thought leadership – what kind of response are you getting to your writing?

Julie Mills: It’s just escalating. I have a target that I publish something every Friday. Sometimes it’s a bit of a killer but it’s done. It’s usually based on something we’ve either developed or a topic that I think we should be leading into.

Something on privacy awareness, which I probably thought would be my worst piece for reaction, had the highest response rate from across the industry. Not just from Members but from clients, contractors, Privacy commissioners… there’s a whole range. It actually surprises me how far that reaches.

Steve Pell: How do you decide what you’re going to write each Friday?

Julie Mills: Sometimes it’s based on what’s going on in here, but I’ve got a backlog of writing if I’m having a bad week and I haven’t got anything done. The one this week will be directly based on our research which we’re publishing today.

Today I met with a guy – and I’ll develop a blog around this – who was showing me a new software product.

Steve Pell: After a while you just start to see blog ideas everywhere you look…

Julie Mills: Yes, and I love to write. I love public speaking. It’s things I just enjoy doing. I believe that because I’m real about it. I enjoying sharing those experiences, and I don’t pretend to be something I’m not.

Steve Pell: Do you have views around how we’re going to see in the employment and recruitment market change over the next 5-10 years?

Julie Mills: There’s this constant push/pull between transactional relationships in recruitment and real person-to-person relationships. If there’s one thing that the market is pushing for it’s to pay less and less for the recruitment process.

They’ll look anywhere else they can to get cheaper solutions. They’ll try and do the hiring themselves. They’ll go to some of these employment marketplaces where people put their resumes up and just go and download them. That makes it a very transactional process.

But there are more and more conversations around partnerships between a recruitment organisation and the client too. It’s getting less about “you’re going to supply on this set margin for three years” and more about, “Okay, I’m your recruitment partner, what do you see as your talent pipeline? What do you see you need for the next five years and how can I make sure you’re continuing to get that? I’m going to work as a partner with you.”

Steve Pell: Tell me about your research at ITCRA.

Julie Mills: What we’ve had for 10 years now is a programme called SkillsMatch.

Basically our Members voluntarily put in their data around placements they’ve done in the month, how long it’s taken to fill the role, what they’re paying the contractors, etc., and it’s fed into a centralised system.

So there’s a dashboard that says, “What’s the hourly rate being paid to contractors in different states? Is it permanent? Is it contract? How long does it take you to fill roles?” Believe it or not it takes 84 days to fill an ICT role in ACT at the moment because today’s report says that.

We also partner with Burning Glass which is a big aggregator from the States – and with RIB report which provides industry benchmarking. The medium to really small businesses in our Membership feed their financial data into this report every month, and that is reviewed and analaysed and shows them whether they’re tracking above the average, below the average and what they need to do to improve their business.

Now we’ve partnered with Seek too, we’re actually discussing data from them to compare what they’ve got on an Australia/New Zealand wide scale against what we’re seeing. It pretty much marries up but it provides for some interesting comparisons.

We also do some stuff around what’s coming down the pipeline. What are the disruptors? What are the new things that are interrupting the industry? These pieces start conversations which often end up back at the CEO Circle, so all the pieces link together.

Steve Pell: Are there other channels that you use to communicate with your Members? Do you go down a social media route?

Julie Mills: Oh yes. We run a number of LinkedIn groups. We use Twitter. We’re building our Facebook page for our Dinner this year for the first time. Again, it’s about having the resources to do it well.

It’s having somebody who can dedicate the time and keep it up-to-date. I can’t stand social media that’s a hundred years old, figuratively speaking.

Steve Pell: Is there one secret you have to make sure you get ROI on social media? What do you think has really improved your returns there?

Julie Mills: Being responsive. I think the biggest frustration for people in social media is when they don’t get a response. Now we’re able to respond within the hour. Our Membership growth is almost totally from social media of late.

The second thing is having enough things that you’re reading and following to fill in the gaps when you’ve got nothing to say. It’s not that you need to say something every day but you need to say something of interest regularly enough that people come back worrying that they’re missing something.

We do make an effort to linking it all together, so if we put out some new insights there’ll be a media release, a blog, there’ll be all the LinkedIn stuff, if it’s relevant it’ll go to Facebook, and we’ll Tweet. You have that whole chain and that chain just goes on every day.

Steve Pell: It sounds like you’ve got a really good integrated approach where things feed out across your entire platform.

Julie Mills: We also use four journals that I have columns in. Quite often I won’t write a new piece, I’ll just pull a piece I’ve done on the blog or whatever, and rework it to fit that particular audience, then retweet it and reblog it. We have integrated the approach because I think everyone reads something differently.

We just thought, okay, we have to communicate to our Members. We have to communicate to the clients or the market our Members are in. We have to communicate to government in some way if we can. So we’ve got all relevant Ministers, anyone we can, following. When I started and I was doing this, we probably had 30 people in that group, now we’re up to thousands.

Recruiters, and particularly ICT recruiters, are never off their phones, are never off their iPads or handheld devices. If you’re popping up in front of them regularly through the social media stuff they follow, you’re reaching your market and you’re getting people engaged. 

Steve Pell: I can see how it helps having a dedicated social media specialist. But how do you find time to write your blogs?

Julie Mills: Peter Bregman’s 18 minutes a day rule. The 18 minute rule changed my life. I saw him present at a conference, him and Malcolm Gladwell are probably the two people I’ve seen at conferences that I’ve walked away from and never forgotten.

Associations are all consuming. You can work 24/7. There is not a minute of the day where there’s not something you need to be doing. The 18 minutes book stopped me from being all over the shop. I actually mentor a group of Association CEOs based on that book, and it’s just been critical in finding the time to write.

Steve Pell: Fantastic, some great insights there, thank you Julie.

Julie: Thank you.