Strivin & Thrivin E10. Garth Quinn

Strivin & Thrivin Ep10. Garth Quinn – Leading the Recruitment Function at Uniting


This week on the Strivin & Thrivin podcast we talk to Garth Quinn, Recruitment Manager at Uniting.

While reflecting on his career path, we take a trip down memory lane to Garth’s time working in cinemas, where he tells us the truth about the popcorn! 

But as we get down to the nitty gritty in this podcast, we discuss the challenges of internal recruitment. Garth explains the challenge of stakeholder management: you don’t tend to deal with in-agency and adopting the company culture in order to make the right hires. 

Garth also sheds some light on how the role of an in-house recruiter can be drastically different from industry-to-industry, highlighting the sensitivity required in social care industries and the ability to adapt professionally to provide a duty of care. 

“The biggest learning coming into aged care is the protection of our clients and protection of the organization,” says Garth, “It’s a critical service that we provide to our clients and if we don’t have the right people in the right place, then [the patients] suffer”. 

For people considering a career path in aged care, this is a great listen.

Despite being in a niche industry, Garth stresses the importance of keeping your finger on the pulse, ensuring you’re caught up with the latest industry news both inside and outside your sector, networking internally as well as externally wherever you can, both for your own growth and development but to also ensure you are working ahead of the curve. There are learnings and transitional skills that be applied to various industries.

During our chat we cover everything from the ‘recruiter whinge’ and everyday bugbears to leading with data to ensure credibility and transparency when hiring new recruits. Gareth is a firm believer that there are no shortcuts on recruitment and success is born from strict processes. Favourtising strategy and policy. 

Listen to the latest episode of Strivin & Thrivin for the latest insight from HR professionals on career success. 


Laura: I’m your host, Laura Johnson. And today I’m lucky enough to have Neil Gunning as my wonderful co-host. Today we’re thrilled to be joined by Garth Quinn.

Garth to get us started. Can you tell us a little bit about your career background to date?

Garth: Yes. So, like a lot of people, I never thought that I’d ever be a recruiter, I didn’t really know what a recruiter was.

I started a little over 15 years ago in an agency called Frontline Retail. I went there looking for a job. I used to run cinemas back in the day. I went there, looking for a job, spent six hours there on a Monday, spent six hours there on the Tuesday, and was working there Wednesday and I have been recruiting ever since I did a fit fair stint in-agency. My first internal job was setting up Hitachi construction machinery functions.

So, that was the middle of the mining boom, you couldn’t get a heavy diesel mechanic to save your life anywhere in the country. That was that first internal role. The mining boom came off and it was good timing. I joined Holcim at the start of the big infrastructure boom here in Sydney and across Australia.

So again, at Holcim, one of the launch concretes and building materials companies. So, I revitalised that function, and spent a couple of years there as building and construction started to flatten out and I thought, well, what’s the next boom industry and I’ve ended up in Aged Care and the sort of Social space.

So, uniting looking after ACT and New South Wales with 10,000 people, we’re on a projection to grow by another 3000 within the next three years, basically driven by Aged Care. We also play early learning, which obviously is another high growth area currently and then we do a whole range of social programs around children, youth, and families.

So, it’s a pretty diverse business when it comes to the types of services that we run, what works in ageing, doesn’t work for early learning and what works in early learning doesn’t work for our social programs. So, it’s quite a complex business.

Neil: Wow.  So, the first question has to be when you were running cinemas, did you get free popcorn?

Garth: Yes. I don’t know if everyone knows this, but the box costs more than popcorn. Right? That’s how the cinemas make their money. There’s more in the cost of the box than there is in the cost of the popcorn, and you are paying 9,10, $12 for it, whatever the price is these days.

Neil: I’m keen to talk about that leap from Cinema up into six-hour and starting on the Wednesday.

It’s funny because, you know, I mean, we’ve been around the tracks for quite a while, and I don’t think I’ve spoken to anyone who’s actively said no, no, I was targeting recruitment. Everyone fell into it somehow. What was it about the frontline retail? I think you said what was up about frontline retail that made you target them and want a job with them without knowing anything about the industry?

Garth: I hadn’t really thought about it as a career. So that was what the first six hours were a couple of chats with a couple of different people there at frontline sort of a couple of hours with one of the managers, and then a couple of hours with the team. And then I went and had a coffee with another one. So that first day was all about, well, what is this thing called recruitment? What is it about? And then the next day was really sort of diving into those skills that you need to be a good recruiter and that’s that sort of communication, the follow-up as much as we probably all thought. That attention to detail around getting things right and putting everything in the right order. So that next day was about, well, do I have the skillsets to do it? I almost didn’t make my first probation period. Didn’t do enough. I scraped through somehow and then, these 16 years later, whatever it is, I’m still doing it.

Neil: Wonderful. How long did you spend at Frontline?

Garth: Three years off the top of my head. So, retail, especially, then Reece, the plumbing supply company. They, when they expanded, I was a key partner for them expanding all their stores. So, they moved to like, that’s when all those reno shows were just launching. Right? So, tap wear and baths became sexy.

So, we actually started recruiting high-end fashion sales assistants to sell taps and baths, and we were doubling and tripling some of those salaries for them because they’re getting paid 40 grand in retail and earning 120 in Reece on commission.

Neil: Awesome. So, tell me that three years and your first recruitment role barely scraped through probation, but you managed to scrape through and you were there for another two and a half years.

What was the learning? Tell me that when you’re going from cinema and to such a highly competitive industry, tell me about that learning journey. What the key, key skills you learned and how that whole three years played out.

Garth: What I learnt about recruitment at Frontline was amazing. Frontline’s big business. The franchise across the country have been around for a long time, with really good systems, really good processes for those listening. We actually had manual files. So, if the system went down, we actually had a manual file for each candidate and you could actually manually go and find them in the database that was were in filing cabinets.

We used to fax it. I still remember these faxing resumes to area managers. It was sitting in the store like Broadway or Chatswood so they could meet their candidates. So, the technology wasn’t the driver, but the process was the driver. So, I had a, a KPI sheet that must have had 16 or 17 boxes on it.

And that’s how we got measured. That’s how you and… It was measured in a way that added value, right? So, you’ll measure things that drove outcomes. You’ve measured things that drove success. So, you could look at your conversions between a number of candidates you sent versus your number of interviews.

You had to placements, the number of placements you had with the top 10 clients, all these KPIs were key and it’s held me in good stead now because recruitment is about data and recruitment is about friends and it’s about being able to identify and see what’s happening before it becomes an angry phone call from the hiring manager, or you’re sitting in front of a director going, please explain why we have no candidates.

So that’s, I think the thing that I learned at Frontline was that if you follow the process if you follow the steps, you will get the outcome that you want. There are no shortcuts. Follow the process, follow the steps, look at what you’re doing constantly, review and see, where can I be better? Where can I improve?

Neil: Awesome. How does that data that you looking at change if you fast forward to your internal career? So, agency your learning, that’s where you can build your knowledge. Obviously, a complete lens shift when you move internal, what data points are you then adding to the mix in terms of how to engage, what success looks like and how to ensure success?

Garth: So you’re not writing placement on a whiteboard somewhere or ringing a bell. Good old days, right? We did have a bell at Frontline and there was one day I rang it 14 times. So, you start looking at the things like any sort of KPI that you want to look at, you need to be able to be somewhat in control of.

There’s no point in trying to measure something that you’re not in control of. So, you can still look at that basic stuff, like how many candidates you’re sending, who’s getting placed, what’s your conversion rate and that will give you a bit of an insight, but then you start looking at things like your time to fill and your time to hire, where your chokepoints are in your process, where you are losing candidates.

So, then comes the process as a whole end-to-end, what does it look like? Yeah, we’ve decided that we’re going to go and hire Bob. Where does Bob get stuck now? I’ve worked in high compliance industries. So obviously aged care is a whole bunch of checks that need to happen before you can even start, how do we even ensure that candidate experience through those checks are something that we don’t lose candidates at that point?

How quickly do our hiring managers go from receiving a resume to actually meeting the candidate? Is there a choke point? Looking at the process as a whole end-to-end and you almost take a candidate point of view, as opposed to the recruiter point of view, where if you follow the candidate’s journey, you’ll identify where there are going to be issues in industries where I’ve recruited. Where it’s so candidate-poor, the competition is so high. You need to make sure that your experience is giving the candidate the path of least resistance to joining your organisation.

Neil: Awesome. So great data points that you’re sort of adding today, their arsenal of how to make these peoples world as black and white as possible.

How does your lens and your style change when you’re going from an agency, what are the growth areas for you when you went from agency to internal and how did you have to change your style, your approach, everything to make sure you’re rising to those changes?

Garth: It’s funny. So often there’s a perception when you move from an agency into internal that you’re not selling anymore. The selling element disappears. It’s a different type of sale now, but one of the things an agency recruiter does is if you don’t like a particular client. If they’re not playing ball, if they’re difficult to work with, you don’t ever ring them again. You can make a decision to sack a client, right? I’ve done that before in-agency where I’ve gone, they are too hard, I can’t be bothered dealing with it and there are easier ways to make money. Unfortunately, internally that’s not the case.

So, it’s a different type of stakeholder engagement process that you need to go through and it’s a different type of stakeholder engagement too, about your own performance. So again, just like an agency where you can give a client a poor experience. They’ve got a selection of a number of different other recruitment agencies they could go to tomorrow to help them with that piece of recruitment internally, you’ve got these two challenges.

You’ve got your own team or your own performance and your team’s performance’s ensuring that you’re engaging with hiring managers and stakeholders that way and then the other side of it is if a stakeholder is doing what you need them to do, how do you go and re-engage with them to ensure that they understand that if they take four weeks to come back to us about resumes, they’re not going to have candidates?

So, often those conversations go back to data. You can show people that, Hey, look, we like… You can take a hiring manager or I’m not getting enough people what does that mean? Let’s look it out. Let’s how many applications, did we? had, what sourcing have we done? This is the pool. So, then you can have a conversation that’s more around, well, this is what’s out there in the market.

Because remember a recruiter’s job is not to find the perfect candidate it’s to find the best available candidate in the market right now. So, when you have that conversation, well, actually I know you want 25 years experience but that doesn’t exist. What we have been able to work with is here’s 5 years of experience, 10 years experience we’ve gone and talked to all these people, and they’re not interested.

I often talk about the recruiter whinge. There’s never enough money and there are not enough candidates. But if you can show that through data, it makes a really compelling argument that it’s not the process that’s wrong or the process that’s broken. It’s more about this, this is what the market’s doing right now and how do we go and get the best candidate out of that market.

Neil: Great overview. So, when you made that first leap into internal, correct me if I’m wrong, that was heavy industry, is that right? But since then, so I’m going to go ahead and assume that a lot of those learnings you’ve carried with you through that heavy industry, but really especially given recent events, I’m really keen to understand that leap after that end to aged care, early learning and so on and so forth.

First question, how has the last year being and the learning journeys? The first question would be, how have you had to grow, change your style, build on what you’d already learned previously and an entirely new industry like Aged Care, Early Learning with Uniting.

Garth: I think going internally into different organisations and the difference between Hitachi and Holcim from the outside probably look very similar. They’re both blue-collar, every industry or Hitachi is a very, very conservative organisation and the way that it runs Holcim is very direct. So again, you have to learn the style of the organisation that you’re going into, what sort of culture plays within the organisation and as recruitment you’re, you’re part of the keeper of the culture. You’ll try to match people to the culture of the organisation. So, you do need to get a really good understanding of what’s it like to work here in this place. Are the values just on the wall or are they actually lived each day? So, getting that understanding is probably the first big hurdle of a recruitment leader.

Recruiter going into an organisation is what’s my role here. When we do go and recruit people, how important is culture? What’s it like? And then are we selling the truth or is this something different? So, getting your head around all those things are really important when you move into a different organisation add to that, then a different industry and an understanding of that industry.

So Aged Care generally the biggest learning for me has been compliance. We have a protection role, and it’s something that you think you sort of know about in other industries, but one of the biggest learnings in recruiting in Care and Social spaces is we are putting people in with vulnerable clients.

So, we need to make sure that we have a duty of care to the clients that we are giving them the right people at the right time with the right qualifications. So that’s been the biggest learning coming into Aged Care is that protection of our clients and protection of the organisation in terms of making sure that we have the right people coming into our organisation, which is something I haven’t experienced before in those other industries.

The other thing that’s really different is, and I experienced this on my third day at Uniting, I went into one of our Aged Care facilities in the Inner West here in Sydney and had a bit of a tour and realistically it was my first time going into an Aged Care facility ever. My Nan was in one, but really minimal contact to that space. This one happens to have a high population of people who have lived rough their whole lives and so, there’s a lot of mental illness and a lot of other conditions that are tied to that. That was one of the confronting experiences I had. That was my third day in and we’ve come back to Paramatta road and a Holcim, a concrete truck drove past just as I was walking out the back door of the aged facility and I turned to Jill, who’s the HRD here and said Jill, “I’ve recruited concrete truck drivers for the last three years, now if that person didn’t turn up the concrete still would’ve got delivered”. Some people would get angry, but at the end of the day, the concrete would have got delivered. If we don’t have people turn up in the building, we’ve just left, that means people aren’t getting care and means they aren’t getting a bath, they aren’t getting fed.

So, it’s put in stark reality actually what we do in recruitment in Aged Care, it’s not about moving boxes. It’s not about Customer Service. It’s a critical service that we provide to our clients and if we don’t have the right people in the right place, then they suffer.

Neil: I love the gravitas. You know, you’ve found that, that cause I fully agree.

What would your advice be then to people that were maybe just jumping into the recruitment world and Aged Care, so perhaps guide them, or giving them advice on how to manage the, you know, the inherent human response that you’re going to have you had it on your third day? You know that going into an Aged Care unit hit you like a ton of bricks it sounds like it gave you, it was a bit of a perspective.

However, you’ve still got a job to do, you still have to balance that emotive connection, the objectivity, what would your advice be to people just getting into it, to maybe guide them on how to manage that?

Garth: Yeah it can’t get lost. In fact, we do need to provide an outcome and get back to where we started it. Recruitment is about outcomes, it’s one of the most black and white services that anyone can provide. What we do today, you can almost price what impact that had on the outcomes we provided in two weeks time, right? If we go and rewrite this ad, or if we do this social media campaign, we put in this policy in regards to the way we collect compliance.

Everything in recruitment is trackable, measurable and you can be accountable for it. So, that’s not a bad thing. It means we can show the business how we’re helping them, what value we’re adding. So, embrace that transparency. A great example is we recruit at Ivanhoe, which is 150k’s East of Broken Hill, so we need support workers, people that go into the homes to look after elder people. There are 17 people of working age in all of Ivanhoe. It’s a population of 150 people, lots of old people, some young people. So, we understand that we need to deliver an outcome, but the outcome is not going to happen.

So, that’s when we started engaging a bit and say, look, this is the practicality of it. The sustainable long-term outcome would be to pay someone to drive from Broken Hill and do this work and that’s where we’ve landed. Now that’s where you’ve worked with the business, understanding that at the end of the day, there are clients that need to be served and you’ve come up with a reasonable, sustainable long-term solution.

That isn’t the model that we want, but that’s the model that’s achievable and that’s a lot of what recruitment needs to do is give advice, information, data, whatever that might be to give an answer because recruitment is, and when I was in back in the agency, it was always recruitment’s the hardest sell, right?

Selling a car is easy because the car doesn’t choose who buys the car, same with houses. Recruitment is that double sell. So as an organisation, we can say, we want all these people, but if we’re not selling something or engaging with people, then they will vote with their feet and not come join us. So that’s what it was going to remember about recruitment is that it’s a double sell. It’s a job that needs to be filled, but people need to choose it and it’s unlike any other transaction that happens in society.

Neil: So, Garth, I mean, through your career, you’ve gone from being the IC all the way through to, you know, being the leader of the recruitment teams and driving strategy, etc, etc.

What was the key learning? What were the key things and growth areas for you going from IC to leadership? What are the key pieces of advice you would give to others who are looking to make that leap into TA and Recruitment Leadership when they’ve got a solid background at being a good IC.

Garth: I think one of the things I’ve learned is you don’t know everything. It’s impossible to know everything about recruitment, right? So don’t lose sight of the fact that I know I still do it now. You need to somewhat be in the trenches learning, like doing recruitment to understand recruitment. So never sit in an office, a step removed from the front line. You need to be listening. You need to be using the system. You need to be talking to hiring managers. You need to be doing recruitment and if you lose that connection to the process, connection to your team, you’re not going to know what’s happening out there and again, that comes down to things like market conditions.

If you go and recruit a role, hang on a second. There are no candidates in this particular role and I’ll give you a real example of that. When I first started here, I did a volunteer-lead position recruiting. So, something that should have got a bunch of interest, we are a big not-for-profit interesting volunteer programs.

So went to market, did everything right. We got no candidates, what’s wrong here? Now, if I was sitting in my office telling someone else to do that wrong, I wouldn’t have discovered that we had a 90% drop-off rate in our application form, because I went back and went and did the data I went, well, hang on.

I’m just going to say simple stuff. So, our ATS was causing 90% of people to say, no, I’m not interested in applying for a role at Uniting, ‘cause it was such a high benchmark to get through. So that sort of stuff can only happen if you don’t lose contact with the business and to the process, the second half of leadership and recruitment is being the real subject matter expert, but understanding the markets, living and breathing. Like I’ve learned more about Aged Care and Early Learning in the last two years than I care to admit.

That’s my industry. That’s my space. I need to be able to constantly talk about it in ways that, as a state where the shortage is, what are the trends? Having that at your fingertips. So, you can add value to the senior leadership, where are the gaps, push ideas, but no idea should be frowned upon all right.

Challenge as much as you can and you don’t always win, but if you keep coming up with those challenges…look it took me 18 months to be able to get through that we needed to change our ATS. So, keep those things, have your evidence have your data and keep going back. So, there are two elements, make sure you connect to your team and your process and the hiring managers in the business and secondly, understand where your business fits into the wider community and the wider industry. So, you know the answer before someone asks you the question almost.

Laura: Okay. Just jumping in on that, like becoming a subject matter expert, how do you stay on top of everything that’s going on? What go-to learning resources do you have or how does that happen for you?

Garth: I think the other thing about being internal is that you’re the only one doing recruitment in your business. You’ve got your team, but we do recruitment the way Uniting does so one of the things I think is really important is that there are networking abilities within the internal space.

There are definitely different channels and options to go in and reach out and speak to other internal people, because how I recruit will be different to how Neil does it and how Neil does it in different businesses. So, you can go and learn from each other, you can discover other ideas and I think that’s almost part of that subject matter expertise to what’s out there in the market, not just for your own industry, but what’s the latest piece of tech can that help my business move forward or, or not for us make those types of decisions as well.

But then what I’ve also done is always around the industries, I’ve got a network of probably half a dozen to a dozen, like me in other Social Care industries, right? Talking to them constantly around what’s happening in the market, then you’ve got all your normal channels is the peak bodies and those types of things as well.

So, there is a lot of information out there. I scroll through stuff on LinkedIn on Sunday nights, watching something silly on the TV and it’s reading an article about Aged Care, what’s the future of Aged Care? There’s a lot of information around Aged Care right now with the Royal Commission, but getting in there, getting to the details, there’s a whole bunch of websites and in areas where you can find out population data, what’s the trends in these types of roles? Job outlook, have you ever been on, go, first thing you should do after this is going to have a look at that because it will tell you how good your market is or how poor your market is and depending on your perspective.

I’ve got different types of jobs that you recruit right now and it’s a great source of information that’s free and accessible that can help you make a business case around headcount or marketing campaign or wherever that might be as well.

Laura: Okay. Garth Just as a final question, could you let us know who you’d like to hear from, or how you would like to see on the podcast

Garth: Dave Meere from Life without Barriers is an interesting chap, he’s done some interesting, interesting stuff.


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