In the Slipstream – Episode 20 – Podcast with Alisdair Barr – Grad Mentor

 

 

Scott Charlton:
Hello and welcome to In the Slipstream FM, the podcast which helps accountants and financial planners run a better business. My name’s Scott Charlton, and I’m the director of coaching, here at Slipstream Coaching. The topic for this episode is Graduate Recruitment, and employment strategy which worked well for me, back in my days as an accountant practitioner. Too often these days, I see practitioners making reactive employment decisions, often when there’s a crisis. For example, someone has just resigned and there’s an immediate gap to be filled. It’s cold comfort for me to say, “Have you thought about graduates as a built-in succession plan,” at that point. So today’s chat is about embarking on a Grow Your Own program and my guest, Alisdair Barr of Grad Mentor, is an expert in this field. Then, after the main interview is finished, stay around, because I’m going to share with you an observation about potential reason why some firms report better monthly figures than others. Maybe this could be a game changer for your firm. I’m going suggest you try this and see for yourself. Let’s get started.

Recording:
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Scott Charlton:
I mentioned at the outset that today’s guest is Alisdair Barr, who for the past five years has been helping graduates find a place with appreciative accounting and financial planning firms. Alisdair’s got an interesting means by which he does this. Something he calls, speed networking. I’ll let him explain what that entails. I’ve been looking forward to the conversation because it’s a subject close to my heart. No false modesty here, the grads I employed in my accounting firm now include, a partner in a Brisbane CBD firm, a sole practitioner on the Sunshine Coast, a financial controller at a prestigious private school, a senior accountant at Queensland Rail, an executive with a utility organization, a CFO, and a highly successful entrepreneur. I think the latter is semi-retired these days, but I’m not jealous at all.

So my claim to fame is that I park the ego and employed some really bright young people, most of whom had better Uni results than mine. I saw my role as training them up, encouraging, mentoring, and challenging them. Along the way, the did some good work for my firm, a great win-win. So come and I’ll introduce you to Alisdair, I’m sure we’re in for an interesting discussion. So Alisdair, welcome to the show.

Alisdair Barr: 
Thank you very much, it’s great to be here.

Scott Charlton:
So for the benefit of the listeners, would you mind just providing us with a thumbnail sketch of your career, and in particular, how you came to be running Grad Mentor?

Alisdair Barr:
The majority of my career I worked at a major bank, and grew up in financial planning as paraplanner and then into distribution and management. And then did a bit of stint across mortgage broking and distribution in the bank as well. And then came back and helped build out a franchise model in a financial planning dealer group, so my background has always been sort of, more finely in that was to help the small to medium professional services then grow and develop and become successful businesses. And then I left the bank after writing an MBA on financial literacy on how to change or improve financial literacy in Australia without having a product behind it and found ourselves … or myself working with mining companies and indigenous workplace ready programs, and all sorts of amazing things. More of the social enterprise than anything else. And really giving back and that was really exciting after being in a bank for nearly 10 years.

And then Grad Mentor sort of grew out of a need that businesses came to me that I knew from my previous sort of life in the bank … about how to find really great talent in businesses and for something we didn’t do really well when I was working in that business development role. So I went and built and sort of started working with Western Sydney University and went to them and knocked on the door of the dean and asked, “Can I sign your accounting and financial planning students, pay work experience and ultimately jobs,” to which they said, “Yes.” And the rest is kind of history.

Scott Charlton:
Wow. Okay. So for the benefit of the people who don’t know about it, what does Grad Mentor actually do?

Alisdair Barr:
We raise awareness of financial planning and accounting, specifically in small business … small to medium business in Australia as a great place to start and develop, and to have a career. So what we do is we go to Universities, we talk with students, we give them a whole bunch of information, we raise awareness of opportunities outside of the really clear and distinct, traditional opportunities. And then we do all sorts of work with the students around psychiatric assessments, behaviour interviewing, coaching, and grooming, and developing them. And then we take them along to these networking events where we network them with a whole bunch of professional services firms in both accounting and financial planning, where they get to sort of speed network with them. And then ultimately for them to have formal interviews, get paid work experience, and a job.

You know we only work in new entrants to profession, we don’t … we’re not recruiters, we don’t headhunt people, we don’t move people around the profession, we don’t charge our students or anything to attend or be involved in it. It’s all about promoting small to medium financial services to them as a great career place. And we only work with new entrants, so we have a net positive growth footprint for those professions.

Scott Charlton:
Very good. Very good. So the business model, in terms of how you get paid, it is with the employers that take on the graduates?

Alisdair Barr: 
Yeah, we get paid by industry so the only similarity with recruitment is we have a flat fee. It’s not percentage base, so we’re not encouraged to get bigger salaries or anything like that, it’s a flat fee. And we only charge on successful outcome, not with engagement. And we have a trial period so there’s basically … people come along to the event, with a small fee to come to that if they’re not an existing client. And then if they like, if they say, “We like Mary, Peter, and Jane,” Mary, Peter, and Jane will turn up in their office for interview. If nothing progresses than there’s no fee. And if they like Jane, and they take Jane on for a trial period there’s a fee. And if they take her on permanently there’s a fee.

Scott Charlton: 
Excellent. Okay. Now I guess I’d like to declare my hand, I’m an unabashed fan of graduate recruitment, so philosophically, you’ve obvious sort of got some views in terms of graduates as a pool from which to draw one’s workforce. Is that … to what extent should that be part of the planning for your small to medium businesses, do you think?

Alisdair Barr: 
I think there’s a lot of positives and also some negatives in both employing graduates, new entrants to the profession, unskilled, unexperienced … or inexperienced versus bringing someone experienced into the business, right? So if we just talk about some of the positives, I think it’s really important that one, we also address the fact that these are millennials coming straight out of University, and there’s various studies … including a PWC one that I recall that says in about three years’ time, more than 50% of the global workforce will be millennials. So it’s a group that demographic in a generation that we need to engage with, we can’t avoid them. That’s the first thing … but truth, taking new entrants into your business that don’t come with the baggage and don’t come with the experience, means that you can invest time and train and develop those people the way you want things done. So they might not cost as much money as a salary, so they’re lower cost by way of salary, but they do require more time investment.

They’re also not a quick win, so a lure of employing an accountant or a financial planner into a business that’s got experience and has got clients and all that sort of stuff means that they will be paying for themselves sooner than later and that’s the lure. But then they don’t necessarily … you can necessarily train them the way you want them to be trained, because they come with that experience. So I think that graduates need to be part of the plan, not necessarily all of the plan, and they’re a longer term investment. So, if you need succession in the next 12, 18 months then no, but if you have a longer time plan, or a longer time succession or a business’s plan, it takes 5, 10 years, then you should definitely have graduates in the mix.

Scott Charlton:
Good day. All right, I’ll come back to something you just mentioned in terms of timeframe a bit later on, but I wanted to ask you is that, as long as I can remember, people in industry have railed against universities saying, “They’re just not turning out people with practical knowledge and experience.” And I don’t think that that sort of criticism has changed in decades. What’s your take on the quality of graduates these days?

Alisdair Barr:
I think the quality of graduates is fantastic. I hear that comment and I also hear the response from universities on that comment saying, “Look, where does our world start and end?” I completely understand that. I think … and you know, there’s a really big push now, I’ve seen a lot of commentary in the last week or so in the technologies and so forth, that people are learning through universities and are they actually the technologies that are going to be the technologies that are actually going to be taking the professions into the future. That’s all set there, the other thing that there seems to be a bit of a gap in is the e-chew, the psychology of relationship building and so forth. And whereas students coming out of University might be technically competent around some accounting function or some superannuation transition to retirement strategy, or whatever that might be, but the e-chew bit and the psychology of understanding people and the ability to build empathy and so forth, is not there or is lacking.

I think there’s certain amounts of things that universities can do around that, but I also think there’s a lot of onus on what the individual and the student have been doing in their own lives to build that … either in their upbringing, but particularly in their work experience. What they’re doing while they’re at University, what sports they’re playing, what community they’re engaging, what were they doing with their extracurricular time. And I think that’s kind of … you know if you look at a university group of university students and they’re all studying the same thing and they all had the same degree … the things that differentiate them are the things that are outside of that university education. And I think that actually is where the magic is.

Scott Charlton:
Nothing’s really changed since I was in that very same position, I think going back to my initial university related interviews. It was as much what I did outside of the uni that was of interest to the employer … the fact that I had done something different, in my case it was Army Reserve, gave both me and the employer’s doing the interviewing something new to talk about. I know they felt pretty grateful after they’d sort of been going through another of number, just sort of normal discussions, that this was something that they hadn’t considered. And I think that was definitely beneficial.

Alisdair Barr:
Absolutely. That’s the differentiator. That is absolutely differentiator. And the questions that we ask in our interview process will not be in an HR menu anywhere because what those people do in their spare time relates to what they’ll do in your business, how they perform, what they do for fun, the fact of the habits they have … they spend a lot of time … we spend a lot of time in the business unit as a team. And cohesion within that team, relationship building with that team, understanding within that team, the ability to support each other in that team … all that stuff, actually is culture but it makes for a better outcome long term.

Scott Charlton:
So what are some of the qualities that an employer should particularly look for when employing a graduate do you think?

Alisdair Barr:
Okay so our client base is small to medium businesses and we love working in that space and so we don’t often work with large organization and so I think they are very different. I think the small to medium businesses should be looking into things like … and they tell us this too, this is the things that are important to them. Attention to detail, which is really interesting, a work ethic, and a work ethic … you ask anybody that’s successful that says that they’ve worked, you know and got the amount of hours to achieve X amount of things and so forth. And what that means to a millennial versus a gen X and baby boomer are different things … but that’s fine. But I think that one of the keys … they’re doing the work in a flat structure, and small to medium businesses or like that will quite often be a family unit or a small amount of directors … you know people that own the business are working in the business and so forth.

And working in the flat structure, you know an example of that is not above picking up the phone when the phone rings. Or not above taking out the rubbish when the rubbish needs to be taken out. And people that do that well, I think have grown up in and around small business, family business, things like that. That way you know, if the worst job in the business needs to be done, the matriarch of the family will go and do it, because it needs to get done, right? So not above that whole, “This is all part of the outcome of the business, so I’ll roll up my sleeves and do it.” And the last one that I think is really important is the demonstration for a drive for results. And we measure a drive for results in our psychometric assessments … to me, that’s kind of the key in a small to medium business.

And what that’s sort of manifests into is things like, “I’m always driven to be … strive to be independent.” So they’ve always been employed, they’ve always had a job, they can explain all their free time, they save money or they can tell you what they spent their first dollar on. Might have been a car, a holiday or whatever. Those things are things that in a small to medium business they should be looking for.

Scott Charlton:
Great answer. I really love that. That’s very good. Conversely, what are some of the barriers that employers raise in terms of employing graduates? And how well founded are those fears, if at all?

Alisdair Barr:
“Well I train them and they leave,” that’s one of the barriers. “They don’t know anything.” “I need to spend time training them.” I’m just giving you a couple and then unpack them. And all of these are really founded right? Because they’re real life experiences, and so you can’t say that they’re not the case, but what are we doing in each of these cases … if we’re starting with the inexperience, they don’t have the skills, we need time to train them. Well yes you do, right? And the fact is that they’ll come to you as a clean sheet of paper and you need to put the building blocks in place to build them up over a period of time, to get them to a place where they are going to be a performing contributor to your businesses, right? So that is … if you can’t sort of put that groundwork down, or put that foundation down then a graduate is not for you. And some businesses they go, “Oh we don’t have …” and that’s fine, each to their own. But that’s sort of one of the litmus tests.

Train them and they’ll leave, you know I get controversial on this one because I can and I do … but I think that businesses need to take a look in the mirror on this one, because there is a propensity in the industry that show that people do like to stay connected to things. So there is the ability for people to stay, and I have seen millennials stay in businesses for five years, you know as long as we’ve been running this program. And then we do also see the moves sooner. I’ve also seen businesses happily empower the individual to live the business and to onwards and prosper with the hope that they’ll spread good word about that business and maybe one day even come back. It’s sort of how you approach that.

But also what we do know in through the research … that I’m happy to share with you and you to share with your listeners, is we know that there’s a period of time where that individual starts to get a bit uneasy in your business and that also happens to coincide that the phone begins to ring from recruiters or head-hunters coming to look at them. And that also coincides with the time … it’s like a perfect storm, where they start to be a valuable contributor, not only a cost to your business. So if we know that point’s coming at some point in the future, it’s what we’re doing now, along that journey to make sure that when that phone call comes, we’ve got those people secured in the business. And I’m sure we’re going to talk about what are some of things we can do to make sure that happens.

But if you have the conversation after they’ve been offered a job or the recruiter’s been on the phone to them, and the conversation generally … “Well how much more money can I pay you to keep you?” That we know, 100% does not buy loyalty, it buys time.

Scott Charlton: 
Yes. Yeah, okay, look that’s really thought provoking. I know going back to my days in practice with my graduate recruitment program … I was perhaps a little more fatalistic that a lot of people would go … but the approach I took was to employ one or more each year, such that you’ve got sort of a built in obsolescence there, if somebody who’s maybe done three years with you, and are becoming very productive … if they go, there’s sort of somebody who’s really looking for more opportunity who’s sort of snapping at their heels. So that was one of the ways that I got around that, the thing was to make sure that people were productive as possible whilst they were with the firm. And that way it’s a good scenario for both employee and employer.

Alisdair Barr:
There’s two bits to what you just said there to, right? There’s one about keeping the individual past that three year gap, but if they do leave, you’ve got the bench waiting.

Scott Charlton: 
Yeah.

Alisdair Barr:  
And so that’s probably back to my initial point, some businesses can’t … not in the size or the complexity of a structure to be able to deliver that. But that’s a perfect world, always have a side bench where all progression or succession for every role you have in that business at all time.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah, I thought it was good and the way I’d tackle it was … first of all I looked for people that are smarter than me, you can’t believe what God left out. And if you fast track their development, then after three to six months they really are quite productive and there’s a golden period from there to the three years that they are … in terms of output per dollar of wage, it’s a beautiful equation and then at three years you’ve got some considerations in terms of what you can continue to offer them if they stay, or if … I know with young accountants that Europe awaits, and it’s a bit of a rite of passage for some of them to do the experience in the UK … as I myself did, so I was philosophical. But what I used to tell people is that, “No matter what you do, the things that you do with me and the experience you get will stand you in good stead, you know, you’ll have a great resume, just let’s have an open conversation if you’re sort of feeling restless, or indeed if there’s a phone call that comes.”

Alisdair Barr:
Well I think that’s part of that whole open dialogue and that open communication … the fact that you were conversations, I don’t know how often they happen. And you know if you can have that open dialogue then you sort of see everything coming, and then you can go … “Well, it’s not that they’ve been poached by somebody next door that’s giving them a better offer, it’s just that they’re going to go and do something that we can’t provide to them, so let’s give them our blessing and onwards and upwards.” And they’ll go and then they’ll spread their wings and maybe they’ll come back and then they’ll be a partner in the future. And so that only happens if the dialogue’s there. If the dialogue’s not there, then one day after two, three years they just pack up and leave for the UK, and you go, “Well I didn’t even see that coming.” And if you didn’t see that coming one … you can’t plan for it, but two … you can’t really have a good open dialogue with that person.

And then also, if you’re not having that open dialogue with that person and the firm down the road offers them a job, the fact they’ve been in a situation where they’ve been offered a job is okay, you’ve already lost them, right? So the dialogue, that communication there, the biggest I reckon.

Scott Charlton:
Now one of the things that really captivates me about the service the Grad Mentor provides is fast tracking this process from sort of, “Yes, I think that’s a good idea to employ a graduate,” to actually getting a person on board. And I know that I invested quite a lot of time, which I was happy to do, to get the right graduate, but the service that you offer just seems to really fast, fast track that … so I think you touched on this aspect, and I picked up the word speed dating, can you just sort of maybe elaborate a little bit on that, that as an employer, if you’re thinking, “Oh look, I’m interested in exploring this,” how you’re service actually sort of helps to sort of fast track it to get to an outcome in a shorter period of time.

Alisdair Barr:
Yeah, sure. And the words speed dating … although it’s never really used, it’s been picked up because people kind of understand … it’s certainly not dating but we call it speed networking, it’s very like that. We take a bunch of bright eyed, bushy tailed, aspiring entrants into the profession … be it accounting or financial planning, along to a very structured, fun, energetic event where we … that where each individual student spends five to seven minutes with each business in rapid succession. So if there’s 15 graduates there and there’s 15 businesses represented, there’d be 15 tables where students will have six, seven minutes at each table … saying who they are, why they’re there, and having a sort of mini interview. And then at the back of that the business goes, “Look, I’d like Mary, Jane, and Peter,” and then we have formal interviews. And you sort of reintroduce the formal structure that most people know.

So that’s kind of how it happens from the business end, from the student’s end to get to those events, the students must engage with Grad Mentor, to do psychometric assessments, do face-to-face behavioural interviews, got through a coaching exercise around presenting themselves and so forth … then they come to the even. We’re constantly working with a group of grads that look like they have gone through that process and we match them up like that. So how the event actually works is … the businesses present themselves at the beginning of the night, no one really knows too much about anybody else, there’s a little bit of sharing of information beforehand … but basically it’s five to seven minutes of getting to know each other.

So most HR people would say, “Don’t act on that, this is purely a good exercise.” So culturally in the first seven minutes, I can work out whether or not this person will click. So if a business goes, “I trust the fact that Grad Mentor has put them through that process, I’m just looking for three people here that will click with us culturally, and we can spend 40 hours a week with them.” And then they get that short list, and we arrange an introduce. That’s how it kind of works.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah, I’m just really, I think that that achieves so much in a very condensed way, I think that’s fabulous. So once the recruitment offer has been made and accepted, and people have come through that process, then I know from my experience, it’s a matter of the employer and employee collaborating to make the new recruiters as productive as possible. Do you have any tips or case studies here?

Alisdair Barr: 
Yeah look, what we … we did a whole piece of research on this stuff so, we went out to see businesses late last year who had kept the students 18 months plus in their business and asked … did a qualitive grad research for that on the student and the business around what they needed in a relationship with each other and it sort of came back with, seven sort of key values that collaborated between that sort of a line with each of them. And then out of that we were able to build a framework around getting people up to the productive level within a business. And the framework kind of comes into a graduate lifecycle and there’s obvious time around the resource … which is what we do, and that’s a whole bunch of psychometric and behavioural, what we just spoke about.

But then there’s this first sort of three to six months for probation and what people can do to really get people on board and get that corporate culture fit and make sure you get peer reviews and … actually we have all developmental and goals and everything and then sort of moving through toward the 12 to 18 months where we’ve actually got a development plan in place for that individual. And having the regular peer conversations, and having the performance reviews regularly, and so helping those people grow through to a point where they’re productive … but that also includes having conversation around career paths, flexibility, future, opportunity, and open dialogue as we mentioned.

So there’s lots of tips and things that we can share around that, and there’s a lot of structure that can be put around that … but sometimes over structure … that’s not even a word, too much structure and that can actually be a deterrent as well, so it’s a really fine balancing act. The most important thing is making sure we can help … or the business can help the new entrant, or the graduate, or the millennial grow and see their opportunity inside that business with open dialogue over time.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah. I guess my two cents worth is, if you are a repeat graduate employer, you actually learn how it works … and I used to employ these really bright people who are high achievers and tell them very early on, “As bright as you are, you’re still going to make certain mistakes, and these are the areas,” and they’d bristle and, “No I won’t, no I won’t.” But yeah, sure enough it happens.

Alisdair Barr:
That’s right.

Scott Charlton:
But just sort of knowing that process I think is good, and certainly my other thought was, “Okay, if you know it and can anticipate it, and know where those bottlenecks are, then you can actually have a strategy in place to sort of perhaps reduce it or head that off at the pass.” And that actually fast tracked it from somebody who’s really bright but not overly useful on day one to sort of getting to that sort of really good sweet spot where they are productive and doing it as fast as you can, rather than let them bumble on for 12 months finding their way. You can sort of hothouse it if you like.

Alisdair Barr:
That’s a really interesting point around being ready for them to make mistakes. I had two cases in my mind that only happened the last week where I’ve the client calling saying, “They haven’t got the grasp of this in the first week.” Then not really taking into account they’re going to fall over here, or test them here, or develop them here, and give them … Making mistakes means people are learning and if you take that attitude and you think like that then you can help people learn and grow. And just, you know, be a little bit patient with that process will pay off long term.

Scott Charlton:
Oh definitely and it certainly pays to remember your own faltering steps when you started in employment-

Alisdair Barr: 
Oh, no, no, I was perfect.

Scott Charlton: 
Okay. Me, I struggled using the photocopier, which I mean is a staple of … The level of sophisticated photocopiers these days, even the best and the brightest at tech support will struggle with a photocopier.

Alisdair Barr: 
Yeah.

Scott Charlton: 
Alisdair, one of the things I was keep to explore with you today is recruiting graduates into financial planning. And I draw the observation that my home base profession, accounting, putting on graduates and training the next generation is part of the deal, you know. It’s how you came into the profession, and then in turn, how you bring others in behind you. Whereas financial planning is a younger profession and it doesn’t have that history and that sense of contributing to the legacy. And often people who have come into financial planning from a different direction … you know maybe it’s a second career, or they’ve come from BDM land, they’re not necessarily sort of steeped in an expectation in terms of what is part of the deal for accounting. So I just was wondering whether you had any observations around that, and what sort of evolution of thinking that there is in financial planning that you’ve seen along these lines.

Alisdair Barr:
I just was gonna use the word evolution and thinking … when you were asking that question. This is really interesting, and it also makes me think about … there was an ad recently on TV or something research or something around, what are the jobs of the future. I’ve got a one-year-old son and what’s his first job gonna be? It’s gonna in 17 years then it is now. So we have this evolution. So when you look at accounting, law, medicine, all these traditional career paths, right? You go university … you finish high school, you go to university, you study this, you go to one of these firms, you go on the partner program, you get taken on by one of your clients or you make it to partnership and that’s sort of it. Or you go through medicine or whatever.

And that’s traditional and that’s safe and that’s always been the way. With financial planning here now, I think there’s 18 universities that are on the FPA approved … the gray list and so forth. So the universities are … provided happen to have degrees in financial planning, but then how people get into those are generally a little bit left of center as well. It’s not like … people don’t hop out of high school going, “I want to be a financial planner.” So there’s a lot of pieces to this spot, so I think firstly when the high school student’s sitting down with mum and dad, talking about what they might go and study at university, then what’s options are coming on to the table there is one bit. So is financial planning an opportunity there? I’m not sure.

Then when they get to university, a lot of students that we work with that are studying financial planning go in to a general commerce degree and then get exposure to a financial planning lecture somewhere along the way who they really engage with … and there’s some fantastic financial planning lectures around universities who have been technicians, or have been financial planners and the millenniums will engage with them and be, “I’m gonna go and major in that.” But I can tell you that we do not have universities chock-a-block with great … oh, I’m sorry … full with students coming out, wanting to be a financial planning enough to sustain just the raw numbers of what’s going on in the financial planning profession at the moment.

Scott Charlton:
Yes, yes.

Alisdair Barr: 
So we’ve got a bit of the chicken and the egg exercise. So when we don’t have enough coming out, the demands gonna increase, the technology’s gonna decrease it, aging population’s gonna increase it, under insurance and under advice of Australian’s is gonna increase it … so there’s gonna be a demand. If you just did raw numbers and said there was 20,000 financial planners in the country and then 10% through natural attrition, laid every year and then 10% are going to get pushed out by technology, and we need to replace through something … then we’ve got 30% on 20,000, that’s 6,000. Do we have 6,000 university graduates coming out of universities every year with financial planning specific qualifications? The answer’s no.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah, yeah so really the two poles … one is this strategic imperative that if you’re going to be in your planning business for a decade or two, then you need to align your workforce planning that way. Too often, my frustration as a coach is, is that there’s no thinking beyond sort of relying on Fred and Deidre to turn up … they’re very experienced people, one might be a paraplanner and one might be an admin assistant, and it’s all fine until Deidre doesn’t come to work like she’s done something else, or she’s pregnant, or whatever. That all of a sudden we go like, “Oh, there’s a crisis and now I need to find another Deidre and immediately.” And there’s no buffer. It’s not the time to have a conversation with a practice principle to say, “Well mate, two and a half years ago you should have put on a graduate.”

Alisdair Barr:
90% of my time goes to that Scott.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah, yeah. Yup.

Alisdair Barr:
And there’s two other bits that come to that too, one … we’ve got a load of work coming in all of a sudden, we don’t have the resource for it, and two … my phone rings heaviest about the second week of January. “Oh, we’ve done our business planning, we’re ready to go, we need staff.” Whereas the university graduates finish in November, they want a job then. So it’s really interesting to …

Scott Charlton:
Yes, and just between you and me and many hundreds of listeners, my-

Alisdair Barr:
And everybody that’s listening.

Scott Charlton:
Yes, right. My secret was, because I knew that in those days … it might have been the big eight firms, nowadays it’s the big four … when they did their on campus interviews, they actually had some very seductive things to say, I used to do a pre-emptive strike and look at people who even hadn’t quite finished their degree and aimed to sort of get my offer to them before they actually had the dance of the seven veils by big, big firms. And people would perhaps finish a couple of subjects while … part time whilst they were with me, and always to sort of try and have that process going whereby someone was actually learning before sort of like that actual workload was there.

Alisdair Barr:
I think small businesses can do that, and students should do that. I think that’s just the perfect alignment of that. If you can take student on in their final year of university, three days a week, while they’re finishing their degree, before they go through the grad application process, through the big four, then you get one … a casual worker, so that can help manage cash flow in a small to medium business, you get to see them … you get to experience them and see how they grow through that. You can lock them in for when they finish. From a student’s perspective they’re getting experience, their CV gets fattening up, come the end of the year when everyone else is panicking, looking for a job, they can say, “Well I can go to Bali for a week now and know that when I come back my job’s settled and I’m on my way.” But I’m with you 100%, Scott, small to medium businesses should be looking to take students into their business in the second and say in their final year of studies.

I just think that there’s so many positives to it … it makes the education process for the millennial or the graduate better too, because they’re actually applying things. And wow they learn better.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah. And so I know in accounting there are some sort of very traditional things that the young graduates get to do, so in my case as an auditor I sort of would go out and I would audit the cash account and sort of like, if you’re in the tax department or small business part of a business, you start off with some individual tax returns and gradually you learn … you’re entrusted with things more complex and worthy of your talents. But how do people start in the financial planning world? Because obvious someone who’s a green graduate, you’re not gonna sort of thrust them in front of a client and have them advising. So what are the sorts of things that a graduate with a meaningfully be involved with whilst they are … excuse me … learning the ropes?

Alisdair Barr:
Okay so there’s some traditional things, and all cover them after this, and then there’s some new, cool things that I’ll sort of drop them in as ideas. Traditionally they go into client admin, customer service, then into paraplanning roles … and you can kind of map that over 6 to 12 months in each of those roles, over a three year … and then after a three year as people grow into that. So you think on having a conversation with students you have, okay you’re gonna work out, and you become the single best application filler-inner of insurance policies on the planet over your first 6 to 12 months, if that’s your admin role, and be the best at that. Because if you’re the best at that, when you become an advisor in five years or three years’ time, and you’re sitting down with a client, you’re gonna know, just because of your experience which policy is actually gonna the simplest and easiest and best one for the client. Just because you’ve become the best at that, at that period. So this is a really important growth stage.

And in the customer service, building relationships and so forth, and meeting some of the clients and then become really technically competent and then you’re fully rounded and you can get out there in front of clients. Whether the order is a little different, I think that’s kind of the traditional route into the financial planning thing, and small to medium can put that structure in place, I think. So that’s kind of the traditional stuff Scott, but then the cool stuff at the moment is this syntech technology … you know just business technology, not necessarily technology of advice or accounting, but actual technology integration … social media into a business. I’ve seen a lot of businesses quite successfully and with great joy, brought in a graduate, actually get them involved in their social media and technology audit and efficiency of the business. And I think bringing in a young set of eyes, in the technology into your business, if you sort of empower them to do it, it can actually have some profound effects on increasing efficiency and some really simple things round your office.

Scott Charlton:
Wow that’s fantastic. I love the sound of that. Yes I think everyone will benefit from that contribution and anything you can do to try to foster the entrepreneurial spirit and mindset, even at that early stage, I think will yield great benefits later on, so that’s-

Alisdair Barr:
Absolutely.

Scott Charlton:
Okay. What are some of the factors that you’ve come to recognize in an employer which will give them confidence in them being a good fit for a graduate employee?

Alisdair Barr:
That is a really good question because a lot of the time it is spending time with the businesses. And at our speed networking, the question I get asked the next day by the businesses more than by students or anything else is, “How popular was I amongst the students?” Businesses ask that question. The students never ask me that question, the businesses. This is really important too, so big business spends a lot of money on their employee value proposition, being the employer of choice. Like millions and millions of dollars. And I’ve seen … both and then our research covers a lot … one of the things that make a small to medium business … and you know, 100 staff sort of sit in this group. What makes those businesses attractive and how do they … how do we know that they are going to be a good outcome? One, leadership’s really key. Leadership that’s engaging and powering, nurturing and visible … I’ve seen … is a great firm to work with.

Also a business … and I’ve touched on this a couple of times, that understands that this is a journey … and what I mean by that is they’re not going to hit the ground running. They’re going to make mistakes, they’re gonna … have a culture of nurturing, growing, investing in people, and development and feedback. And I think open door policies and flexibility in the workplace and so forth … those things are really important. And small … really small businesses, like five man bands, or five people businesses, might not feel like they can do this, but they can do this. I’ve seen what a small business like that can do … as well as 1, 2, 300 members. I think those are the key things. Having an open door culture, growth, development, learning, a structured process of how we go from where to grow clarity on what the outcome is. I’ve also seen people getting their promotion after three years but not actually knowing what that means.

Financially, opportunity-wise, or whatever. So open door, constant conversation, embracing … and also businesses that really want to grow over the next 10 years and powered around technology and so forth. Those are the firms that we know will fit well.

Scott Charlton: 
That’s excellent. I really like your starting point on leadership and what comes to mind … last Friday I was with a … this is an accounting firm but could equally be a financial planning firm. And the leaders of the business, they had gone through a business planning workshop and they were actually presenting the outcome, the one page business plan to their team. And it’s quite an ambitious plan. And so the leaders were explaining this and the team were going, “Wow, that’s gonna take some getting,” but everyone was leaning in. And I think that would be really quite an invigorating environment for a graduate to be part of, to sort of think, “Well gosh, there’s a big future here.”

Alisdair Barr:
Involved in the business planning too, is a really important one. I’ve seen disconnection where a business will come in dump this massive HR document in front of a graduate and they go, “Well we haven’t had any input into this, we don’t know what the business is …” The head not talking to the tail, all that sort of stuff. A bit of clarity between leadership and the people doing the outcomes really great.

Scott Charlton:
You make a very good point, yeah I think that’s excellent. Now I’m going to change the pace of things here and I’m going to give you some rapid fire questions, so let’s say you’ve got a maximum of 30 seconds per question to respond, so you up for that?

Alisdair Barr:
Okay. Go ahead, do it.

Scott Charlton:
You’ve touched on this, so psychometric testing before employing a graduate, good or bad?

Alisdair Barr:
 Good. Should do it, gives you opportunities to probe deeper around certain areas, can’t do any damage, why wouldn’t you do it?

Scott Charlton:
Excellent. Aptitude testing, such as literacy and numeracy, same thing?

Alisdair Barr:
Yeah so they break down into a scale of cognitive being what you just mentioned, the numerical and literacy, and I think that’s important. And they grow and develop over time more so it’s important to do the scale of personality and fit and work styles.

Scott Charlton:
Excellent. What do you look for in an applicant’s university results?

Alisdair Barr:
Not failing anything twice, and a good trend. Sometimes you know they’ve had a bad first year, or they’ve taken off backpacking, or they’ve broken up with their girlfriend or whatever it might be, and they’ve had a bad time. But as long as the trend’s their friend, it’s good.

Scott Charlton:
Very good. We’ve touched on this, but how important is it that someone’s done some part-time work whilst at Uni?

Alisdair Barr:  
It’s 100% important, if they’re not working and not being independent and not earning money, it will be really, really hard to be employed. I’ve seen so many over educated, under unemployable people because they have never, never strived to be independent.

Scott Charlton:
Does it matter what that part-time work actually was? Professional office-

Alisdair Barr:
No.

Scott Charlton:
… Macca’s? No?

Alisdair Barr:
Sometimes retail and hospitality’s the best because you’re working with people under pressure, and people are frustrated, and retail, customer service, bank tellers, voter phone call centers … whatever it means, you’re dealing with people who don’t really want to be dealt with, so you really need to build empathy skills really quickly and I think they are really good skills to have.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah good. Male or female candidate? Or doesn’t it matter?

Alisdair Barr:
Doesn’t matter. Not it doesn’t, my best person to role.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah. I do apologize, that was a trick question designed to sent you down a politically incorrect mineshaft. However-

Alisdair Barr:   
I didn’t go down a mineshaft, did I?

Scott Charlton:
… what I should have asked, is the supply of graduates … is it 50-50 these days or a greater supply of males or females on the market?

Alisdair Barr:
No, no it’s not. And I can’t tell you whether or not the enrolment figures at a university, what their figure is, but the ones that we see coming through our process … we get maybe 60-40 men versus … male versus female. I can’t tell you why that is, we have a new sort of student engagement officer, who’s starting in the new year who’s a female, so we have diversity in amongst our business, and hopefully that will reflect on that. But I don’t know if it’s that they get picked up earlier, or they’ve already got their job sorted or whatever … the students that we work with, that come through our pipeline, slightly more male than female.

Scott Charlton:
Oh, okay.

Alisdair Barr:
But females get placed quicker.

Scott Charlton:
Oh, okay. Some tips for graduates who might be listening to this podcast.

Alisdair Barr:
Get a job, get a job, get a job. I’d say that back to that point. Be working. Be working, show that you’ve got drive. This is your opportunity, you can do anything you want, show some interest in the profession, join the student association … the association student memberships, make sure you’ve always been working and grab the opportunity with both hands because your career is going to be a fantastic place and you’re going to enjoy it and you’re going to make a considerable difference.

Scott Charlton:
Should employers pay the costs associated with their grads getting their professional qualifications, such as CFA or CA?

Alisdair Barr:
I think this is … every case is different. I think it’s a good thing from a professional development and a remuneration, because you know if you’re sort of putting these carrots out there and you know professionalism is really important … and putting that out there as a carrot to demonstrate that as a business you think that’s a really important think and you know that’s an important thing … but you know, reimbursing on passing is sort of what it’s always been. I think it’s a good thing and it demonstrates that you know that’s the right carrot and you can package that up as part of their remuneration anyway.

Scott Charlton:
Good answer. Yep, agree. Employ a local grad or outsource work to the Philippines?

Alisdair Barr:
I want to break this question away from offshore, I just want outsource for insource. If you just have that for your … because we shouldn’t be talking about whether we send it to a different country or whatever, it’s just … is it done in shop or is it done out of shop? And I think that’s where it needs to start. Because it might be done in the office next door to you, or it might be done by someone who’s a work from home, or it might be done in any country around the world, that’s fine. But it’s more about, what are the things that you can repeat and automate or don’t actually add a lot of value to the client’s relationship, then you should be looking at ways that you can potentially get that out.

If you were working for a big organization like I formally did, the cost center exercises versus profit center exercises, the cost center exercises you can look to get them done by technology, by another person or a specialist in doing just that sort of activity. And now whether that data entry or whatever that might be. Outsource is my question and yes, it’s a good thing.

Scott Charlton:
Okay. Is there anything else other than what we’ve covered today that employers should know about your service?

Alisdair Barr: 
We have lots of information, we’ve done this over the last few years, we’ve got some extensive research on how to make sure you get a good return on your investments or business … and it’s all great and well employing graduates in the business, but we run businesses and we make sure of the problem and we need to get a return on our investment. So we’ve done a bunch of research on that, which I’ll give to you Scott, and you can share that. We’ve also recently did put together and onboarding checklist which you guys can use as well, around one of the things you should be doing once we’ve got that person on board. It’s all great and well finding the perfect car and driving out of the car yard, but how are we making sure we’re insuring it, keeping up with its warranty, and turning it into an antique over time and making it really valuable for your business, that’s the key and we’ve got some tool that we can share with you on that too.

Scott Charlton:
Very good, very good. And just to finish off, do you have repeat employers-

Alisdair Barr:
Yes.

Scott Charlton: 
… people that come back and do the process.

Alisdair Barr: 
Yes and we love them because they think strategically … and we think it’s all great. They say, “Oh we think strategically,” but the reality is that people leave and then you have tactical needs for that. But ideally, if you’re in place where you can say well let’s take a graduate on every year and then have that pipeline that you mentioned through that, then that’s perfect. And we like working with those businesses and those businesses keep coming back to us so they’re really good relationships to watch. And they’re really good case studies too, because they’re successful that’s why they keep coming back.

Scott Charlton:
Very good. Well I think you’ve survived the rapid fire round pretty quickly, did I miss anything though that I should have asked? Is there any aspect of Grad Mentor that we haven’t touched on that would be useful for the listeners do you think?

Alisdair Barr:
No, I think you covered a lot … fairly comprehensive, I think we’re a lot on the same page with the way you think about graduates and you know, resourcing … we call it resourcing, it’s not recruitment and it’s about resourcing can be all things that are valuable to you, growing your business over time, not just people. So if we can just sort of help businesses build capacity to be able to deliver ongoing, or improved, or more of the same great outcomes to clients. And that’s kind of the goal because that reflects the profitability and the sustainability in your business. And all things resourcing, we like to think we can add value in that.

Scott Charlton:
Fantastic. So as we come to the end of our chat, I just want to say thank you so much for giving so generously of your experience, clearly you’re living, eating, and breathing this … and hopefully what we’ve covered is a catalyst for more accountants and financial planning electing to employ the practitioners of tomorrow … or at least giving them their first start. Maybe in closing perhaps if I could ask, what’s the most rewarding part of your role?

Alisdair Barr:
I was talking about this just this morning. When I get students that I, I had once student who said, “Can I have your address, I want to send you a bottle of wine.” So things like that really resonate with me, you know helping young people get that burst of a kick start to their career is just amazing. The other thing that’s really rewarding is when businesses talk to other businesses about us, because that’s the litmus test I believe, that we’re actually making a difference when people talk about it. So we’re into the sustainability of the profession and so if we’re getting students going, “I never knew this was going to happen so quickly,” or, “I found this business that’s fantastic.” And then when businesses come back and repeat business and or referred business … it puts a bit of a click in our heels and makes us know that we’re doing the right thing, so that’s the most rewarding part.

Scott Charlton:
Fantastic. I think that’s a marvellous note to end on a night. Just on behalf of the accounting and financial professions, I’d like to thank you very, very much for the good work that you’re doing.

Alisdair Barr:
Thank you very much Scott.

Scott Charlton:
Well that concludes my interview with Alisdair Barr. When I think back to my days in employing graduates, his service seems to be a vast improvement on my recruiting process with a much higher degree of success. I was particularly interested to hear Alisdair’s thoughts about how one integrates a graduate into a financial planning firm. His thoughts around this made a lot of sense. And being in accounting or financial planning, the turbo boost you get with grads these days is that they will likely come on with some skills and savvy in regard to social media. That’s where they’re not on ill plates at all. Potentially they could be or could quickly become, an expert in this field, all the while becoming progressively more useful in other areas. I hope that this interview has encouraged you to think more long term about your staffing requirements, and indeed to consider a graduate in your plans. From my experience, the strategy doesn’t take long to pay dividends, if you’re prepared to be very purposeful about it.

I’ve put contact details about Alisdair and Grad Mentor in the accompanying show notes. There’s also a couple of resources that Alisdair has kindly made available if you are interested in exploring this further. Firstly, his white paper, The Perfect Marriage, the Graduate and the Firm. Also his Graduate Onboarding checklist. For either or both of those resources, simply email Alisdair at abarr … that’s A-B-A-R-R, @gradmentor.com.au. Mention this podcast and he should snap to attention. In the second part of today’s episode, I’d like to share an interesting phenomenon that I’ve noticed of late. To start with, let me give you some context. Here at Slipstream Coaching we asked the firms we work with to provide us with their monthly fears … revenue, profit, KPRs around their revenue generation, and measures of marketing and sales activities. They keyed us into Slipstream Up, our online application. I then review the numbers and provide feedback. We do this each month, because every month is important. Now, these are all highly motivated firms, you need to be if you’re a match for our program.

But inevitably, amongst this group, there are those who get their numbers in quickly, and those who post them sometime after that. What I’ve noticed is that those firms getting their numbers in first almost always have good results. Firms who are tardy, very rarely have results which match the early birds. Upon reflection I think the connection here is that if you’re in a position to sign off on the monthly results quickly, you’ve likely been keenly studying how they’re looking, might add against target throughout, and hence have maintained your focus. I might add, there’s a follow up observation as well. Those firms who submit their numbers early, also take the time to enter some comments in the section provide in the Slipstream app software. I’m a big fan of this, because the reflection that goes into this enhances one’s understanding the results and is often where the high achievers plan what they are going to do better next month. Conversely, their colleagues who get their results in later, are usually in such a rush that the comments are left off, which I think is a shame, because they miss out on the power of the reflection process.

Why not try this out yourself in the next three months … that is, make a concerted effort to report your numbers within two working days of month’s end, plus create a brief commentary on the results. I’m prepared to predict the numbers will be much, much better than they otherwise would have been. Let me know the outcome. That’s the end of our show today, thanks so much for listening, I hope you got lots out of it. And if you listened to this episode on iTunes, I’d be delighted if you posted some feedback and gave us a rating. Until the next episode, onwards and upwards.