Picking the right person for the job

Scott Tobin focuses on three key attributes when recruiting staff for National Group.

Recruitment Officer, Scott Tobin

National Group Recruitment Manager Scott Tobin has a challenging role. In a tight labour market, Tobin has led the largest recruitment campaign in the company’s 25-year history.

On an average day, Tobin conducts at least 10 job interviews. They range from hiring diesel fitters to truck drivers, plant clerks, apprentices and head-office staff.

“There’s never a dull day,” says Tobin. “Over the past four years, we’ve hired a lot of additional staff as National Group has been awarded new contracts. We’ve also relocated many staff members and trained them for new roles.”

National Group had about 100 full-time employees when Tobin joined in 2019. Today, the National Group of companies has over 250 employees – and expects to recruit at least another 50 in the next 6-12 months as new projects ramp up.

In July 2022, National Group was awarded a three-year (plus two) mining-services contract at Yancoal’s Moolarben coal mine in the Western coalfields of New South Wales.

In January 2022, National Group extended an equipment contract for Anglo American Australia on its two expanding open-cut coal mines at its Capcoal operations in the Bowen Basin in Central Queensland (Lake Lindsay and Oak Park).

In 2021, National Group was awarded several new contracts in Queensland and NSW, including the supply of fully maintained mobile mining equipment to Newcrest Mining’s Cadia gold mine in NSW – continuing a strong period of growth for the company.

“We’ve recruited many new employees for these and other contracts, and are hiring more,” says Tobin.  “The key is finding people who fit National Group’s culture and want to build a long-term career with the company as it grows.”

Cultural alignment

For some positions, only one in every 10 interviewee is hired at National Group.  “We’re pretty selective,” says Tobin. “In addition to reviewing an applicant’s CV and reference checking, we spend a lot of time on the phone or in face-to-face interviews to get a sense of applicants and what they want to do in their career.”

Depending on the role, Tobin looks for three key things. The first is experience and skills in heavy earthmoving equipment. “There’s a big difference between a diesel fitter who has worked on light vehicles and one who has worked on large bulldozers, trucks, graders and other mining equipment.”

The second attribute is safety. “National Group is massive on safety, so I like to ask applicants about their attitude towards workshop or mine-site safety. I might ask if they contributed to a safer workplace and their approach to safety in another role.”

Cultural fit is the third attribute. “As a privately owned, founder-led company, National Group is agile and dynamic,” says Tobin. “We want people who are motivated, flexible, very customer focused and want to be part of a great team for the long run.”

Tobin says a focus of National Group’s recruitment is developing more employees in-house. “We want diesel fitters and other employees trained in the National Group way. The company has one of the best maintenance teams in Australia, so it makes sense to harness that knowledge and do more internal training and staff development.”

In 2020, National Group launched its first apprenticeship campaign for its Nebo and Blackwater operations in Central Queensland, receiving hundreds of applications for the roles. Five apprentice diesel fitters, including two women, joined the program. More will follow next year.

“The apprentice program has been really successful,” says Tobin. “We now have second- and third-year apprentices who are getting excellent on-the-job training, and ensuring National Group has a larger supply of diesel fitters coming through the ranks. The program is a long-term investment in National Group’s future workforce and leadership.”

Workplace diversity is another focus for Tobin. “In addition to head-office jobs, National Group is hiring more women for technical roles in our workshops and jobs on mine sites. We’d like to hire a lot more women for National Group around Australia.”

Tight labour market

Having worked in recruitment for two decades, Tobin cannot recall a tighter labour market. “The last few years with COVID-19 really disrupted things. With Australia’s unemployment rate so low, it’s harder to recruit the right people.”

Competition for new hires in the mining sector is intense, says Tobin. “It’s a perfect storm. The mining sector continues to grow at a time when fewer people are available. Good-quality people are in high demand.”

Tobin says National Group is strategic in competing for employees. “We’re not a giant multinational corporation that can offer the highest salaries in the market. But we can offer recruits things many other firms cannot.”

One is the breadth and diversity of National Group’s operations. “The company prides itself on offering a complete end-to-solution for customers,” says Tobin. “For employees, that means National Group has many varied roles in different locations, including in remote towns. The company prides itself of creating jobs in regional Australia.”

National Group’s growth is another attraction. “Job applicants can see the company is growing quickly and want to be part of it. They know that growth will create future opportunities to build their career – and make their role interesting. They also know National Group encourages its people to take on bigger roles.”

Private ownership is another recruitment selling point for National Group, says Tobin. “We’re not a large bureaucracy that treats employees like a number. I love that the company’s founder and CEO, Mark Ackroyd, is always available if I need a decision. He knows everyone in the business and is big on organisation culture.”

Tobin hasn’t looked back since joining National Group. He and his wife moved to the Gold Coast in 2018, having bought a house there. When his role was advertised, Tobin knew he was the right fit, having worked in mining labour hire for over a decade.

“The role was a perfect match for me,” says Tobin. “I love the diversity and pace of the job, and meeting new people each day. It can be stressful, but I enjoy being part of a company with a heap of momentum. I’ve worked in roles where I have had to lay off lots of people. I much prefer hiring people and watching them build their career here.”

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