Airing the pressures of human resources: HR at Sullair Australia

by 14 Dec 2011

Skills shortages have been widely reported in the press and there is no respite on the horizon. As Australia strives to meet recent infrastructure demands as a result of natural disasters, major project initiatives and the mining resources boom, it is clear that placing a ‘vacancy’ ad in the newspaper is no longer enough. HR specialists are striving to find new methods of recruitment to fill short- and long-term employment vacancies.

As the employee market is shrinking it is increasingly difficult to fill vacancies across many categories, from sales, to executive to skilled tradespeople. To date, finding suitably qualified service technicians for remote areas such as the Pilbara and Northern Queensland has remained a challenge.

“Our first approach has been to utilise the different skills we have across our network of branches to offer senior staff an opportunity to be a part of the fly-in, fly-out [FIFO] team to service the more remote clients, particularly for the mining sector,” explains Erika Krenmayr, HR manager, Sullair Australia (formerly Champion Compressors).

“By basing the service technicians in Perth, Adelaide or Mackay, we can better manage the staff we have for increasing service requirements.”

This approach has certainly been attractive to some employees within Sullair Australia and has provided much needed flexibility in utilising skills nationally where they have been required most. The combination of rostered shifts, relocation assistance and off-site penalty rates can be very rewarding to some people. “Once the mine site medical, induction and safety training has been completed, our service technicians are valuable assets, and help our organisation meet the growing need for compressed-air specialists in the mining industry,” Krenmayr adds.

However, this training makes service technicians very attractive to mining companies as well. To be onsite at a mining operation requires a full-trade qualification and completion of the induction program. “The skills shortage is sufficiently intense that some companies are rumoured to be recruiting staff mid-flight. You can take off as an employee of one company and land as the employee of another!” says Daryl Edwards, executive manager aftermarket, Sullair Australia. “Finding skilled tradespeople is a serious challenge for many industries, including mining.”

Longer-term solutions

A FIFO strategy is certainly one tactic in the armoury of HR professionals, but longer-term challenges remain. Accordingly, Sullair Australia has adjusted its recruitment processes and employment offerings to give more flexibility in meeting the new market conditions.

“Servicing a compressor can range from a basic oil and filter change to a full diagnostic and overhaul,” says Krenmayr. “Our aftermarket team identified an opportunity to hire and train mechanically adept candidates for routine servicing while maintaining our higher-skilled labour pool for more complex tasks. By offering candidates an opportunity to join Sullair at an entry level, there is scope to develop a career path in the compressed-air industry with full training and support.”

Sullair Australia’s in-house training investment is part of an overall commitment to deliver customer service excellence and safety to compressed air customers. The production and servicing capabilities of Sullair Australia enable the company to leverage its Dandenong-based manufacturing facility as an on-the-job training centre to further enhance the skills of its technical employees. Service technicians spend time not only in the classroom but also on the production floor, building compressors from the ground up, listening to the engineers that designed them and putting theory into practice.

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