Recruiting great people for exceptional companies

By Cheryl Long

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Regardless of the name, whether it’s talent acquisition or executive search or even head hunting, there’s no question that recruitment is big business. People are a growing commodity in today’s economy, and finding the best and the brightest is an industry in itself.

David Aplin Group is one of Canada’s largest recruiting firms with 10 locations across the country and more than 500 employees. But it’s also a true business success story with roots that go back to a company built by two people around the table of their Edmonton home. Company President Jeff Aplin spoke with Business Elite Canada about how David Aplin Group grew to become one of the most recognized organizations of its kind in Canada.

In the 1970s, the loss of his job prompted David Aplin to consider starting his own business. Like so many others, he was taking a risk that could go either way but if he failed, well he was just as unemployed as when he started the venture, Jeff explained. In 1975, David Aplin Group was born, and continued to prosper for close to 25 years from their offices in Edmonton and Calgary. In the meantime, son Jeff attended school at the University of Calgary, earned his MBA and entered the world of management consulting with Canadian professional services firm Deloitte LLP. Not jumping right into the family business was a key part of his career development, Jeff said.

“I learned a lot in the management consulting world and I was able to bring that back in-house to the company here to help show some growth,” he explained.” From my experience, that’s really, really important and in my particular case it was an essential ingredient in making that work.” Jeff joined the family business just over 10 years ago as the company strategy was changing dramatically. The Alberta-based firm was beginning to expand nationally, purchasing the executive search division from KPMG in Winnipeg and acquiring other companies in Regina and Toronto. Through a combination of organic growth and acquisitions, they eventually reached 10 locations with the opening of their Saskatoon office in January 2013.

Making a mark in ‘hyper-competitive’ industry

But success doesn’t always come easily in what Jeff describes as a “hyper-competitive marketplace.” Along with other recruiting companies, the industry is competing with the explosion of online job sites and the candidate search processes that many businesses still use to fill jobs internally. It’s a constant race to get “the right talent deployed at the right place at the right time.” That’s why David Aplin Group has come up with a strategy to help them stand out from the competition, which combines a broad scope of services, extensive geographical coverage and a culture that produces people who are enjoying what they do each day.

“People going though the interview process notice quite a difference with us, probably because we’re a private, family-owned Canadian company compared to all of our competitors who are global Fortune 500 multinational corporations,” Jeff said, “and how we operate and how we show up and occur in each market is uniquely Canadian.”

Social media and mobile technology has had a profound impact on the recruiting industry. Sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter provide instant access to information, allowing companies to look at job candidates’ professional experience, education and interests before they’ve made contact.  For job seekers, letting the world know that they’re actively looking for a new position or being able to research a company’s background and reputation has never been easier.

But at the end of the day, recruitment is still an interpersonal business, Jeff explained. “The relationships are forged person by person, search consultant to candidate or search consultant to client. That’s where the magic is, and that’s where people can really understand how to help somebody along their path to a dream job or help a client assemble a dream team,” he said. “You don’t get that by creeping social media sites. You get that with face time with other human beings… staffing is about interpersonal relationships and it’s a very human business.”

Doing the math: it’s quality times quantity

That human connection is the secret behind a successful recruiter, and finding the best person for the job. It means doing an enormous amount of legwork, meeting with candidate after candidate in hopes of discovering those people who stand out among their peers. It’s a matter of simple math, Jeff explained, by multiplying the quality of the work done to reach people by the quantity of people met, and building an inventory of great talent for their clients. That’s crucial because the companies with the best leaders and the best team are going to have a distinct advantage over their competitors.

David Aplin Group has earned their own advantage in the industry as repeat members of Canada’s Best Managed Companies program run by Deloitte. They first made the list in 2008 and in 2015, they’re hoping to be among the Gold Standard winners, which is awarded to companies that have maintained their status for four consecutive years. For many companies, simply being part of the program is an asset thanks to the opportunities for coaching and networking.

“There are a few things that really stand out for me working within the Best Managed program,” Jeff said. “Certainly feedback from our coaches, from Deloitte and CIBC, is terrific feedback. They have some very brilliant business minds and for them to coach us and challenge us on our strategy, on our operations, on how we build capability, how we innovate, really how we do everything … it really forces us to put those things under the microscope and analyze them and see how we can improve them…”

Achieving Best Managed status can play a role in attracting talented people, Jeff said, and it also creates opportunities for networking and for potentially doing new business with other companies in the program.

Celebrating 40 years in 2015

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of David Aplin Group, and it will be a time to recognize the people and the achievements behind the company’s success. They’re poised for growth as the industry continues to evolve, and more companies turn to recruiting firms as specialists in the search for the most talented people.

“There’s more and more awareness of companies generally that they need to focus on what they do best, and then outsource things that aren’t their core business,” Jeff explained. “Recruitment is a great example of that. We can be experts at recruiting so they can stay focused on being experts in their business.”

David Aplin Group specializes in a wide range of recruiting services, including executive search, specialized recruiting, HR solutions, and temporary and permanent staffing. For more information, visit www.aplin.com.

Trends in HR

  • Today, companies are building an increasingly diverse workforce but it goes beyond ethnicity. Age, education, the ability to learn and deal with change, and the potential to bring a different perspective to the organization are key qualities.
  • Years ago, “job hopping” was a red flag for many employers. With the rise of contract work and a more flexible labour force, changing jobs is no longer taboo. In fact, many people make a career out of temporary contract positions.
  • The number of hours you spend at your desk is no longer necessarily a reflection of job commitment. The flexibility offered by mobile devices and work-from-home arrangements can lead to increased productivity. Sometimes being in the office is just a distraction.
  • The HR portfolio is a fully strategic role within most organizations given today’s fierce competition for talent. Human capital is one of the top three most important issues on the minds of company executives.