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Social Sector ‘Starved’ of Human Capital


3 June 2015 at 12:42 pm
Xavier Smerdon
Australian social enterprises are struggling with a lack of social sector knowledge and values amongst senior staff hired from the private sector, a Melbourne social enterprise conference has been told.

Xavier Smerdon | 3 June 2015 at 12:42 pm


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Social Sector ‘Starved’ of Human Capital
3 June 2015 at 12:42 pm

Australian social enterprises are struggling with a lack of social sector knowledge and values amongst senior staff hired from the private sector, a Melbourne social enterprise conference has been told.

A panel of social enterprise leaders told an audience of social entrepreneurs, Not for Profits, academics and funders at the 2015 Social Enterprise Masters Conference that finding senior staff offering both commercial acumen and a social mindset was a major challenge.

The discussion featured Steve Williams, Enterprise Director at SEED Parks and Property Maintenance, Clary Castrission Founder and CEO of the 40K Group, Paul Fraser, Founder and Manager at Clean Force Property Services and Jarryd Burns, Co-Founder and Commercial Director at Thankyou.

“It’s the commercial skillset and the social sector skillset and there needs to be the meshing of the two. I think we’ve finally come to the conclusion, where we sit at the moment, that the operational team, managers have to have the social skillset,” Steve Williams said.

“I started out thinking they needed to be really commercially focused, and we went for a few people, but it turned out that those people who had a great mind for business could not cope with working with people with a mental illness or a disability, so we had to flip that on it’s head and get the people with a social work background but who did understand you had to turn a profit still. ”

Paul Fraser said he had faced similar issues at Cleanforce, a social enterprise offering targeted employment.

“It’s one of our big challenges, finding the human capital in terms of the supervisory and leadership staff,” he said.

“It’s really challenging to find somebody who is in the community sector and has those social values that we really value, and has the capacity to work with some of those people with challenging behaviours.

“We tend to attract people from the commercial cleaning sector and it’s really challenge to get them to buy into our values.

“They do get it, but they get it to their own level and maybe not to the level that we want them to get it.

“For me, it was really getting my head out of the community sector space. I’d worked in housing, I’d worked in aid, in a disability enterprise with gardening crews. It was getting my head around the commercial space. I was going into an industry I knew nothing about!”

Facilitator Libby Ward-Christie of Social Traders said she had observed people who move into the social sector with a mindset of benevolence after they feel they’ve achieved their career goals and see working in the sector as “giving something up”.

Christie asked the panel if they felt they had given something up through their work for social causes.

“Surely we’ve only gained,” Steve Williams said. “I’m not interested in a huge salary because I want to go to work to get meaning in my life, for me there’s no choice really.”

“I think I’ve gained so much more than I have achieved in any other position,” Fraser agreed.

“I wouldn’t give it up. I don’t do it for the money, you do it for the value it gives you.”

Clary Castrission said commercial models had, to an extent, enabled him to compete with other sectors in terms of retaining talent.

“In this country, and I think around the world, charities are starved of good human capital,” Clary Castrission said.

“We felt that [to solve social problems] we needed to create a world class team. To create a world class team, the charitable model wasn’t going to allow us to do it. We’re in the same labour market as the private sector, the government sector.

“If we want to actually find the solutions…to me the key is the right human capital…that’s why we set up two businesses that run commercially, and the best thing about them from our point of view is that we’re able to poach people and actually give them pay rises to come in here.

“That’s probably the biggest challenge we’ve had to overcome, building a team full of guns…”

Held at Melbourne Town Hall, the 2015 Social Enterprise Masters Conference is hosted by social enterprise-focused Not for Profit Social Traders.

The day-long event has the theme of Inspire. Connect. Grow. and is being held in conjuction with the awards ceremony for the 2015 Social Enteprise Awards.

A research project which captures the challenges and opportunities for social enterprises in Australia will also release its first stage of findings today at the event.

Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector (FASES) 2015 is a national research initiative conducted by the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) Swinburne in partnership with Social Traders.


Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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