Curtin: How a top Australian university attracts and retains the best staff

There’s a war for talent in the higher-education sector. Unlike other industries, academics don’t simply chase money or benefits, instead seeking out solid working conditions and institutions where their research can thrive.

Travis Moore, Deputy Director of People Services at Curtin University, understands the unique challenges faced by higher-education hiring managers better than most. He discusses the intricacies of recruiting for universities, and explains why it’s so important to use an online screening system.

With four campuses spread across Western Australia, as well as international locations in Dubai, Singapore and Malaysia, Curtin University is one of Australia’s most diverse and far-reaching institutions. But such global ambitions come burdened with unique challenges, particularly for hiring managers.

“Curtin has a huge, diverse workforce. We have around 10,000 people engaged here, with nearly 4,000 staff – and they are all from different industries.”

Moore acknowledges that difficulties can emerge throughout the entire recruitment funnel, and he says Curtin University has had to consolidate its approach for simplicity’s sake.

“While there are different sectors within the whole university, we screen everyone the same,” he says.

“So in terms of hiring an academic staff member versus a groundsperson, they undertake the same screening process.”

Attracting the best academics in the business

While screening is a vital tool in Moore’s arsenal, he says attracting the best talent is Curtin’s top priority.

“There’s a pretty large war for talent with academics, and different universities have different needs.”

Moore explains that when it comes to drawing the interests of a prolific academic talent, a lot more is needed than a tempting pay packet.

“Academics have different drivers. They don’t so much go for the money or the benefits – they go where there’s already a strong talent base in their field, and those fields can be quite restrictive. Certain research fields lend themselves to very small pockets of talent, so we really have to leverage off what our strengths are.”

When a university does manage to snag a top academic in their field, the return on investment spreads well beyond a minor financial bump.

“Getting a Nobel laureate, for example, is something every university tries for,” Moore says. “Not only does it impact on rankings, but also a whole bunch of other areas including funding and student numbers.

“There are only so many specialists in certain fields, so the war for talent is a huge issue for most universities.”

A standardised approach to employee screening

Beyond the need to seek out and hire the best in the business, Moore says Curtin must ensure its staff represent themselves appropriately and are qualified to teach at a higher level. The university must also abide by the laws of its governing body, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA).

“As our staff are in front of students, we need to make sure they are appropriately screened,” he says.

“That means confirming they have the qualifications to get in front of their classes and teach at such a high level, which is a TEQSA requirement.”

“It’s standard practice now. Most employers implement criminal screening for the majority of their employees, and of course Curtin needs to make sure we hire the appropriate people for an education environment.”

Rebuilding the foundations

In order to achieve its lofty ambitions – and stay in line with the requirements of its governing body – Curtin University recognised a need to revise its time-intensive screening practices.

“Previously, we had a very paper-based approach for screening that was administratively burdensome,” Moore says.

“In order to get new staff here on time, we accepted people going to the post office, doing their criminal screen and just providing us with a receipt. That created a lag. Then we would have to follow up once the post office provided a hardcopy.”

In an increasingly digital world, Moore knew such a long and laborious process would have a detrimental impact if allowed to continue.

“Now it’s all integrated and online,” he says.

“We built our onboarding system in-house, and as part of that build we really integrated all the different components of CVCheck. Our screening processes have shifted from a manual and time-consuming process for the academic and general staff, to a streamlined online approach.”

Integrating CVCheck into its in-house system has not only aided new staff, but also Curtin’s hiring managers.

“If there’s a hit on someone’s screen, we’re notified about it a lot sooner than previously. We are then able to review the results of those findings, which means we can ensure our staff are an appropriate fit.”

The most important element? Customer experience

For all the positives it provides his team, Moore says the best part of CVCheck’s integration is what it provides Curtin staff.

“The biggest benefit of CVCheck is the experience for our academics and other staff.” […] “The compliance elements for us are good, but the screening process is a much better experience for staff than previously. Instead of going to the post office, they can do the whole process on their phone now.”

Travis Moore

Deputy Director, People Services at Curtin University

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