Navigating the Defence Industry with Kelly Hopkins

Posted on September 20, 2023 in Business Partnership

In episode 38 of REDD’s Business and Technology Podcast, join our host Jackson Barnes as we embark on a captivating exploration of the ever-evolving realm of talent acquisition with our esteemed guest, Kelly Hopkins, the Business Director of Hays, and her remarkable career spanning over a decade in the field of recruitment, with an extensive grasp of the nuances within the defence sector. Throughout the conversation, we delve into the critical facets of the recruitment landscape that significantly impact the defence industry.

Drawing attention to the vital role of cyber security in defence operations, Kelly underscores the necessity of safeguarding not only classified data but also the integrity of critical infrastructure. As the defence sector continues to expand at a rapid pace, the imperative of cyber security takes centre stage in shielding against potential cyber threats that could disrupt essential services.

Kelly also sheds light on the challenges of recruiting in the defence sector, where stringent regulations like ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) can make finding qualified candidates a complex task. Networking and industry involvement become crucial in sourcing the right talent.

Discussing changes in the recruitment industry over the years, Kelly mentions the shift from paper-based systems to sophisticated, secure digital platforms and databases. She underlines the need for recruiters to be tech-savvy and agile in adapting to the evolving landscape.

In addition to traditional recruitment services, Kelly talks about innovative solutions like assessment and development, enterprise systems, and IT consultancy. These services provide tailored solutions to meet clients’ unique requirements.

Ultimately, Kelly’s passion for helping individuals and businesses in the defence sector shines through. Her advice for those seeking a recruitment partner is to find an agency that truly understands their business, offers innovative solutions, and, most importantly, builds a collaborative partnership for long-term success.

#RecruitmentInsights #DefenceIndustry #Cybersecurity #TalentAcquisition #BusinessPartnerships


00:00 – Opener
00:25 – Guest introduction
00:51 – Kelly’s career history
02:09 – Kelly’s Background and Career in Recruitment
02:39 – Kelly working on the defence industry
05:34 – Technology that has been introduced while working in defence
08:11 – Queensland Defense Hub
10:00 – The Importance of Innovation in Defence
13:23 – Process of small business working with defence
17:51 – Getting your business ready to work with defence
20:44 – What does the defence industry currently need more?
22:24 – Importance of Cyber Security in the defence
28:13 – The Scope of National Security
31:14 – Evolution of Recruitment in the Industry
37:35 – Challenges in Defense Recruitment
39:07 – Challenges in Defense Recruitment
41:13 – IT Recruitment Trends
44:30 – Closing Thoughts on Defense and Recruitment
45:23 – Outro


If you would like to discuss any of the topics discussed in this episode further with a REDD expert or if you would like to be a guest on the show, please get in touch either via our website, [email protected], or through any of the links below.

Show Transcript

Jackson (00:20):

Hello and welcome to Redd’s Business and Technology Podcast. I’m your host, Jackson Barnes. Today we’re sitting down with Kelly Hopkins, who’s a business director at Hays Defence. We’ll be speaking everything about working with the Australian Department of Defense. Looking forward to sharing some of your insights and going through your background. Kelly, thanks for coming

Kelly (00:34):

In. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here. I’m very qualified to be on a tech podcast.

Jackson (00:39):

Awesome. We’ll find how true that is through the episode. So let’s start with Kelly, your background, been in Brisbane for a long time. What’d you start doing way back and then through the recruitment space?

Kelly (00:50):

Absolutely. I started after university. I actually got picked up to work in tv, reality tv. You’re looking at me and I can feel it, which was expected and as glamorous I thought it was. Then I’d decided that reality TV is probably not best place. I did a few late night news sessions and then So

Jackson (01:10):

What did you do at uni?

Kelly (01:11):

I did communications, international politics, a whole mix. I wanted to do everything all at once. Very focused at that point. But no, it was really interesting and then saw the world of TV and I went, this is probably not what I envisioned. I really wanted to do script writing. At that point too, when I love politics, it was always a bit of running joke to my dad. I’m like, I’m going to be the first female prime minister. And dad went, okay, do the work. And I went, all right, I’ll go totally the opposite way. And then worked in more of job network and then I got the phone call one day from Hayes. I didn’t even know who they were. And 15 years later, here I

Jackson (01:53):

Am. Yeah. Why did you pivot into recruitment?

Kelly (01:55):

Well, I was just speaking to a consultant, and I still remember that day out of the blue, a gentleman called Adam we’re still friends to this day, and he said, oh, do you want to come in? And I went, absolutely. We’ll see what this is all about. And then I got rushed through an interview process. Same day, I think I met three managers and then I was put into this group and I had no idea still what anything was about, but it was early it 2006, IT heyday. They said, you can come in and recruit for developers. And I grew up with IT people in their house. So I was done. And it was interesting. I got offered the job and I learned how to talk tech.

Jackson (02:33):

Yeah. And you stayed there and been there for quite some time. You got a lot of other exciting stuff going on recently. Do you want to dive into that a little bit?

Kelly (02:39):

Absolutely. Well, now I’ve transitioned into defense, which is probably, I call it tech on crack if we can say that. It’s just if you add billions of dollars of money into projects and get to execute those things get

Jackson (02:53):

Cooler and becomes slightly more important.

Kelly (02:55):

Just a little bit. Yeah, critical. So now working in the defense space, and I do a lot within the defense industry, so Hayes Defense team run that nationally. And then we’ve got defense industry networking, which Sandy Taylor started. It’s the largest networking group now in all of Australia. So that’s outside of defense and somewhat speaking of what we work in with defense, which is a community-based system, everyone in IT together. And recently being put into the board of N S A National Security Association of Australia.

Jackson (03:28):

Awesome. Let’s unpack the Hayes piece first. How big is HA and is defense like a massive operation for them? How many in your team? How does that work?

Kelly (03:39):

Defense has always been big. So Hayes is one of the largest specialist recruitment companies in the world. We’re UK based, I think we’re in 33 countries now. It’s been a huge operation. We’ve been in Australia for over 40 years. It started off, I think we noticed in the market we’ve always been experts in technology-based systems. 15 years ago, defense in Australia started to become a little bit more paramount. We went from acquiring US-based planes and going through sustainment projects, and they really had to be a lens on how to fix human capital problems in that space. So we were lucky enough at that stage that we had Vivian come over from the US who was in defense and in the US environment. Her dad was obviously a veteran and created the team. And then we expanded across the country just because we are in a rapid military expansion in Australia. So it was market versus need. And I think the thing is when we’re looking at recruiting, generally, we are just looking at skills in defense, we’re looking at so much more. Its systems, there’s requirements in nationalities and iar and security systems. So it was really a good time to have a team that just solely focuses on that.

Jackson (04:52):

Yeah, very specialized. It’ss. A lot different hiring for defense than it would be like an accounting firm or any standard kind of,

Kelly (05:00):

You do have to put a little bit more thought into it, but I don’t think you would ever be, have an opportunity. And like I said to you before, where else would I get to climb through a plane? I get to climb through KC thirties and

Jackson (05:14):

Yeah, that’s exciting.

Kelly (05:15):

It’s just really cool.

Jackson (05:16):

Yeah. Let’s unpack that a little bit. So working with defense and people listening, this might be some good insight to how your business or an individual can start working with defense. Just to paint that picture before we drop into some of the associations you’re working with now, give us an example of some exciting technology that you’ve introduced into working with the Department of Defense. So

Kelly (05:39):

I’ll give some premise. We’re not obviously doing that through recruitment. A lot of the work we did as we’ve built this community around us in defense, there was some needs to be able to assist smaller organizations to gain access to what is quite a difficult group of people to work with. By no fault, their own defense is a big beast. So it’s about mitigating risk as it should be, right? As it should be classified secrets, national security, sovereign capability. So through our networks years ago I met Tim Walmsley and he runs Bench On, which is a phenomenal tech-based supply chain portal. And we were thinking one night we were just creating issues I think for ourselves we call it. But we went, wouldn’t it be great at if we could take all of these amazing companies that we work with and some of these new tech-based systems and give them direct access through our contacts that we know at primes at that time too, defense runs four major events every year. So they’re run by amda and its association that does them across the year and for us, well across every few years. For us, that’s our opportunity for the whole industry Australia wide to come together, meet, embed, it was Land Forces 2022, and we said, let’s just do a really small program and we’ll open it up for registration. We’ll take SMEs and we’ll give them an opportunity to meet these people. And I think we just thought, oh, we’ll get four primes. And it turned out to 12 primes. We spent three days. What’s a prime

Jackson (07:09):

In your words?

Kelly (07:11):

So a Prime is an organization that has a direct contract with defense. MSPs are the ones that sit in the middle managed service providers. It’s CSG procurement, A D F, I explained that poorly. I’ll do it again. Australian Defense Force. So all capability that the industry works in is essentially to support a D F. The Australian Defense Force Department of Defense has csg, which sits there as a group that releases and monitors all the contracts. And then we’ve got different levels of engagement. So above the line contracting and below the line above the line is for people that are wanting to, they contract in on other contracts. Below the line is contracts that organizations have won and they’re delivering straight to defense. It’s very interesting and I’ve probably done the worst job ever of explaining how that ecosystem

Jackson (08:01):

Works. But no, that’s, again, I didn’t know that works. I’m going to learn a lot out of this. That’s great.

Kelly (08:04):

This will be, we’ll both Cliff notes. No. So yeah, so what turned out to be a really nice little idea turned out to be this massive thing and we facilitated 181 meetings over three days. The Queensland government, the defense hub, and we’ll talk more about resources available for people wanting to and organizations to get into defense. But our defense hub in Queensland is phenomenal. It’s defense jobs. And we’d reached out to Christine and Tori and the team and said, are you interested in supporting us to facilitate this because it’s bigger than Ben her. We’ve got day jobs and they helped out, and I spoke to an organization the other day and they started with nearly a hundred dollars investment in 2022, meet the primes, and they’re turning over 3.6 million now. It’s insane. So organizations that primes would never have the access to, and we base the capability on where the need is. That’s the next point.

Jackson (09:06):

So you started that, meet the primes essentially, and you thought it was going to be a little thing and turns of a massive thing. It’s turn

Kelly (09:13):

Into a massive thing and now it’s run. We did the last one in Avalon, and we were lucky enough at that stage, Steve Baxter Shark Tank, he’s great. He has beaten his own ventures. He decided to essentially host it for us there. Oh, cool. AM just picked it up for us now. So they’re actually sponsoring it for free. Wow. So Indo-Pacific in November, they’ll be giving us two whole conference centers to run it from.

Jackson (09:36):

Wow. Really blown up.

Kelly (09:37):

It has blown up.

Jackson (09:38):

You mentioned off air, and it might be a good kind of talking point because I want to to hear this story and I want to say the surf on air around the flight simulator. Can you go into what happened there?

Kelly (09:49):

There’s always these weird and wonderful stories that I get told of people in defense and some of these ideas, and I’m all for it because I am a massive geek. So if someone’s going to tell me these stories, I’m like, that’s so cool. So I was speaking to someone from Department of Defense and they were actually a good friend now, and they ran all the contracts for Army and he called me one day and I said, oh, what are you doing? He goes, we have to go see a gentleman about a flight simulator in his garage in Brisbane. I went, what do you mean? He’s like, well, there’s a guy in Brisbane that’s built a flight simulator. I went in his garage and he goes, yep. He’s like, but we’re just going to go buy it. I was like, who’s building flight simulators? But it’s the second company that I’ve heard of these guys. Sorry. There’s another really big company, and they’re pretty well known at the moment. This guy was doing his helicopter license, right? Needed a way to do flying hours in Covid, and he went and built a helicopter simulator and now he’s selling it to defense across the world.

Jackson (10:48):

So is that something where he’s just boot on the side and they would actually design the platform and that’s their ip. They’re then selling to Defense Australia and everywhere else essentially from the garage turned to a fallen business. Yeah,

Kelly (11:04):

I think Australia’s a little bit different with how we run defense and how we acquire. It’s not like US defense. US defense is quite rogue. Hopefully no one’s watching this from us. Defense, I’m going to get a knock on the door next week. There is a bit of lack of IP and everything in the us So I think essentially, and I may get fact checked on this, if you sell something into defense, they can just take your patents and build it themselves. Oh,

Jackson (11:30):


Kelly (11:31):

A bit rogue here. We’re a bit different. So either a lot of organizations will see shortfalls in defense or they’ll be contracts released and they’ve built a solution specifically for that. So they might be a maritime company and they’re working on shipbuilding and it could be all the way down to an organization that makes cables. And I remember being at Indo-Pacific years ago, and there was a gentleman that created a cable, which was waterproof, so it was all the electricals, but he’d wrapped it in this really composite plastic, which was just next level. And he was a major stockist then into future programs. And I was like, who even thinks of this stuff?

Jackson (12:08):

Did he supplied that to defense Australia or was that us?

Kelly (12:10):

He was doing that in, well, to the Navy in Australia as part of naval maritime programs. And then I guess the thing is, the one thing we don’t do well in Australia is we’ve got a lot of amazing companies providing products to defense, but there’s not a lot of cross-sell into other areas, which is a real shame why we don’t have a broad acre lens on any of our programs or any of our,

Jackson (12:32):

Because of the sensitivity,

Kelly (12:34):

The classification and everything being classified does cause problems a hundred percent. But I think it does create an environment sometimes where they forget that we are now in a situation with other technological programs and businesses that an example, if we are doing a hypersonics program for Mars to look at carbon, sorry, carbonization project for Mars, could we not look at that for sustainability?

Jackson (13:00):

Other applications?

Kelly (13:00):

Yeah, other applications for some of these products. But defense can be a little bit all encompassing. So when you’re working as a defense company, you’re all in. You’re all

Jackson (13:08):

In. Yeah. Okay. You make it sound so easy working with Department of events, so someone in flights similar in the garage and then starts working to the rule. I’m sure that happened overnight as well. A hundred percent.

Kelly (13:20):

It was like straight away, signed up.

Jackson (13:23):

How can small businesses work with defense? What does that process look like?

Kelly (13:30):

I think the one thing we do really well in Australia is we do have a lot of state-based defense programs. So we’ve got defense jobs in Queensland, which have two hubs, Townsville and Ipswich based. We’ve got Defense sa, defense wa, defense Victoria. So we’ve got Otis sitting at a federal level as well. These organizations have been specifically put together, what’s Otis? Otis is the Office of Defense Industry support. So what they’ve been doing is they’ve been saying, look, we do realize that we need to have SMEs and small to medium businesses in defense. They’ve created a suite of training programs to be able to get businesses defense ready. So whether it’s talking about this is how you get in all the way from quad chart training through to this is how you need to set your business up, this is who you can speak to in regards to security certifications, this who you speak to about cyber. There’s a lot of resources now. Like everything, when there’s a lot of resources and a lot of information, it makes it really hard to coordinate

Jackson (14:32):


Kelly (14:33):

Very overwhelming go.

Jackson (14:34):

What would you say would be the first step of someone, let’s say someone’s listening and they manufacturing business and they have a product they think is a perfect fit for defense. Where should they go first?

Kelly (14:46):

They should go to the government to start. Absolutely. They should look at their regional and defense hubs. The people that work in these businesses are some of the most passionate you’ve ever seen. They’re connectors. So they will look at a capability and they’ll turn around and say, this is where you need to be. And they will go out of their way to connect organizations to the right people if it’s a product which needs to be expedited. So this is the difference. There are certain things when we have advanced military applications and we have this rapid defense growth, certain things will take precedence. We’ve just had the D SS R, which was the defense strategic review, which means that we put programs to the side because they weren’t critical for national security at the moment. We had to do a pivot favorite word through covid, and we’ve said there’s so many threats across a certain area. We need to expedite programs in missile systems and ballistic weapons and land-based weapons. So things will take a bit of a pivot. So there’s not always a guarantee there’ll be a place but to look in a defense hub to start get the information and assess, is this something we can do? Because it’s not easy.

Jackson (15:53):

So do you need to know someone like you who’s connected into defense to go and do that? Or is there, because you can’t just get knock on the door of a defense, right? Well, you couldn’t get

Kelly (16:02):

To a base

Jackson (16:03):


Kelly (16:03):

Of these organizations.

Jackson (16:05):

No. So when you say go to a defense hub, what does that mean in practicality? Does that mean, is there a website you can go to submit to speak someone? Do you literally say on Google or does you have to go through someone like yourself to go, who knows who to speak to?

Kelly (16:17):

You’ve picked up a really big shortfall in the industry that there is no cool coordinated industry alliance, no general overarching information hub look, defense hub and defense jobs. So if you just put up in defense jobs Queensland or you look at Otis, there should be a suite of other information that connects people to other hubs. But it’s largely self-led at the moment. We spoke about ad nauseum that depending on what state you’re in, there’ll be a lot of activities and trade shows. You’ll be able to meet people at networking events. But we’ve got no coordinated effort, which is bizarre to me because everything we talk about is national security and national programs, but it’s state led and not

Jackson (17:01):


Kelly (17:01):

Not centralized,

Jackson (17:02):

No procurement body or someone they go to centralize to this kind of stuff, which is, it’s funny when you were saying those acronyms earlier, it’s like I feel like someone who just starts in it and you’ve got all these acronyms to learn. I feel like sometimes to be working with defense, you’ve got to learn all these governing bodies, procurement teams and words and things you got to go do.

Kelly (17:18):

It’s a whole nother language and every group of adfs speak a whole nother language. I mean, I remember from it, I’d say, oh, coding’s easy. You just change a syntax. I still remember that change a syntax. That was my line. And this you’re just like, I’ve great though. Defense is great. They’re one of the only industries that you can turn around and say, I have no idea what you’re talking about. And they’re like, oh, we’ll bring you along for the journey and they’ll fill you in. They’re such good people. That’s

Jackson (17:44):

Good. They’re good. So what’s some advice you have, Kelly, for someone in a business on how do you get your business ready to work with defense?

Kelly (17:52):

Preparation is key. When you are working with a body light defense where it is risk adverse, we are talking about national security, secured networks, classification, classification, all these things, you need to really look at what you’ve got across a whole suite of services. Do we have QA systems in place? Can we meet a level of compliance to work with defense? Because when we, and I think that people get a little bit, it’s a little bit of a lack of understanding. So when we are talking about organizations like your Boeings and your Northrop Grummans, they’re not going to burn their house down for one project in Australia. They’re risk adverse for a reason. So they’ve got procurement processes, checks and balances, their own quality and assurance systems that these organizations have to get through. So it’s really about finding the sweet spot and the synergies of how to work with them.


So preparation is checking out defense hubs, talking to professionals, being able to come to networking nights and saying to other people, working in defense, this is where I’m at. What do I do next? Once you’ve got all the systems in place, it’s got to meet the need at the time, but it has to be an understanding that you will be learning a lot of new things that you’ve probably never had to learn before. And it’s a level of patience because all things Rome was not built in a day when an industry is this risk adverse, it’s not going to be a rubber stamp on a project tomorrow. It takes a lot of time and you can be doing this for two years before getting ready.

Jackson (19:23):

Curious on that. So that example you said earlier about some million flight simulator and then working with defense and it maybe just in general, when someone has a service or a pc, when they’re ready to essentially work with defense, what is the kind of timeframes on them, someone like that landing a defense contract? Is it something that you need to work on for years and years and years? You’ve got to get ready and then try and network and then try introduce your product, wait for it to get up the important scale and do what does that timeframe look like?

Kelly (19:48):

It depends. There is always the exception to the rule. I was with a prime not long ago and they got a totally unknown SS m e at research and development stage in a product to be part of their supply chain, supplying that technology in three months. But when you have something that doesn’t exist, that helps If you have something that no one else has come up with yet or a technology which is going to solve a problem, of course industry is going to work with you ad nauseum to get it through. I think generally it can take one to two years. It can take three to five depending on where you’re at and how many you want to sell in because once you’ve got one program or you’re supplying a bolt or something into one, it can then be a case study to unsell. It just gets easier once you understand how to work in that ecosystem.

Jackson (20:37):

What does the defense industry need more of in terms of service offerings and businesses and suppliers and that kind of thing? What does the defense currently need more?

Kelly (20:48):

Well, it needs more people.


That helps people really help. So no technology. So the things at the moment that everyone’s talking about, we need smarter systems, whereas AI sitting at, do we have technology based solutions that can work in a closed defense network When we are talking high level classification and dream specific hardwired defense calls, can we plug those in? Automation systems at the moment, everything cool, quantum coding, hypersonics, basic things like training systems as well. Just things which can expedite help move along, make a process run more smoothly, all of these things. But it can be as easy as I’ve heard of a company building a bolt for a tank and that bolt can withstand explosions. So just things

Jackson (21:43):

Something small, innovative,

Kelly (21:45):

Something small, which is innovative, which solves a problem. And I think if you’re looking from defense, there’s plenty of information. What we’re focusing on at the moment. I’ve got a friend that’s building rockets in their rooms, in their lounge room, here’s a picture of my rocket, we’re about to test it. And I’m like, who does that? It’s just who. Crazy.

Jackson (22:09):

So around the cyber, which I know you touched on a fair amount of times and I completely understand, but because of the type of organization, department of defense is, but what is the importance of cyber programs for companies that supply to defense?

Kelly (22:25):

Put it this way, cyber in defense is, I would say more important than anything at the moment. Like I said, we’re in a rapid military growth phase of our lifecycle at the moment, and it makes sense when people look at Australia. We are what, 232 years old at the moment from when we were building where we’re at. So we now need to get all of our military systems up to the rest of the world. There are a lot more advanced than us. When you look at US and the uk, we are working with classified technology and any part of that supply chain is part of classified technology. What I don’t think people realize about cyber and how it applies to defense organizations and defense SMEs is we protect defense secrets, schematics, design processes, personal data, but then it goes as big as critical infrastructure. If we are building capability, whether it be a tank or a plane, we are protecting the critical infrastructure of what’s being built, the buildings that it’s in. So defense now needs to think a bit wider as well. And when we look at cyber, we’re talking about total risk of cyber of our assets because if we go to war, we need a really good basis of being able to stop cyber attacks. It can stop our power, it can cut our water now it can just impede things, which makes us weak from military.

Jackson (23:50):

Well, that’s actually what happened with the Ukraine, Russia thing they were going for. That’s what happened. Nuclear power plants and telecommunication towers was the other thing that we were kind of going after, but

Kelly (23:59):

Ukraine wasn’t meant to happen like that. So we had Yuri and Vassal at a conference and Yuri said something which was really poignant. He said, this was meant to be a technological BLA war. We were meant to have an it war. We were ready and now we’re fighting hand-to-hand combat.

Jackson (24:16):

Yeah, I must say I didn’t think in my last time I’d ever see another war like that happened. And when broke out I was like, I really thought it would be that cyber warfare and the economy and then supply and that, but it was literally tanks and people going into other countries. I did not think I would see that in my lifetime to be honest with you. But here we are. But

Kelly (24:38):

I think it’s something to be mindful of and I think people forget when we look at national security and sovereign capability, what we do now, and the way that I think of how this industry works is that if we are putting our men and women in the a d frontline position, all the products that are being built, all of these mission critical systems is to hopefully help them save their own lives as well. We don’t want to put them at risk. If we can build tanks which are smarter and can actually withstand an explosion and it’s protecting the people in it, if we can do things to impede a war coming to our country, whether it’s missile systems or early detection systems, sonar radar, again, these are the things that we should be investing into because we’re not just protecting our soldiers, we’re protecting our people and our assets. So I think it was timely that because we’ve been through, we’ve all been through such a good time in history and a lot of people are forgetting Afghanistan and Iraq, and it was 22 years ago, yesterday that nine 11 happened. I think sometimes we need to be reminded that how crucial it is that these systems exist. Yeah,

Jackson (25:44):

I think people forget about that all the time. I think in the business world when you’re trying to work with defense, which red doesn’t really do, but I know other businesses have done that, they look at it as this thing that’s hard to deal with. A lot of red tape, a lot of networking, but then lucrative once you get in the door, which is probably not mean. Look at it like the lens you just spoke about, but not the best way to look at this stuff. It should almost be like doing a service to protect Australians. It’s a

Kelly (26:07):

Service ethos. I feel that that’s why people are really passionate about working in defense. All of us have a certain part to play and we are all, any part of the network and any part of the industry, it’s all in it together. And this is how I think about it. People say, oh, what about the morality of building tanks and having guns? If it’s in someone’s hands and they’re put into a situation where they have to defend themselves, if we can be smarter in our technology and create systems where we don’t want to go to war, but if we can impede that and stop that and it’s protecting our people a hundred percent. Yeah,

Jackson (26:43):

Makes sense. Let’s talk a little bit about the defense industry networking. You’ve been a director there for what, nine years now? What’s the purpose of that organization and what do you do?

Kelly (26:53):

Well, I’ve been part of it for a long time. I’ve only taken over, so Sandy Taylor started defense industry and networking because I call him, I don’t think he knows that I call him this behind the scenes, but he’s the cruise ship director of defense. I think he’s part of the group that started connecting where they realized that the industry is so far apart that they really had to forge relationships themselves to get an understanding of what everyone did and how they all fit in together. So he saw a need, two ways to connect businesses and SMEs, but also too to help veterans transition to give them a safe place where they can come along, meet other businesses and get some real life advice as to what to do next. So it started years ago in Canberra and a really small, and then it launched in Brisbane and now it’s in every state across Australia. It’s about to go over New Zealand popups all around the world.

Jackson (27:46):

Yeah, wow. How many members as part of that currently

Kelly (27:49):

At the moment? I think there’s over 16,000 in Australia.

Jackson (27:52):

Yeah. Awesome. And let’s talk a little about the N S A national security session in Australia that time. I went to the launch,

Kelly (27:59):

You were at the launch

Jackson (28:00):

30 days

Kelly (28:01):

Ago and I was wearing pink again. It seems this is not normal. Oh

Jackson (28:04):

Yeah, I was wear pink.

Kelly (28:05):


Jackson (28:06):


Kelly (28:06):

Just for you,

Jackson (28:08):

Give an overview of the mission that you are doing there with our and co. Yep.

Kelly (28:14):

Again, I think when we talk about sovereign capability, there is a bit of a lack of understanding as to defense having a broader lens. So when we look at sovereign capability and where it comes from national security, it needs to take into all things. So it is about defense systems and defense, but it’s also about our agriculture and our critical infrastructure and things that I don’t think a lot of people think about when they go, oh, well we need all of these things to live the way that we do and to flourish. So for us it was really important. And for Aloc, he’s really passionate about just doing things with a very broad acre view, being able to passionately expedite critical things that need to be done for defense. And to give you an example, like I said before, if we can look at new technology and be able to push that into avenues that it hasn’t been able to get to because there is experts looking at things saying this needs to go there, and those connections are made and they’ve got the support. It’s not about having government be part of the process. We know that government’s there and then it’s about industry leading, but again, broad acre views, bringing everyone together, making sure that things are being looked at in a sensible fashion, in a coordinated effort, which now is more important than ever.

Jackson (29:30):

Yeah, definitely. I think you’re right. People don’t think about that current infrastructure stuff except when the floods happen and they’re like, oh, I can’t get milk and can’t get food. And that kind of, no one really thinks about it until it is a problem.

Kelly (29:44):

North Queensland discovered there was powdered milk during the 2011 floods. There’s no milk left. Oh, what’s powdered milk? And it was cut off one highway and we had friends cut off for weeks. And I think that’s what we need to think about. We in Queensland particularly think about natural disasters impeding our day-to-day life. It’s a big event. Everyone’s great, we clean it up, but we don’t think about what’s next. We think about critical disasters or if you look at that from a military perspective, God forbid that ever happened. But there is things that we can do now with how we’re looking at critical infrastructure that protect those assets for hopefully not happening situations.

Jackson (30:27):

But if something does happen obviously then yeah, it’s definitely organizations like in s a A to consider this staff and to create that kind of community. So it’s a pretty exciting what you’re doing there.

Kelly (30:38):

And I think too, I mean Israel for example, you can’t go onto a train without that train’s bomb ready. It’s protected. And I think things too, plan for the worst, expect the best, but at least have the systems in place where we are not always being reactive. We have to future plan. Yep,

Jackson (30:57):

Definitely. Let’s pivot back to the recruitment side. So the day job, the day

Kelly (31:01):


Jackson (31:02):

The day job you caught earlier, maybe share some insight in your experience because you’ve been 15 years in the recruitment industry now let’s give an open verse. How do you find good people?

Kelly (31:17):

That’s a very good question. A lot of work. Yeah. Okay. It’s a lot of work to find good people. The world of recruitment’s changed. I mean we spoke about this before and you said what was it like back in the day? And I would be like, we had higher unemployment, so we had a lot of people and we had a high level of immigration, so we had a lot of talent. We also didn’t have the expansion of economic systems and projects, which we have now. Before it was probably easier. A lot of organizations would say we posted a job out on Seek and we had 300 applications and they were all quality and it was really hard for us. But it’s also about industry meeting the situation. At the moment, I think gone are the days where people would say, oh, I want a unicorn and a rainbow. And I’m like, that doesn’t exist. It’s just about using. And now we work, we utilize and are experts in systems, our C E O who’s just retired, he was an AI engineer

Jackson (32:19):


Kelly (32:19):

Over in the uk. And it was actually quite funny looking at someone from that lens where he was looking at new technology and how we create systems in our own business. So we’ve had AI automation in our systems talking to us for years because that’s how much we invest within our databases and our platforms. So

Jackson (32:37):

Rollback to 15 years ago when you started at Hayes and took the job, there would’ve been, I guess, no, LinkedIn back then would’ve been more newspaper focused. I’d imagine we

Kelly (32:48):

Had ads. You would.

Jackson (32:50):

What did that look like?

Kelly (32:51):

It was great. That’s great. It was great. Like I said to you before, so I had to code in H T M L, my own seek adverts for keywords,


The skill. So yes, we are talking. It was well, we actually had at that stage, and I still remember Adapt, which was one of our biggest investments, which was our database. So we thought we were incredibly advanced and we would have searches set up and my boss at that time had things and we did it recruitments. So we thought we were the bee’s knees. It was a lot of find and engage being able to, that was the start of emailing people like we would not for please send this onto your 20 friends and otherwise you pet won’t die. Like early M S N emails, we would start emailing people with jobs seek and everything was just coming through.

Jackson (33:38):

Where would you find individuals back then?

Kelly (33:41):

Well, it was mostly driven at that stage by seek. So other job boards at that point, candidate attraction strategies and newspapers. We were Australia’s largest newspaper advertiser. It was a very power point. We actually helped seek establish in Australia as an organization and back them and we were their largest account. It was a different time, but technology was just meeting recruitment. So it went from, and I was there for it. So we used to have paper files and it was great because laptop, if you computer dyed, you could still pull out a hard file and call someone. And then we transitioned out of that because now file security and data security, our cybersecurity as an organization is huge and it’s something that we put a lot of money into investing because we have probably more details than a bank. So our systems and processes are next level from a secure perspective. So we saw this very easy breezy world of paper-based systems now into full blown, you can’t move from your computer locked

Jackson (34:48):

Down, locked

Kelly (34:48):

Down, swipe cards, treat us like bank security, which it’s really interesting how it’s all changed.

Jackson (34:54):

Which is good though because I imagine it’s amazing if there’s a candidate wants to go recruitment, especially for defense, they don’t want their details going to any hodge bodge recruitment or company or getting leaked or anything. This is

Kelly (35:06):

What blows my mind though, because I look at CVS and people have so many of their personal details still, my date of birth, whom I’m married to. I’ve had people there put my visa number before. I’m just calling them going, you don’t need all of these things. You don’t know who this is going to. And there was a lot of seek scams for a period and job board scams where there was actually people advertising for jobs, instilling people’s data, which now people are a little bit more mindful.

Jackson (35:33):

So what are you seeing from the criminal history now? Imagine now you’ve got things like LinkedIn to be big and seek, and how do you find people in advertised roles? Currently?

Kelly (35:44):

We as an organization had to look internally. It was, we saw a change in how people were applying to jobs. Well, the seek numbers weren’t adding up anymore. People weren’t coming home and looking at say LinkedIn or Seek to find their new job. They were coming home and sitting on social media. So we had to track data. All good companies do, and we said our investment needs to be into our own systems. So our investment was building new databases, which are technologically driven with AI built in. Our website was amplified to be able to contain data and be its own job platform. It has been totally set up with our marketing team behind the scenes in regards to capturing like the R O i. Every interaction that a human has with our systems is tracked and we can follow it up. And we have all of these tools now integrated to make our life easier from a find and engage, but never taking away from the human connection, which is you still want to talk to people, assess whom they are and match them to the best organization.

Jackson (36:49):

Yeah. Okay. So how does it differ trying to find defense candidates and placeable versus standard recruitment? Are they in different circles or how’s that different

Kelly (37:01):

Defense is networked. So when you are talking about, to give you an example, we’ve got international trafficking of arms, I a R and E A R system. So there’s barriers to trade, we call it. So there’s certain regulations which we have in defense, which we are buying things from overseas. So we are taking on some of their defense liabilities. So when we’re looking at candidates, if a client says to us, this person needs to be able to work on an I A R program. So I would have a client come to me and say, Kelly, can you find me a system engineer? Who’s I A R compliant?

Jackson (37:35):

What’s ITAR compliant?

Kelly (37:36):

So international traffic of arms. So to give you an example, I would have to find an Australian citizen whom hasn’t been born in the unprescribed list of countries. So China and they’ll say, we need a defense clearance. So that’s great. So all of these things that impede

Jackson (37:56):

Make it so much harder to find

Kelly (37:57):

Makes it harder. But I think that when I said about networking, our systems attract to be able to help us find those people. But for us, that’s why we do so much within the industry because our candidates are our clients and we’re always trying to find new people. We have veteran programs specifically set up so we can transition people out of the a d F into the defense industry. So we’re always finding people, but it’s hard and it’s again, more restrictions. I call it like a Rubik’s cube of different recruitment. You just sit there and you go, what are they going to give me now?

Jackson (38:32):

Yeah, because I’d have big requirements and then you’d have, oh, of these candidates and you go look at ’em and they go, oh, hang on. Where were you born? How old are you? And all these other check boxes,

Kelly (38:40):

It’s all these restrictions, which is what we talk about, this human capital crisis In defense, it’s classified and there’s restrictions for a reason because national security is really important, but we don’t help ourselves at all.

Jackson (38:56):

But that’s understandable. What advice would you have for someone in a business now who’s looking for maybe a recruitment agency to partner with to go and find someone? Just more generally speaking, not so much defense, but I know you’ve been in the industry for a long time around recruitment, so people know what good looks like and what bad looks like. What kind of questions would you ask a recruitment agency who you’re looking at partnering with?

Kelly (39:16):

Firstly, I would want to know if I was a business, I’d want to know what that recruitment company knows about me. So if I’m looking, I think heavily looking at the moment, their reputation online. If someone’s really passionate about something at the moment, they’re going to leave a review. So do some homework. And if you’re having an introduction to an agency, see if they come to you with a knowledge and understanding of your business and your values. If they’ve taken the time to do the homework, they want to partner. And that’s what’s important. I know a lot of agencies and we’ll go in and they’ll be selling all of their benefits. We have many benefits of working for us. We are massive. There is things, but it doesn’t mean anything to an organization that wants you to care about them.

Jackson (39:59):

Definitely. That’s good advice actually, to make sure they’re coming prepared and actually want to partner with you, learn about your business, understanding if they demonstrate that back to you, when you actually go sit down with them and they say they come and they go, cool, this is your business. We want to work with you. What questions would you ask them?

Kelly (40:14):

I know what questions I’d want to ask my clients now because I’ve turned it around. Because I think partnerships both ways. But I would ask about, yes, they’re resources and systems. I mean, let’s be honest, we are in a very candidate short market at the moment, and we are I think 500,000 people short from an immigration perspective. So I want to know that they’re going to be able to get me people.

Jackson (40:38):

So you can ask someone of their database,

Kelly (40:39):

I want to know how people

Jackson (40:40):

Are they placing,

Kelly (40:41):

How do they do it? Then I want to know about their process. That would be my next question. So do they have an established recruitment process? What guarantees do they have? Walk me through step by step. I’d want to know about too, what are they going to charge me? Always good. I think return on investment, but I think too then probably less speaking from them, more listening, but then a good recruiter will sit there and quite quickly establish that model of going, this is not a transaction for me. If I really want to work with you and Jackson, if I really want to work with your business moving forward, I want to know all the things. I want to know all about the staff. I want to know all about where you’re at, what your growth plans are, what your values are, because I have to guarantee my work. So it’s not just me throwing a human at you and walking away. Yep.

Jackson (41:26):

It’s a partnership.

Kelly (41:27):

It’s a partnership.

Jackson (41:28):

Your business. That’s much like what we do in it, right? We’re technology partner, what we change to, because with it, you get keys to the castle and strategy and systems, that kind of thing. If we had just to rock up and throw pricing on the table, even the cheapest, it doesn’t make any sense. You need to understand their business and what they’re going what direction. So that’s definitely good advice when you’re finding recruitment partner to make sure that they understand your business first and done the homework, that kind of thing. They come in and then make sure they really want to understand where your business is at

Kelly (42:00):

And you’ve got to like them. Yeah, I mean you have to like the individual, I think go with your guard. You’ll know. It’s like anything in business, you’ll know straight away of someone that you click with and you want to invest in. And I think that’s part of the relationship. But be smart in sort of like I said, an industry at the moment, which is short. Sometimes you might need to go for the bigger organizations they have the better systems, they’ll be able to provide solutions. I think what I like about the industry is the moment we’ve never got to be so innovative. We don’t have to look at a solution going, we’ll just put a person in a job.

Jackson (42:32):

What are some other ways that you can,

Kelly (42:35):

Instead of

Jackson (42:35):

Hiring a person, do something else?

Kelly (42:38):

We’ve aligned our business to different industries and different teams. So we’ve got assessment and development, which will just take certain parts of recruitment campaigns. Finding and engage will take on. If you don’t have the time to run a 3000 apprenticeship program across the country, we’ll take the bulk of that. We’ll handle applications. We have the systems to be able to do that. So we’ve got also what we call enterprise. Now, the enterprise division was created for solutions for companies big but don’t have technology. So we can go in and we provide them with human capital systems, payroll systems, onsite efficiency teams to take over the process of getting people into the market. We’ve got poso now, which was rebranded recently from James Harvard, which is our IT consultancy company. So working more on statement of works, be able to help solution-based now that IT recruitment’s changing, being able to get candidates through that for a whole range of projects through periods of time.

Jackson (43:41):

How’s the IT recruitment changing?

Kelly (43:44):

I think now it’s so many things. We’ve had to meet the market because a consultancy is different to what we do in labor hire. It has access to portals and systems that the general human won’t because it has different levels of authority and a lot of new tech works in different fields. So for our business, we had to create an offshoot, and it’s the only offshoot to our bigger brand, which is Enterprise, to make sure that our clients are protected and that we are protected. Oh, right, okay. So this whole new model is essentially our own IT consultancy, but with the advantage of having the whole haze brand sitting behind it from a human people’s perspective. So if you need 180 contractors to do a Queensland Health project in North Queensland, we can facilitate that.

Jackson (44:28):

Yeah, right. Okay. That’s interesting. There’s not many organizations in Australia would be able to do that.

Kelly (44:35):

Well, and please don’t call that in because the North Queensland team probably just sat there and went, don’t give that as an example.

Jackson (44:41):

They just swallowed and it’s

Kelly (44:42):

A busy day. Yeah. They’re like, we can’t. No, they can’t actually.

Jackson (44:45):

Awesome. Kelly, really appreciate you coming in. We’ve gone a little bit over bit over time, but let’s wrap it up there. You share some good insights around defense, how you can work with, and also some recruitment, what’s happening in that kind of space. So looking forward to staying in touch and seeing how you go with an SS a A and everything else you’ve got going on. Appreciate

Kelly (45:00):

It. Thank you for having me. And yeah, we’ll see what comes next and everyone can register for Meet the Primes too, if they go to Bench on at the moment, if they want to be part of the defense supply chain.

Jackson (45:09):

Awesome. Bench on, is that bench au? Is that where they go for that? Yep. And how can they reach you, Kelly? If they want to reach out on, they

Kelly (45:15):

Can reach out to me on LinkedIn or otherwise, we’ll put my email on this podcast later on.

Jackson (45:21):

Awesome. Thanks, Kelly. Thanks. See

Kelly (45:22):

You. Thanks.



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