Delivering a tailored, high quality group training service to employers and apprentices in construction, electrical, civil, automotive, engineering and business administration for their clients, Smart Employment Solutions has experienced a higher than industry average for apprentice completion rates and apprentice retention, supplying over 20,000 apprentices to industry over 39 years.
Recently joining The BUSY Group, we sat down with Stephen Craven, CEO of Smart Employment Solutions, to ask him a few questions about himself, and what it means to now be a part of The BUSY Group.
Firstly, can you explain what a Group Training Organisation (GTO) is?
In a nutshell, group training services supply the recruitment and management of apprentices or trainees for business. The apprentices or trainees are employed and managed by the GTO and we cover the payroll (invoicing the host business for hours worked) and cover legalities. We also cover the costs of the training, PPE and more.
With a market driven tailored approach we deliver work ready, entry level staff to employers and sound management of training and pastoral care that delivers countless benefits to both apprentices and employers. By managing the apprentice or trainee, we ensure their qualification is on track and that they are performing well in the workplace. It’s a successful model to increase skills for industry.
Tell us a little about yourself and your professional background?
My professional career came from an early age, working in the family mechanical repair shop from the age of 13 on school holidays. I also took an after-school job in the local supermarket packing potatoes and doing odd jobs for the butchers. I learnt early on that good customer service along with looking after your staff was the cornerstone of any successful business.
I worked in the family workshop completing my cert III in light vehicle mechanical and stayed on for a few more years learning to run the business. Not long after, I was asked to join a service station where I quickly became the service manager and rapidly grew their clientele. We had the largest mechanical workshop of any Shell dealer in SEQ. This gave my employer the luxury of free time to enjoy with his growing family. Shell Petroleum Company bought the business back from my employer some six years after I had joined and, deciding that I wasn’t going to fit into their plans, I moved across the road and opened a workshop at the local Ampol. Shell was not happy with this as I had taken about 80% of the work with me. Again after about two years the business was booming and the owner was happy suggesting that he has never been so wealthy. I thought to myself, I am the one doing all the work but not achieving my goals.
I decided to get out of the mechanical business and opened or more correctly bought a run-down takeaway chicken shop. Someone had said people always need to eat, they unfortunately have a plethora of choices. After about five years of seven days a week and 12 to 15 hr days, I had become tired. I had just met my current wife and we had decided to get married and sell the shop.
Here is where it gets interesting! My wife’s ex-husband worked for Group Training Australia Gold Coast, and he had come to the shop to sell me the idea of putting on some trainees. After he left, I said, “What a great concept, shame he couldn’t sell it very well.” My wife called him and told him what I had said! Unhappy he said, “Well if Steve could do better, we are hiring new Employment Officers.” I quickly sold the business and went for an interview where I was told that I couldn’t sell and was likely not going to make the cut. I went on a holiday for a month. Just as we got to Airlie Beach my phone rang and I was told they wanted me to start on Monday the 8th of August 2001.
I applied myself to building this position into a career and I climbed the ladder from Employment Officer to General Manager then to Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer in a short time frame. I really wanted to make a difference.
What has been your personal highlight since being CEO at SESAT?
Highlights in my career, well there have been a few. I have met Prime Ministers, ex-Prime Ministers, Premiers and Ministers. I have sat on several Boards as a director and Vice Chairman, and I have been asked to brief committees on matters referring to apprenticeships.
My proudest moment was being recognised in a shopping centre one day by a middle-aged family man who was with his wife and teenage kids. He called out to me as I walked with my wife, I stopped, and we began to talk. He said, “It’s me Jim, Jim from Redbank.” I truly didn’t remember him, however we kept talking until it clicked. I had interviewed him for a traineeship in engineering, he had been with a bad crowd and was up to no good in the community. I remember telling him, “I will get you in but do not let me down or I will not stand by you if you get caught for anything you have done.” Fast forward to the Shopping Centre and he turned to his wife and kids and said, “This gentleman here gave me an opportunity that started me on a journey. A journey that gave me a career in the engineering industry, an opportunity to change my life, meet the woman of my dreams and start a family.” He turned to me grabbed me on the shoulders and said, “Thank you Steve.” As quick as we met again after 20 years had passed, he was gone again. I quickly realised I had changed someone’s life; he had credited me with doing that. That has made my 22-year career in this industry worth all the work I have put in. I have no doubt that there are plenty of those stories around but that one is mine.
Considering the current skills shortages, how can companies like SESAT support industry?
I would suggest that Group Training companies are the best kept secret in business. We don’t get a lot of traction because people don’t quite get what we do. In candidate short markets you could expend thousands of dollars recruiting then do second interviews only to find that your pick has taken another job. We recruit for our client at no cost. Secondly, we give flexibility to our client with notice they can return the apprentice, they can’t do that when you employ direct. We cover all the statutory requirements when you employ an apprentice, and you only pay for when the apprentice is on site. This is a win-win for business. Skill shortages have been here for a long time, Covid-19 just exacerbated this issue, and it is not going to go away anytime soon. At Smart Employment Solutions, we have a proven system that has employed well over 20,000 apprentices and trainees.
Since joining The BUSY Group, how will this further support industry?
Joining the BUSY Group has given benefit to both companies in the merge. BUSY has picked up a strong, financially stable, and leading Group Training company, and Smart Employment Solutions has all the resources that BUSY carries in its arsenal to allow us to grow our business and deliver throughout Australia.
Any developments or plans for SESAT over the next few years that you are excited about?
The BUSY Group can open doors and provide a plethora of options for the clients that we service. Unlocking that potential is something my team and I are extremely excited about, and we look forward to providing Smart Apprenticeship Solutions to Australian Businesses.
Find out more about Smart Employment Solutions
Find out more about The BUSY Group