In a conference space at Sydney’s Maritime Museum, dozens of pairs of chairs are set up facing each other for an afternoon of speed dating. The heavy-hitting corporate suitors – their names are on the chair backs – include EY, Stryker, Accenture, PwC, Westpac, Cordelta, Splunk and Amazon. They’ve come along to this career expo with more than 100 open positions for candidates who have one qualification in common: military service.
In early 2015, Army veteran Tom Moore was frustrated by his own transition into the workforce and knew many fellow vets struggling with depression, unemployment or underemployment. He decided to follow what he’d learnt in the military: “Fix a problem, don’t walk past it.” By May last year, he had “about six people working out of my kitchen”, and today 42 staff in offices in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Washington DC, are working for WithYouWithMe.
The unusual moniker comes from the lingo soldiers use as they go through a building in room-to-room combat, “one of the most dangerous things you can do, and we did a lot of it in the Middle East”, says Moore. “The drill is when you come up to a doorway, the person behind says ‘with you’, and the person in front says, ‘with me’, and you go through the doorway together to protect each other.” WithYouWithMe is us saying: ‘we’re already through the door, we can help you through on your next journey’.”
Moore joined the Army at 18 and was only 23 when he led a 60-man combat team in Afghanistan in 2013. After he was injured, he ran one of the Army’s outplacement projects. “I helped more than 400 people transition, and the process was crap … which I discovered for myself when I went through it.” Hundreds of fruitless applications finally led to a job in sales, “doing 50 cold calls a day after managing 100 people … so it was a bit of a shift”. Fellow veterans were either jobless or in part-time work that didn’t line up with their real skills and experience. That’s when Moore decided to try to fix the problem, with the analytical focus and determination you’d expect of a combat veteran.
His idea was to use technology to identify known gaps in the labour market and the people best suited to fill them. “We’re playing a supply and demand game,” says Moore. “It’s a simple methodology: what does the market need, what does the individual need and what can they do, then giving them the skills so they can be hired and pairing them with companies that need them.” The skills-gap analysis, which is continually building using AI, pairs with a second piece of technology that matches people with jobs through online testing of “aptitude, intellect, psychometrics and culture fit”. That test suggests 10 career paths and highlights skills gaps that need to be bridged to get there, plugging right into the WithYouWithMe online training platform “for things such as cyber security, robotic process automation and systems engineering,” says Moore.
The software is all proprietary to WithYouWithMe and, as the company approaches 500 job placements for veterans the program is being piloted for retiring athletes and parents returning to work. “It’s applicable to anyone who’s going through unemployment or under-employment, or who is transitioning to a new career, which there’s going to be much more of in the next 10 years,” says Moore.
To that end, he believes his solution can help companies preserve their human capital in the face of technological change. “Not all of the new jobs are engineering related – a lot aren’t, and four to 12 weeks of upskilling or retraining can get people up to the standard to do them,” he says. “We’ve got a platform that allows companies to work out what they need and who among their staff are suitable for it, and an online training system that’s quick and helps them to shift their workforce rather than replacing them.”
As WithYouWithMe grows it will continue to serve and remain free for veterans (recruitment fees support that business model), including in the US. But Moore reckons they can “flip recruitment on its head” in the wider world, too.
“The company’s at the top of the road; we’ve got a lot more to learn,” says the 28-year-old. “Hopefully in the next few years we’ll make a real dent in the issue for veterans and move on to something else. We’re here to solve problems, and we’ve worked out that creating a sustainable business that helps individuals and companies is the easiest way to solve the underemployment rate.”