WithYouWithMe founders Tom Moore, Luke Rix and Sam Baynes reinvented the recruitment model by harnessing the potential of ex-military personnel – solving skill shortages in the process.
WithYouWithMe (WYWM) CEO co-founder and CEO Tom Moore wasn’t sure what job he wanted after leaving the army in his mid-20s. He sometimes hadn’t liked taking orders, but at least he’d felt confident in his abilities as an infantry officer to follow the mission. Moore says the army made him an effective soldier through a combination of aptitude testing and ongoing training. “The more you understand people’s strengths, the better you can allocate suitable tasks, at the right time,” he says.
Co-founder and CFO Luke Rix, who studied commerce with Moore at Wollongong University, notes aptitude testing is common in graduate programs for large tech, finance and government organisations, but it can be just as effective when making a career change. “Some organisations like training up young people fresh out of uni, moulding them to a job, rather than retraining someone who has been in the industry a while,” he says. “But there should be continuous learning in every job.”
Rix and co-founder Sam Baynes, an ex- army friend of Moore’s, caught up with him not long out of the army and could see he was going through a tough time. From the outside, he seemed to be doing well — he’d signed more than 100 clients in his sales job, to grow revenue by $5.2m in two months — but inside he was despondent about his career.
“We agreed it wasn’t right that many veterans struggle to find meaningful employment,” says Rix. “So when Tom wanted to do something about it, our way to help him was to turn up every Saturday and talk about how we can do it.
Moore’s pitch was that if the army can take ordinary people and, with a bit of aptitude testing and training, help them do extraordinary things, then surely that model can work for other service organisations.
“We knew mates working as labourers, in bars or mines, and they were all really unhappy, so we launched WYWM to solve veteran underemployment,” says Moore. “We also knew it wasn’t only veterans who found it hard to enter a murkier and murkier workforce. People graduate with degrees and become depressed because they can’t find the right job. So we decided to focus on the supply-and-demand problem of skills the market wants.”
Rix and Baynes moonlighted for a while, holding down corporate jobs for several years before joining Moore full-time in 2018.
WYWM quickly evolved from a recruitment platform for veterans, to offering a suite of career-enhancing services. A veteran signing up for WYWM is initially guided through aptitude and personality tests to help find career pathways that match his or her potential. Next, they’re intensively trained in high-demand technology skills such as cybersecurity, robotic process automation and software development, before being deployed to clients who subscribe to the WYWM platform, or via contracts WYWM wins. The organisation has already helped more than 20,000 veterans and others with career transition. In most cases, those people became career-ready in under 100 hours.
The company is now working with large organisations around the globe to take the same test, train, deploy model to help companies improve their internal talent mobility.
Rix believes more organisations should adopt an aptitude-focused approach to developing their workforces, rather than displacing workers when they want to innovate.
“So many companies bring in a new innovation team, when they should be thinking ‘How do we move our people into new roles for the next challenge?’”
Large companies can also be lethargic in talent transformation, adds Moore. “You can’t keep on investing in more tools and controls to solve problems — you need to trust your people above systems and invest in their skills so they can deliver better outcomes. You should be pivoting your workforce to win the market.”
Moore proudly points to a recent large- scale cybersecurity project as a solid example of preferencing aptitude and upskilling over experience. He says ex-combat soldiers proved adroit at finding problems faster than people who’ve worked in cybersecurity for years: “Cybersecurity has gone from managing permissions on systems to the need to hunt bad guys on systems — and soldiers are really good at that,” he says.
In February, WYWM launched new programs to train 1000 people identifying as neurodiverse, and offered 1000 training positions on the platform for people in the aviation industry who’ve been displaced.
Tell me where we should go in the market and I’ll go there. Tell me to solve a problem and I’ll do it, or better, jump in the foxhole with me and train me to solve it, if you already know how.
New missions for boards
Board directors are in some ways like military brass, reckons Rix. Their job is to direct the strategic vision and mission of the organisation for long-term sustainability. They also need to regularly review the organisation’s capabilities to address bigger-picture threats and opportunities. “Executives in many organisations aren’t focused on long-view plans past their time span,” he explains. “They should also be updating their team’s and their own capabilities. If you don’t keep learning, you’re not going to get better at your job, and you will lose productivity.
Moore says that the millennial founders of organisations with strong social impact missions want more support from their boards to make bold moves. He joined the board of the Digital Skills Organisation in June 2020. “How many boards sit down with first-time CEOs and say, ‘Tom, we reviewed your strengths and weaknesses and here are the skills you need’? And how many invest time in building the CEO’s skills instead of just figuring out if they’ve done their homework? Founders get all these investors saying, ‘You should run the business this way’, but honestly, no-one’s run these kinds of businesses before and isn’t that what attracts investment — our innovation?”
Rix acknowledges the mission of a social impact organisation might not sit comfortably with people who are very commercially minded, but he also believes organisations such as WYWM are good at attracting people who want to do purposeful work. “Everyone here knows we’re about solving veteran underemployment,” he says. “Some decisions don’t make commercial sense, but if they help fulfil the mission then those are the actions we need to take. I don’t know if that exists in a lot of big organisations — not many are at the point where the staff can confidently say, ‘This is what I’m here to achieve’. Boards need to ensure everyone is clear on the mission, otherwise it’s very hard to make good decisions.”
Act, sense, decide, adapt
WYWM borrows from the Australian Army approach to decision-making, the “ASDA Cycle” — act, sense, decide, adapt — which Moore says can empower people who are well-trained and understand the mission to be proactive despite uncertainty. They are encouraged to take initiative, quickly analyse how an adversary (or market) responds, decide what to do next and learn from each experience to continually adapt and improve their approach. “It’s about training people to solve new problems, not just old ones,” says Moore. “Disruptive CEOs want board directors who can impart knowledge on making better decisions and back them to make decisions.
When you’re taking a novel product to market, understand the problem is complex and the business model will have to adapt. Tell me where we should go in the market and I’ll go there. Tell me to solve a problem and I’ll do it, or or better, jump in the foxhole with me and train me to solve it, if you already know how. If you want to facilitate growth, your people need to keep on learning.”
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