Telling Madison Recruitment to go f*** themselves: Census 2018

Trudging off to University on a mid December weekend doesn’t come with all that many highlights. ‘Think of the future’ I muttered to myself as I paced toward Symonds St having missed the bus. Sweaty, tired and a bit jaded was a pretty fair assessment of myself and the other three PhD students that had sacrificed the beach (ok, probably Netflix) to keep toiling away on their thesis. As midday neared, a morsel of excitement started to build for our one prearranged activity of the day: heading off to the food court for some authentic (I think) South East Asian cuisine.

In between mouthfuls of mee goreng, another high pressure topic cropped up – we’re all broke and don’t have any summer work. I’m totally f**ked, said one of my friends, an exceptionally bright student trying to survive in Auckland on a budget of $300 a week. I think we’re all f**ked, says another. Back in the office I made a few calls to try grease the wheels of anyone who could hook us up with some work. ‘Nothing much’ was the general response, unless I wanted to ditch the PhD and take a permanent gig in the public service. But I did get a tip off, there would be some work leading into the upcoming census.

Armed with Google I did some hunting and found that Statistics New Zealand were outsourcing census work to Madison Recruitment. Sure enough, Madison’s website had a link to the job listing for the role of ‘Temporary Field Officer’ (read: door knocker / survey collector). I applied and got a phone call shortly thereafter; hooray!

Seven weeks on, this is why I’ll never apply for a job at Madison Recruitment again:

Reason 1: Hiring as if they’re choosing the next CEO of Fonterra

The Madison recruitment process for becoming a ‘Temporary Field Officer’ was as follows:

  1. Send resume & cover letter.
  2. Provide references.
  3. Agree to police check.
  4. Complete phone interview.
  5. Complete online literacy test.
  6. Complete online numeracy test.
  7. Attend an in-person group role playing game (yup, that shitty one they’ve all used for 20+ years where your plane crashes in the Amazon and have to choose which items to take).
  8. Attend an in-person individual role play game (two scenarios).

Reason 2: Less flexibility than a rugby player at their first yoga session

Every applicant needed to provide evidence that they have a drivers licence – which was a little odd because Madison weren’t providing temporary field officers with company vehicles. Instead, Madison expected that you’d not only have a licence, but that you would use your own vehicle and be willing to have it insured for commercial purposes. I guess I’ll just have to stomach any premium increases if it means I’m gonna score some work.

“But what about one of my friends? She lives nearby, doesn’t drive but we could work in the same area no problem” I said. “Sorry, we’re screening out anyone without a driver’s licence” replies the consultant. “What if I pick her up and drop her off in my own time?”. “Sorry, you must have a driver’s licence”, clearly unmoved by my offering up of tangible solutions to their unnecessarily restrictive hiring practices.

Reason 3: They’re cheap assholes that mold workplace training into the recruitment process.

I really should have submitted a timesheet for the hour already worked. After all, Madison get you to sign their generic and virtually obligation-free temporary employment agreement before you even come in for the role play assessment, that is, a month before they even made me a job offer. And before you even begin the role play assessments you’re watching youtube videos regarding the ‘Madison way’, trying on uniforms for size and having it reinforced to you in person that Madison is your employer – unless they wish to dispense with you, in which case, don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out, peasant.

Reason 4: Treating relationships with your employees like they’re the sucker from Offspring’s  “Self Esteem”

Four weeks after applying, three weeks after the phone interview and reference check and one week after the role play assessments, I get contacted by a consultant in Wellington asking if I would be interested in starting a week earlier than originally discussed. She said that Madison Recruitment felt that “I was someone who showed resilience in the interview process’ and that perhaps I would be useful working with some of the more difficult to reach members of the public.

It sounded good to me, an extra week of work. So I checked a few things and then sent confirmation via email, I also asked if that meant I could be confident I had secured employment, to which I was advised that they would be in touch be the end of the month. On January 31st, seven weeks after applying, five weeks after the phone interview and reference check and three weeks after the role play assessments I get a phone call advising that I am no longer required until after census day and that I would instead be placed on a part paid stand-by role until then. As a requirement of this new role I would need to keep my schedule clear provided they needed my services the following day.

“Now I know I’m being used

That’s okay because I like the abuse

I know she’s playing with me

That’s okay ’cause I’ve got no self-esteem”

All this BS for a temporary role paying the princely sum of $20.20 per hour – that the employer can terminate at any time without penalty to themselves.

Now while I can appreciate that a young consultant, probably still shaking off an #awesome #laneway isn’t exactly au fait with what constitutes ethical hiring practices, surely there’s at least one employment lawyer at Madison Recruitment who knows better. It also begs the question that if a straight white dude with a car, licence, computer, references and a f**kin Masters degree is having difficulty scoring a temp job at New Zealand’s largest recruitment company, what chance have most other people got? That is, what chance has anyone on the dole got scoring a job that requires ringing doorbells and handing out forms?  

TL;DR? No, Madison Recruitment; go f*** yourselves. I won’t be sitting idly and on standby while you mete out corporate fascism on behalf of a government department.

13 thoughts on “Telling Madison Recruitment to go f*** themselves: Census 2018

  1. Hi Luke (I’m one of his fellow Phd students)

    I am sorry this happened to you and I’m sad to see the deterioration of this job opportunity of which I made use as a student in the last Census and the one before that (which was cancelled due to the Chch earthquake just after it started. Only after having 3 doors in a row shut in my face with people yelling “sorry not a good time!” it dawned on me to stop knocking and check the news). For purposes of documentation and comparison I will describe my own Census collector experience (2013).

    My recruitment was simple – cover letter, CV, phone call to invite me to the interview and a friendly 30 min interview conducted by the district supervisor I later reported to. No role plays except in paid training where we practiced the doorstep conversation on each other. The job of chasing “difficult” households who did not fill out the Census forms or were never at home after 3 visits was offered to me and a few other collectors only after the main part of the census finished and it was known how much extra work there is. I guess these offers were based on collectors’ performance in the main Census. The unexpected extra work was a nice surprise and the supervisors easily found collectors willing to take those extra hours. This seems a much better practice than keeping people in uncertainty and giving them false hopes like you describe. Later, again, I was offered a few more extra hours helping out in the office and checking the census journals of other collectors (it was pen and paper at that time). The pay was not high, I do not remember exactly, but I felt respected and well supported throughout the process. I had to use my own car but no one said anything about commercial insurance.

    There was some indication that the recruitment was not perfect: in my office support job many of other collectors’ journals I checked had errors which showed a lack of basic numeracy (like adding columns of 5-6 numbers incorrectly), so I understand adding a numeracy test. In my wrap up of “difficult” households some of these households turned out to not be difficult at all, rather, the issue was the lack of cross-cultural skills of the collector (for example with some populations when representing the govt you need to be grim, if you smile you’ll be considered a fraud, people working for the govt do not smile).

    The rest of what you describe seems absurdly overblown. Apparently with the rates they offer they have problems attracting suitable candidates and think that making people jump through hoops will produce a better outcome. If they cannot afford to pay collectors more, they should automate as much of the process as feasible. When I was a collector, as many as 50% of households in some meshblocks chose to do the Census online and this time it will be more. The online code could be posted to everyone in the first place. Give people 2 weeks to do it online and then send (fewer, better paid) collectors to the remainder. The collector asks how many households there are and how many people live there, but this happens at the doorstep; the collector does not enter the house to verify the numbers he or she is given. Having a real person get these numbers in a face to face situation rather than getting them through an online form does not add any value or integrity to the process.

  2. Thanks Celestyna,

    Yes, it seems that a cv, cover letter and face interview would surely suffice for a job such as this. I’m still incredulous they wanted a group role play session after stating that we wouldn’t be working in groups we’d be working alone (note: your friend can’t work without a licence, you’ll be working seperately).

    And I agree, the door knocking skills could have been honed for any suitable candidate post employment.

    As for bulk computerisation / automation, it was probably on the cards until the clusterf**k that was the Australian census! Perhaps Stats NZ had a rethink following that howler.

  3. I’m suddenly aware why as a district supervisor (with a completed PhD) in the 2013 census I’ve received no alerts to the fact that Stats NZ is recruiting for the 2018 census.

  4. Lol when I applied for a job stacking the bread at supermarkets after having been self employed for 30 years and of the older gen I was extremely bemused by the serious drilling and role playing used by the two teenagers that interviewed me
    I didn’t get the job but i did get the census job earthquake year and you needed a car to keep all the forms in if you were getting paid hourly they’d be paying you to go home and refresh your bag and forms
    but in my year we were paid a set fee for each stage completed.

  5. Could completely relate to this!!
    I saw the field officer job advertised, applied, had very quick initial contact from Madison and thought “Great, they’re onto it”. Completed the lengthy application form, computer tests, telephone interviews and waited.
    After a couple of weeks I was told I had an interview in another couple of weeks. Was told the interview would be held at a particular institution which has a campus which is spread out over several streets so I deliberately emailed to check which part of the campus it would be held in. I was told it would be in the main building and not to arrive any earlier than 5 minutes prior to the interview time.
    When I arrived at said time there was a sign telling me to go to another part of the complex but no map or anyone around to tell me where that was. Ended up being on another street 5 minutes away. Because of this I arrived stressed. Everybody else (but one ) was there already because they either ignored the 5 minute rule or knew the campus enough to run to the correct area. After an interview involving group role play while at least 8 consultants watched on and made notes on clipboards and individual role plays we were told we would be informed of the outcome on a particular date.
    This date came and went so a few days after I left a message asking to be contacted. This was ignored. A couple of days following this I emailed and said I was no longer interested in the work. A week following this email I was contacted to say I would be told the results of my application in another week. I had to send another message – no longer interested!!!!
    During the course of this saga I dealt with no less than 9 different consultants, always somebody different in contact and if I emailed somebody a completely different person would respond.
    Will never ever ever apply for a job with Madison recruitment again.

    1. Thanks for your comment, sorry you had to go through this nonsense too.

      I added this blog to reddit just over a week ago although I think the story is now getting passed around Facebook because i’ve had a flurry of emails in the past couple of days from people explaining a very similar set of circumstances.

      Hopefully the new Government will take a closer look at how this project in managed in future!

  6. Oh and they were very rude and pushy with one of my referees because she didn’t complete my referee form on the same day that they sent it to her.

  7. Hi this is so familiar! I live in Dunedin and had the identical experience and when they rang to offer me, hold your breath, 2 field officer positions, I turned them down because it all seemed like a train wreck in the making. I just had no faith in Madison as recruiters or employers. The main emphasis throughout was our lack of rights as employees.

    I’m in my 60s and I’ve held professional jobs plus been a union organiser and the whole thing just felt dodgy. I was a few days into working on the 2010 Census when the Christchurch earthquake happened and the Census was called off. We got paid for the whole thing regardless. And I would expect nothing less from a government department.

    For anyone who has similar misgivings about the Census staffing being contracted out to a multinational recruitment agency, I suggest you email James Shaw who is the Minister for the Census. Clearly this was all set in motion before the election, but let’s hope it’s the last time it happens.

    I worked on the 2017 election on special votes in advance and on election day, and it was very professional, not an employment agency in sight.

    1. Thanks for sharing this Suzanne.

      “The main emphasis throughout was our lack of rights as employees.”

      Yes, this was my frustration too. Feel free to share it with your people in the unions and a very good idea re: James Shaw.


      1. The whole recruitment processes sounds totally inappropriate and absurd. Given this new government commitment to fairer working conditions it’s also totally out of whack. Doesn’t give you a lot of confidence that Madison have the capability to do a decent job of the census either…

      2. To be fair, would have been a deal cut before Labour were elected – if they’re still in power come 2023 I am expecting better!

        Thanks for sharing.

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