Workforce Health Assessors (WHA) officially celebrated their 15th anniversary on 15 April 2019. Now a thriving international business, many would be surprised to know that WHA came from quite humble beginnings, originally operating out of a shearing shed in Cambridge at the Pembroke vineyards in Tasmania. The idea of WHA began when Managing Director and Co-Founder, Jason Unwin, and his three business partners, recognised a clear gap in the provision of workforce medicals back in 2004.
“No one was doing it well and doing it passionately,” Jason says.
Jason had previously worked in a business that provided pre-employment medicals—and, interestingly enough, also offered rehabilitation services. This was, as Jason describes, ‘a conflict of interest’, because if the pre-employment medical side of the business wasn’t performing up to standard, they were then typically feeding the rehab side of the business, costing employers large sums of money.
Being involved in both sides —both pre-employment and Return to Work services—showed Jason the importance and the need of efficient pre-employment medical assessments to ensure a candidate was fit for a job, and how potentially dire the consequences were if pre-employment medicals weren’t performed correctly. And, from a business perspective, it provided him with insight into the market that was, and how pre-employments should and could be performed differently.
“It also put me in a position to look at the market more closely - into what our competitors were doing – back when I worked for someone else.”
Having that insight meant WHA set out to do things differently from the very start. Being a previous business owner across several different industries, Jason as a natural entrepreneur, knew he had to completely revolutionise workforce medicals to steer the industry in the right direction.
15 Years of Workforce Medical Assessment Innovation
So, WHA set off to bring technology to the forefront of their business operations. They utilised a fantastic Australian IT team to create an innovative software platform that would allow clients to book, track and receive reports. This went live in 2005—only a year after the inception of the business. The software was an industry first—the only truly digital pre-employment medical online software system.
Going from a paper-based system to exclusively online was a big leap, especially in the early 2000s and because the software was the first of its kind. But the months of testing and going back and forth, perfecting the system, paid off from the very get go. “I’d be testing the system as if I was a candidate, as if I was a client, as if I was an assessor, constantly. My bed time average on test nights was probably 2:30 in the morning.”
Only two weeks after the launch, Jason vividly remembers a staff member coming up to him and saying: “I never want to see a paper-based assessment again.”
“This proves how good it was and how ahead of the curve WHA truly was from the very beginning…That was the cornerstone that has helped us get where we are now.”
15 Years of a Client First Focus
But technology wasn’t the only thing WHA did differently. From then, until now, Jason and the WHA team set themselves apart from competition by putting their clients at the forefront of their decisions. WHA pride themselves in providing the best service possible and asking the questions that competitors don’t. They put themselves in the shoes of their clients—from HR Managers and Recruitment Officers, to Safety Managers and Procurement Officers—to ensure they are hitting all the potential pain points with their offered services and to ensure a candidate is truly physically, medically and mentally fit to take on the job functions required.
“I think that the number one greatest strength of WHA is we understand employers, we understand the reason why, and that's such a powerful thing…. The biggest thing is that we want to avoid someone getting hurt because that's horrible—but also the cost can break an organisation.”
“I think what most of the competition get wrong is that they think they're selling that report, that piece of paper that needs to go to the client and have the outcome of the medical on it and that's it - but they miss so much of it because they don't have very good processes around understanding what the role is… I don't think that any other competitor asks the injury history of the candidate. They have job dictionaries which says: “Yeah, you will be standing for a long time. You’ll be doing this.” But it doesn't ask the injury history. And if you don't ask the injury history, how do you know the candidate is actually fit for the role?”
“We provide great service… delivering medicals on time and against expectations, and the quality of the report is a given. The information in our recommendations is what you need, to know which direction you should take with a candidate.”
Rocky Road to Success
It is clear that WHA has been armed with a sound business model from the very start, and the business has grown in leaps and bounds over the past 15 years. However, WHA—like many other established businesses—was not immune to various struggles and downturns along the way.
“When you're looking to be an early adopter of technologies and processes, as we are today, at times we’ve had to put research in front of profit to get us where we,” Jason says. “And the Global Financial Crisis was probably the biggest challenge to us back in 2009 because a lot of clients were hurting. So, we had to weather the storm for about 18 months to two years, where the business flat-lined and even went backwards a little bit.”
Despite the set-backs, WHA had its mind set on continuing down the route of innovation and was eager to bounce back. “Now we’re in the full growth phase,” Jason says.
WHA Goes International
They may have had some losses, but WHA sure has had a lot of wins along the way too. The business has worked with a variety of large international and national clients, such as Broadspectrum and Downer Group. A particular highlight for the business was when Jason and his team went to Papua New Guinea to set up a workforce medical facility for Barrick Gold, the second largest gold mining company in the world. WHA continued to provide these services for 4-5 years, and still does the company’s medicals in Australia.
It’s certainly been a journey for Jason, but he is adamant that it couldn’t have been done without the unwavering help and enthusiasm from his team—from his board members, to the assessing team, to the WHA partners, to the customer service team.
“It’s certainly been a journey within our team. I’m proud of the entire team, we’re an organisation that has a real appetite to do things the right way. We all enjoy going to work… And we as a business understand our clients and we understand what we need to do for them. I couldn’t have asked for a better team.”
WHA Expand Business Partner Opportunities
Now, 15 years on in 2019, WHA has secured many large national and international clients, has a software system that they are constantly improving and innovating, and are operating all over Australia, with more than 30 locations. In the new financial year, they are focused on expanding their footprint across Australia and New Zealand, into regional and remote areas in particular. This is to ensure big business, as well as small local employers, can access WHA services wherever they need them.
It's safe to say it’s been an exciting 15 years for WHA. They’ve had lows, highs, and have propelled themselves forward to be a leader in pre-employment medicals and ongoing health assessments on both a national and international stage. And 15 years on, Jason is still as excited as he was on day one to come to work every day.
“I love my job and I love the industry.”
Jason is undoubtedly excited for the next 15 years of WHA and has big goals for the organisation, and all are most certainly in reach with the help of his team and their ever-evolving proprietary technology. WHA is committed to being ahead of the curve, providing simpler, more efficient ways to conduct pre-employment and ongoing medical services. This will mean implementing more automated processes that save time and money for clients and candidates—but that’s barely scratching the surface. Stay tuned…
Meet the man behind the business…
What is the best piece of business advice you could give to someone just starting out? Have you learnt any valuable lessons along the way?
For people that haven't started a business before, do your research. Inventing and innovating is all I ever wanted to do. And I always thought “Later in life I'm going to retire. I'm just going to get into shed just to build stuff and come up with ideas and improve things.” And I've come up with quite a few over the years. Research is integral to the success of your business or your offering. If something you think of already exists… For example, I thought “People already do pre-employment medicals”… well, quite often you can do it better. So, your research should include not only is anyone else doing it, but how they're doing it, and could you do it better. Get mentors around you. Be brave – have a plan, and have a clear idea of what you’re going to invest into the business and stick to it– but research is the key.
Have you had any mentors along the way?
I think everybody should welcome mentors. I’ve had a lot over my journey – but I think it’s a bit of an art to know when to listen or when to seek advice. Making sure you have mentors around you that are part of your particular journey is important. All of my board are mentors, but certainly I’ve got mentors in all aspects of my life, in family and business and peers. In 2007, I did the Tasmanian Leaders Program and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made… I’ve always been a great networker, and with this sort of thing, you’re in circles you wouldn’t normally gravitate to – there were a lot of not-for-profits, which is a whole different dynamic to commercial. Going to that was a massive learning experience. I made some great friends and connected with a number of great networks… but one of the best things about the program was seeing these other people that had leadership ambitions and the mentors that they had. That was quite eye opening.
You’re a very busy entrepreneur - what do you do to relax?
I try to relax. I’m not very good at it… I listen to podcasts. I just got into scuba diving. I’ve been teaching my son and daughter how to get crayfish. Scuba diving is that next stage (both my kids want to be marine biologists). I also love mountain bike riding. I love walking. I love swimming. I love fishing. My son will try to drag me out fishing or diving every weekend if he could. Both my kids play football. So, for example, Sundays I watch my daughter playing seniors women state league after I goal umpire for my son’s game in the morning – a typical “dad Sunday.” Sometimes I say I come to work to relax because my weekends can be so full, but you’ve got to take advantage, I think, when your kids are a certain age, because one day they won’t be standing at the door saying “let’s go for a fish.”
Workforce Health Assessors offers comprehensive pre-employment medical, pre-placement, and periodic medical assessments tailored to the needs of your business. We organise, perform, and report on all health assessments and medicals to help you determine the suitability of candidates for your business and mitigate risks in the workplace. Our tests are carefully designed and vary depending on the specifications of the role a candidate will fill. Learn more about our pre-employment medical and other health assessment services.