STEM Leaders In Focus – A Conversation With Rob Hillard

STEM Leaders In Focus – A Conversation With Rob Hillard

Day of STEM recently interviewed Rob Hillard, Managing Partner of Deloitte Consulting in Australia, to discover his personal STEM journey, and his perspectives on mentoring, talent acquisition, the millennial generation, and what’s next for the STEM movement in Australia.

Day of STEM: Can you give us the background on what sparked your initial interest in pursuing a career in STEM?

Rob Hillard: The initial spark for me came when I walked into an electronics store at age 11 and came to the realisation that I could own a personal computer. I immediately picked up a paper route and began saving money in order to purchase a computer. I was absolutely inspired by the unknown parameters of what a computer could achieve. My unique opportunity was that I lived in the country during an era when people and businesses didn’t understand these possibilities. At age 13, I started developing software that I sold to local businesses that had begun to use computers. The ability to earn pocket money this way kept up my keen interest in computers. However, my academic interests weren’t exactly bound to computer science, as I leaned more towards pure maths and physics.

Day of STEM: Was there any one moment or person at school who helped make a lasting impression that connected the dots?

Rob Hillard: One of the challenges I faced in school was that the STEM subject teachers weren’t able to relate what we were learning to our futures. Many people dropped out, a trend that continues today, because they couldn’t see why the subject was relevant to potential future careers. I was lucky enough to have a physics teacher during secondary school – Leigh Thompson – who was able to make the syllabus both relevant and engaging. He was able to convey the link between the application of physics and computer science and demonstrate the possibilities for a future career in STEM.

Day of STEM: How have mentors influenced you professionally over the course of your STEM career?

Rob Hillard: At each stage of my career I’ve been lucky enough to find individuals who have a unique perspective on our profession. These are the people I’ve benefited from the most in terms of my own learning. Your mentor will and should change depending on the stage you’re at in your career or your area of interest at a given time. I’ve always been hungry to develop additional capabilities and skill sets and you can achieve this by actively seeking out individuals to help you learn in those areas. Another really important point is to diversify the ideas and perspectives from which you develop your own understanding and approach.

Day of STEM: What does the culture of mentorship look like at Deloitte?

Rob Hillard: At Deloitte we have a number of mentoring opportunities, both short-term and long-term. We create a positive environment conducive to mentoring, however the critical component for success is the drive of the individual to learn and seek out those opportunities. One point about STEM education that I always drive home is that learning is a lifelong journey. When you finish your formal education you’ve really only just begun that journey. I keep emphasising that what someone knows is less important than their ability and willingness to learn about what’s coming next.

Day of STEM: How do you think mentorship will change given advancements in communication technology?

Rob Hillard: We are learning to collaborate more and more effectively, helped immensely by the increasing number of technology-based collaboration tools. Conferencing robots allow us to be present via avatars, seamless video technology offers ‘always on’ high definition video conferencing and social collaboration tools allow us to have more active interaction electronically. Each of these technologies effectively removes friction from the system. They are helping us interact more productively and efficiently and increasing the enjoyment of the interaction.

Day of STEM: What specific skill-sets and capabilities do you prioritise in talent acquisition?

Rob Hillard: One of the questions I’m constantly asked is, “how important is it for a candidate to be job ready?” What we look for at Deloitte is a broad STEM knowledge that can be applied to the domain in which an individual wants to work. And the ability to understand the context of that domain and what’s going to come next. Knowledge of a technology platform or programming language may look impressive on a CV, but more important is that the individual understands how to use them in the context of their specific field. Once you understand the context then it becomes easier to apply different programs and languages. The broadest possible education that you can achieve within the time you have available will provide the greatest opportunity for jobs of the future. If you have to sacrifice a deep technical skill set in order to have a broad foundational knowledge, I think that’s a good compromise to make.

Day of STEM: Can you give us your perspective on what the millennial generation brings to the table?

Rob Hillard: Millennials have grown up with technology in their hands and therefore come to the table, by and large, optimistic about its positive applications for society. This sets them up for success in a career that’s bound to be touched by technology. In works by academic and author Thomas H. Davenport, he separates the jobs of the future and their relationship to technology into three domains: be governed by technology; be working with technology; or be working on technology. Millennials have a phenomenal opportunity to be the shapers of that next-generation of technology and we’d love to see more young Australians at the forefront of that development.

Day of STEM: The STEM movement has gained considerable traction throughout Australia – how do we shift this momentum into tangible outcomes?

Rob Hillard: We are in enormous danger of having a secondary school syllabus that is too crowded, thanks to an admirable but possibly misplaced desire to add subjects such as coding. What we actually need to be doing is emphasising the role of foundational STEM capabilities rather than seeing them as an incremental part of the syllabus. I’m less concerned about cramming in coding and more concerned about maths and computer science converging and teachers making a relevant connection for students, helping them to recognise possible future career applications. It’s also incredibly important for professionals and employers to share their STEM stories in order to inspire students, which is one of the reasons we were so keen to partner on the Day of STEM journey.

Day of STEM: Can you give us a quick introduction to the Deloitte mentors and tell us why they were chosen?

Rob Hillard: We selected our Day of STEM mentors for two reasons. Number one is relevance – our mentors themselves have forged careers where they have been able to apply their STEM education. Number two is that these individuals are having FUN in their jobs (something not everyone may associate with a career in STEM) and we believe that highlighting this is a critical factor in attracting today’s students.

Day of STEM: Do you have parting thoughts or subjects we didn’t cover?

Rob Hillard: We are seeing a lot of commentary around STEAM vs. STEM but for me it’s not an either/or. We need creativity and we shouldn’t walk away from the arts and artistic talent. My perspective is that schooling gives students the skills to apply creativity. STEM is just one avenue to which creativity can be applied and without doubt an increasingly important avenue in the future.

About Deloitte Australia:

The Australian partnership of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu is committed to growth, client service and its people, with more than 640 partners and approximately 6000 people located in 14 offices across the country, plus PNG, Timor-Leste. Deloitte Australia continues to invest in innovative services, products and people, while expanding its business through acquisitions, alliances and organic growth. Focused on the creation of value and growth, and known as an employer of choice for innovative human resources programs, we are dedicated to helping our clients and our people excel.

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu is a globally connected network of member firms in more than 150 countries with around 225,000 professionals, all committed to making an impact that matters, bringing world-class capabilities and high-quality service to clients, and delivering the insights they need to address their most complex business challenges. Deloitte provides audit, tax, consulting, and financial advisory services to public and private clients spanning multiple industries.

For more information, please visit Deloitte’s web site at

Robert Hillard Biography:

As the Managing Partner of Consulting at Deloitte, Robert’s responsibilities include helping clients respond to change (technological, economic and social) through a team of more than 1800 management consultants. Based on his more than 25 years’ experience, Robert believes organisations can only achieve lasting results with a combination of transformation skills and supporting technology. Robert was previously responsible for the firm’s Technology Agenda and was also COO of Consulting.