Tracking potential talent

by 01 Apr 2008

Is there anything negative about moving to an automated applicant tracking system? Teresa Russell talks with two organisations that managed smooth transitions and have achieved impressive returns on investment

There are many reasons organisations change from a manual or semi-automated recruitment process to using software that automatically tracks candidates. However, the thing they have in common is that once the system is operating well, they never look back.

When Jacob Grech left his previous employer to join Hyder Consulting, an international advisory and design consultancy working in the areas of infrastructure, property and environmental solutions, he was well acquainted with the e-recruitment system that he previously used to attract and manage candidates. Grech, HR advisor at Hyder, says the organisation has experienced significant growth in the last five years – both through acquisition and organically.

Hyder is a publicly-listed UK company employing more than 800 people in Australia and New Zealand, with more than 4,000 staff in the UK, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. “When I arrived two years ago, line managers were trying to fill vacancies through numerous methods, including specialist engineering recruitment agencies, newspaper advertising, listing vacancies on our website and through employee referral,” says Grech.

Several drivers resulted in HR taking a more strategic approach to recruitment and managing candidates through the whole process. “Due to a buoyant engineering sector, our turnover rate was increasing. Getting a good short list together was difficult. There were plans for growth, which would involve even more recruitment in an already tight engineering market. We needed to provide a consistent and professional approach to candidates – and we especially needed a faster response time,” he says.

Collins Foods Group is a $350 million company that is, among many other things, the corporate franchisee for KFC in Queensland. They own and operate all 113 KFC restaurants in the state, directly employing around 4,700 people. Judy Fenton, Collins Foods’HR manager says that several external factors combined to drive them towards an electronic candidate management system.

“We employ 4,000 15–20 year olds. The younger generation has an expectation that technology will be used in the recruitment process,” says Fenton. The quick service restaurant industry has a constant churn rate and a well-documented problem with attraction and retention of staff. Since the mining boom started in Queensland, it has been difficult to get people to work in hospitality and retail – industries that can’t compete with mining wage levels.

“Since July 2006, we have also had to comply with new child employment laws that limit the working hours for many of our young staff. This meant we needed more team members to cover each restaurant,” says Fenton, who adds that research has shown that candidates don’t differentiate between quick service restaurants when selecting their first place of employment. “The more responsive we are to candidates, the greater the likelihood of success,” she adds.

Selection criteria

Grech says that Hyder was looking for a system that was easy to use, low cost and followed a process methodology that fitted their strategy and made sense to the HR team – its main users. He wanted a provider that could manage a quick implementation and a system that could deliver certain reporting functions, which are minimum standards for most systems.

Fenton’s goal for Collins Foods was for each KFC restaurant to become self-sufficient in terms of recruitment and that cost and time efficiencies (such as response time, time to fill, improved professionalism and customer service) would be realised.

“We wanted a system that was externally hosted and maintained. We didn’t want to have to hire an IT person to run it. Price – including any hidden costs, such as the costs of providing new reports or modifications after the system was up and running – was also important,” says Fenton, who made sure a new system would be compatible with their website and would be able to incorporate their new employer branding.

Collins Foods had six providers tender proposals to them. “We had a wide range of choice. There was everything from simple, low-cost tools to very complex systems that were not aligned with our business needs. We also didn’t have the budget to spend $300,000 on a system,” says Fenton, commenting on the highest quote.

Implementation

Both Hyder and Collins Foods got their systems up and running in a few months. “The rollout in Australia was easy because I was here to champion the cause. It was a fairly seamless process. The main delay was from our side. We were creating a specific careers website around the system,” says Grech.

After having used the system for two years, it has recently been deployed internationally across Hyder’s whole business. A knowledge manager from Hyder’s UK head office project managed the system’s interface with the career section on its global website. “Half-day ‘webinar’ training has been highly cost-effective for us. We haven’t had to fly people all over the world to learn the new system,” says Grech. Phase two of this project is to link with third-party job boards in other countries, like the Australian operation has.

Collins Foods has been using its system for four years and recently upgraded to its provider’s latest version that has made candidate tracking easier to use at the restaurant level. “In multi-site operations, we only want to be dealing with candidates that are available by location, so the new version allows better management of our applicant database,” says Fenton.

Because of the nature of the industry, applicants are not forced to use the system to apply for a job. If an applicant turns up in a restaurant to ask for a job and there is a vacancy, they still have paper application forms. Despite the fact that their system has managed 5,500 applications in the last six months, only about 10 per cent of new recruits have come via the candidate management system.

“Online recruitment is just a part of our broad approach to recruitment in this industry. Another very successful strategy has been to tap into the social needs of young people and get them to bring their friends along for a job. We’ve also recently started targeting mothers returning to work who are looking for casual, flexible hours on days, weekends and evenings,” says Fenton.

Return on investment

Neither Fenton nor Grech had any problem justifying the cost of their applicant management systems to their businesses. Grech spoke in terms of the savings on agency fees he would make with just a small number of direct hires per year. “Over and above financial considerations, our line managers are happy because they don’t spend time on recruitment administration, but rather on selecting the right candidate with the best fit for the organisation. Time to hire with our graduate program has also significantly decreased and our new hires now have a great recruitment experience,” he says.

Fenton says it was easy to justify the original business case because the system and provider met all the selection criteria. She described the cost of the system to management by equating it to the cost per restaurant per week. “It was not a hard sell because it was clear that the benefits would far outweigh the costs,” she says.

Tips from the experienced

Judy Fenton, HR manager at Collins Foods, says:

• Be clear on your goal and what you want to achieve

• Create clear performance measures

• Understand your internal capability to manage large, complex systems

• Make sure the system is compatible with your business and future needs

• In high-turnover industries, realise there is a need for continual re-training

Jacob Grech, HR advisor at Hyder Consulting, says:

• Make sure there is an e-recruitment champion

• Always link it to your corporate website's home page - two clicks and you should be there

• Vendor must have good training processes and ability

• Follow up with end users to make sure they use it appropriately and understand its full capabilities.