Personnel Today Awards 2008: Award for Innovation in Recruitment and Retention

This award recognises effective approaches to the selection, recruitment and retention of employees at all levels.

Entries provided evidence of success in developing and motivating staff and showed innovative ways of attracting the right applicants to the organisation. New methods of recruiting, measuring and assessing capability and performance, career management, succession planning, and competency testing were all assessed.

Award judge: Ron Eldridge

Ron Eldridge co-founded engagement consultancy TalentDrain in 2003 after spending 14 years at occupational psychology and testing firms SHL Group and PSL. His expertise includes recruitment, retention, management, training & development, marketing and global partner relationship management. He is a recognised industry expert on employee engagement and retention, having had six years’ commercial experience.

Award sponsor

Hays Human Resources, part of Hays plc, is a leading UK specialist HR recruitment consultancy.

Shortlisted teams:

NCFE (formerly known as Northern Council for Further Education)
The team: HR department
Number in team: 3
Number of staff the team is responsible for: 92 employees

About the organisation

NCFE is an educational awarding body with a customer base of 900 further education colleges, training providers, schools and employers. It offers over 170 nationally accredited qualifications and is a registered charity.

The challenge

A few years ago NCFE could not attract enough job applicants, partly because adverts were dull and old-fashioned, causing it to re-advertise positions wasting time and money. The organisation suffered from high staff turnover, peaking at 56% of staff leaving in 2004-05. It had high sickness absence rates, disciplinary action and low staff satisfaction.

What the organisation did

  • Improved recruitment adverts using colour, cartoons and puns to catch the eye

  • Created friendly, accessible candidate packs, available online

  • Improved induction day and benefits for staff, including additional annual leave and pension

  • Introduced ’empowerment’ training, where staff could spend £200 on any training they liked, from deep sea diving to dancing.

Benefits and achievements

  • More/better job applicants

  • Staff turnover down from 56% three years ago to 12.2% last year

  • Sickness rates down from 13.79 to 6.24 days per year

  • Increased staff satisfaction to 83.3% in 2006-07, up from 68% in 2004-05

  • Increased income, profit and customer satisfaction, with record £7m sales last year

The judge says:

“The challenges faced by the team were clearly tough, but would be recognised by many other HR professionals. However, the approach taken to address the issues would not be so easily recognised in more main stream circles. While the approach may not be to everyone’s taste there is a clear streak of innovation running through what is actually a consistent strategy that is delivering results.”

The team: Resourcing
Number in team: 7
Number of staff the team is responsible for: 500

About the organisation

Supermarket giant Asda offers food, clothing and general merchandise products. It became a subsidiary of US retail giant Wal-Mart in 1999 and is currently the second largest retail chain in the UK [after Tesco]. It has 165,000 employees.

The challenge

Asda recruits around 40,000 people a year but some 36,500 leave the company per annum. This costs the retailer £34m a year in recruitment/training costs as they invest £3,500 per new colleague. The most common reason for leaving was that the job was not what the candidate expected.

What the organisation did

  • Research, including a new starter survey, leaver survey and listening groups

  • Trialled improvements to job activities and updated training materials

  • Introduced ‘Have A Go’ on checkouts, produce, grocery and home shopping in January 2008 for candidates to gain idea of shop-floor tasks

  • Set up local employment partnership deals with government

Benefits and achievements

  • After four months the Bridge of Dee store staff turnover reduced from 46% to 27%

  • Harrogate & York store saw turnover reductions of up to 10%

  • Turnover tracking at 30% in December 2007 compared to 28.3% in March 2008-08

  • Candidate feedback confirmed Have a Go was useful to understanding the job

The judge says:

“In an organisation the size of Asda it is all too easy to compare recruitment approach and turnover figures with industry benchmarks and settle on the easy excuse of it being the nature of the industry. This team appreciated the implications of attrition on customers and profits. The approach adopted did not slavishly following perceived wisdom. The move to experiential recruitment techniques is showing good results.”

HM Prison Service (HMPS)
The team: HR directorate
Number in team: 80
Number of staff the team is responsible for: 51,000

About the organisation

HMPS is a national, government agency which serves the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts. Its duty is to look after detainees with humanity and help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release. It has 51,000 employees.

The challenge

While HMPS had excellent retention figures (95% of staff stay each year), recruitment took between six to eight months per prison officer, leading to severe staff shortages. A five-year plan published in 2004 said the organisation must maintain its position as a lead recruiter in a competitive market.

What the organisation did

  • Introduce an advertising campaign to drive people to a dedicated recruitment website

  • Built recruitment website offering video profiles of officers, vacancies and information

  • Redesigned the recruitment process, to allow applicants to: complete applications and numeracy tests online, choose nearest assessment centre and pass assessments by looking at overall scores

Benefits and achievements

  • Met target of recruiting 1,700 officers by end of last year.

  • Received more than 35,000 applications overall, with some 27,000 taking the selection test online. 57% passed.

  • 3,500 candidates have attended a recruitment and assessment day, with 49% passing.

  • The recruitment website won the best public sector recruitment website of the year award.

The judge says:

“The results of not being able to deliver ‘service’ in this working environment because of recruitment shortfalls cannot be underestimated. Given the implications of the challenge, the services history and the potential obstacles to change the approach adopted was brave and innovative. This courage has been rewarded by impressive results.”

The team: HR
Number in team: 63
Number of staff the team is responsible for: 28,000 (with seasonal variations)

About the organisation

Woolworths is a retailer focusing on the home, family and entertainment markets. It employs 28,000 people with seasonal variations, across 800 stores with six million customers a day.

The challenge

To introduce a strong recruitment brand to attract the best available talent. Potential applicants needed to understand the challenges and rewards of working at Woolworths, and to understand the careers available at the company to encourage retention.

What the organisation did

  • Developed the brand ‘career adventures with a family favourite’ and advertised it in new online and print areas, including branded advertising bicycles and in-flight magazines

  • Improved selection process, including making retail management assessments deal with real-life scenarios

  • Revised induction including regular reviews and training

Benefits and achievements

The judge says:

“The recruitment environment within which the team are working is particularly competitive and challenging. Given this the courage to develop a recruitment brand from ‘the bottom up’ is of particular note. Another feature of the process that has great merit is the use of non-traditional methods of assessment. The team are also able to demonstrate clear commercial value from the programme.”

Paul UK
The team: HR
Number in team: 4
Number of staff the team is responsible for: 398

About the organisation

Paul UK is a retail patisserie and boulangerie employing just under 400 people, with 21 shops. It has plans to open 45 more shops over the next three years.

The challenge

Paul UK faced high turnover and no clear recruitment process. There was no definition on what makes a ‘Paul employee’, and managers hired staff out of desperation with limited experience who walked into their shops off the streets.

What the organisation did

  • Centralised co-ordination of vacancies to fill posts quicker

  • Opened a resource centre above a Paul shop for walk-in recruitment and training

  • Trained managers on how to recruit a ‘Paul person’

  • Introduced competence based interviews and trial shifts

  • Launched ’employee of the month’ scheme

Benefits and achievements

  • Staff turnover reduced by 30% from 2006

  • Staff retention improved by 10% in 2007, from 38% previous year

  • Quality of candidates higher as more rejected based on competences at first stage

  • Success rates of hires from trial shifts 90% in February 2008

  • Reduced recruitment agency fees

The judge says:

“The team identified the commercial implications of not having a clearly defined recruitment brand or process. They addressed this in a systematic and logical way. Whilst the establishment of processes and centralised support would be expected the introduction of branded walk in recruitment and involving staff in decision making demonstrates innovation.”

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