Recruitment revolution

An online recruitment system has cut Woolworths‘ direct hire costs by 70 per cent.

The business

Woolworths is one of the UK’s leading retailers, focusing on the home, family and entertainment. With more than 800 stores in high-street locations, the company’s strategy is to tailor its product ranges and store sizes to meet the needs of local customers.

In 1999, a new retail format -Big W – was launched to take advantage of changing retail trends by providing a broader product range in high-volume, out-of-town locations. And in 2001, Woolworths de-merged from Kingfisher with the intention of pursuing its own strategy of recovery and growth.

The challenge

Hiring high-quality retail managers and leaders is pivotal to Woolworths‘ business performance. The recruitment team needed a continuous stream of good-quality candidates.  It set out to create an internal recruitment consultancy, while driving down the overall recruitment costs.  

Woolworths said that it frequently attracted high volumes of applicants. But high volume did not necessarily mean high quality. Dealing with applicants and filtering out the good ones was a time-consuming, manual process.  It also meant that good candidates were inevitably lost along the way.

Using technology was seen as the way forward. “We believed that inviting people to apply online and using technology to screen and qualify candidates against our selection criteria would significantly enhance the service that we could offer,” says Iain Lewis, regional HR manager at Woolworths. “We would be able to respond quickly and efficiently when vacancies occurred. Screening time would be reduced, enabling us to respond quickly to all candidates.”

In May 2001, Woolworths became the first retail organisation in the UK to introduce a criteria-based and fully interactive application process for retail management positions.

A business case was presented to senior business managers to show the return on investment. This led to online recruitment specialist Changeworknow being chosen to partner Woolworths in developing the new process.

The outcome

The online approach has been a great success. The time taken to hire has been reduced from eight weeks to an average of 30 days, with vacancies filled in less than a week in some cases.

There has also been a marked increase in the quality of candidates applying, with more than 95 per cent meeting or exceeding the minimum job requirements. This has led to a 70 per cent reduction in direct hiring costs, and a 40 per cent reduction in administration time.

Since technology was introduced two years ago, the recruitment function has undergone significant change. The cost savings have funded the growth of the team from two people to a team of six account directors and a resourcing manager.

By demonstrating such a significant return on investment, further business cases have been produced, which have enabled the head office function to move to a technology- driven process. It has also spurred the introduction of a web-based succession management system, which identifies internal talent for vacancies both now and in the future.

Employee perspective

Moving from a manual, paper-based system to an online system was a completely new way of working. And at first, it was hard work for the team.

“It was a new culture,” says the company’s resourcing adviser Pat Harteveld. “There was a degree of apprehension and a sense of ‘could I do it?’.”

The first few months meant adapting not only to the system, but adapting the system itself to work with Woolworths‘ processes. But the more the team members understood how the system worked, the more they understood how to make it work for them.

Two years on, the system has dramatically improved the quality of service that the resourcing team is able to provide.

“My own job has improved – it feels much more professional,” says Harteveld. “I’m able to give a consistent service to all candidates. That gives me a real feeling of job satisfaction.

“It’s good to know that every candidate has been screened and dealt with in exactly the same way,” Harteveld adds. “I’m no longer having to trawl through hundreds of unsuitable candidates and can really concentrate on the good candidates coming through.”

 HR learning points

  • Don’t expect technology to do everything – it is an enabler. People still need to make decisions, take actions and manage the process

  • Put clear measures in place at the beginning, so that you can see where the biggest improvements are and assess the return on investment

  • Be creative. Look for ways to continuously improve and be open-minded to new ways of doing things

  • With the right tools and processes, recruitment can be more proactive and take on the mantle of a service provider, rather than just reacting to specific demands

  • Candidate relationship management is a real differentiator. The ability to contact people regularly creates a stronger potential relationship between the employer and the candidate.

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