Time to push the boundaries

Technology is playing a growing part in the way HR services are delivered. As a ‘back office’ function there is a constant pressure on HR departments to become as lean and cost-effective as possible. Technology is seen as a means to that end.

The hardware is getting more powerful and ever cheaper to acquire and the software is becoming incredibly sophisticated, yet easy to use. Our society adopts new technology at a tremendous rate. For example, there are now well over 50 million mobile phones in the UK. The younger generation, in particular, has fully embraced text messaging and the widespread adoption of e-mail has set new expectations for the time it should take to answer queries.

Young people emerging from the education system are ‘internet ready’ and the use of internet technology is rapidly turning into the preferred method of communicating for business.

Recruitment opportunity

It is in that context that we have the opportunity to rethink recruitment. The printed media used to be the sole territory for job advertising. However, in the past five years or so that monopoly has been undermined and no publisher can remain unconcerned about the growth of internet advertising. It is inevitable that recruitment advertisements, as we have known them, have a limited future.

That is not to say that the printed media will not figure at all. There will be advertising of employer brands and of websites, but even this will diminish over time. In my own organisation 70 per cent of respondents to job adverts say they saw them on our website.

Just like online shopping, where you see the goods and buy them, there is no reason why you cannot see a job you fancy online and apply there and then, without having to go through the often torturous process of having a paper form sent to you and all that follows.

Again, in my organisation, more than 60% of applicants are choosing to apply online. This is saving huge amounts of time and rescuing small forests of trees from the paper mills.

Using well-designed person specifications, the technology can assist in the shortlisting process by only putting forward those who meet set criteria. Further refinements, such as including a questionnaire asking about skills, knowledge, motivation and character, could eliminate the need for an interview.

This would be a logical extension to what is already in place. Most psychometric tests can now be taken and scored online, which can help with selection.

To many, this might seem a step too far but, with the right risk assessments and the necessary culture change for managers, it would be achievable. Add in electronic administration of employment contract documentation and online induction, and you end up with a very slick and efficient end-to-end process.

But what about those who are not selected? Organisations have tended to send a ‘no thank you’ letter to unsuccessful candidates. Often they can be competent people who were only beaten to the job by a narrow margin. They are still of interest so, rather than lose them altogether, they can be added to a database. When something suitable comes up they can then be approached and invited to apply, saving time, effort and money. High street recruitment agencies have been doing this for many years and are now able to add new dimensions, such as text messaging.

Public sector

The public sector is starting to embrace e-recruitment in what is still a developing market. At best it can match developments in the private sector and Hertfordshire County Council was the overall winner in the Personnel Today 2003 awards for its online recruitment offering.

More effective use of technology can deliver significant cost savings, speed things up and provide improved management information to assist with strategic planning and decision-making.

What happens next will depend on how far HR professionals are prepared to push at the boundaries. It is vital that the people we hire into our organisations are suited to their jobs, and I suspect that many of us are not yet ready to trust that process entirely to IT systems. However, I believe that will change over the next five years as recruitment, like so many other areas of business, becomes increasingly dependent on technology.

Alan Warner is chairman of Socpo, and corporate director of people and property at Hertfordshire County Council

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