RPO & StaffingTalent Acquisition

BAKER’s DOZEN: RECRUITMENT PROCESS OUTSOURCING—Taking Recruiting to New Levels

For Hertfordshire County Council, outsourcing recruitment processes answered the challenges of attracting and retaining talent.

by Alan Warner

Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) is the biggest employer in this county in the southwest of England, with more than 27,000 staff delivering services to the people of Hertfordshire. Lying just outside London, the county had faced a challenge recruiting and retaining a skilled workforce. A quarter of the population commutes to the capital. That means the Council faced tough competition attracting staff.

Six years ago the recruitment and retention challenges facing the HCC were painfully apparent. Nearly one in five employees left the Council each year.

Filling the vacancies often proved problematic, with 22 percent of recruitment exercises failing. Shortages of key workers meant that vacancies for social worker and teacher positions sometimes ran into the hundreds.

The Hertfordshire County Council reshaped its approach to recruitment and retention, hoping to become an employer of choice and a developer of people. Recognizing that e-recruitment was not its core business, the Council set out to find an innovative solution to attract and retain the skills that would deliver the best services in the most cost-effective way.

In 2000, HCC became the first local authority in the county to outsource all of its resourcing needs to a single supplier by entering into a five-year RPO contract with Manpower. The Council opened a new recruitment center in 2000 run by Manpower and launched a state-of-the-art recruitment web site that allowed job hunters to register once for all jobs. Candidates received e-mails when vacancies arose in their area of interest. The system has also enabled HCC to draw up a talent pool of potential employees, a database of qualified, skilled people.

HCC chose to work with Manpower for a variety of reasons, among them its bespoke integrated model, as well as what HCC felt were the best cost-savings and innovative e-commerce solutions. The provider simplified and accelerated the HCC recruitment process, delivered better management information, and reduced back-office administration costs.

Manpower managed a tremendous number of transactions for the Council: on an annual basis, it filled 2,000 permanent vacancies and provided for 1.5 million hours of temporary labor supply. Seven years from the date of the original agreement, the two organizations are entering the second year of a second, longer partnership, taking the outsourcing agreement to new levels.

The HCC Recruitment Centre, run by Manpower, covers the Council’s temporary and permanent recruitment needs (excluding teaching posts). As part of this service, Manpower has developed an interactive recruitment process and automated the processing of applicant data into HCC’s SAP HR system. Manpower’s expertise has enabled the Council to proactively design, implement, and deliver its various recruitment strategies. The results speak for themselves.

HCC reaps the benefits of leading edge e-recruitment service, where vacancies are filled directly, reducing time and costs. At least 50 percent of applications are now handled online. In the first five years, costs were lowered to the tune of £3 million—a five percent reduction—and success rates improved from 78 percent to 95 percent.

The Council administration saved both time and money by outsourcing. In addition, the number of supplier agencies has been reduced by 87 percent, and the number of invoices fell from 19,000 a year to only 840. In managing a network of secondary suppliers and recruiting a pool of primary staff, Manpower also has controlled and standardized pay rates and margins and yielded significant savings to HCC.

Image was another plus. With Manpower managing the Council’s advertising and candidate attraction functions, the Council has been able to make the most of its employer brand, which has improved HCC’s competitiveness by increasing response and fill rates while reducing costs.

Generic advertising for administrative, libraries, catering, and business support staff has also provided significant cost-to-hire reductions. Instead of advertising for specific positions, the Council runs campaigns—incorporating the Internet, posters, and local newspapers—that recruit for specific professions. The “Be a Hertfordshire hero” drive in 2005 targeted frontline positions that had been hard to fill.

High-profile campaigns attracted social workers, school catering staff, and crossing patrol officers recently.

This generic advertising approach provides a much better public face of the Council and simpler processes for applicants and managers. In 2006, there was an average advertising cost saving of more than 18 percent per placement. 

The true test of the Council’s strategies, however, was seen in the turnover rate of staff and how easy it has become for HCC to recruit when vacancies arise. The turnover rate has fallen from 18 to 13 percent overall since 2000. Through outsourcing, the Council is also getting better responses to its advertising.

Six years ago, ads got an average of six responses. That has now risen to more than 20, with more than a quarter of posts filled within 19 days. This means just five percent of jobs need re-advertising now, compared with 22 percent in 2000. Vacancy rates in key sectors have also fallen.

One unexpected benefit was an improvement in diversity hiring. Using the Manpower brand for temps attracts a different range of applicants. This, in turn, has improved the Council’s diversity profile and is helping HCC reflect the community it serves.

Alan Warner is director of people and property for the Hertfordshire County Council.

Tags: RPO & Staffing, Talent Acquisition

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