RPO & StaffingTalent Acquisition

Balancing Act

 Playing a role in a diverse portfolio of corporate HR functions, Andrew Solutions’ Marie Wohler knows that HR is a two-way street.
By Debbie Bolla
There aren’t too many  corporate HR disciplines that Marie Wohler hasn’t tackled. Training and development: check. Organizational development: check. Talent management: check. Performance management: check. Succession planning: check. And currently, as manager of staffing for Andrew Solutions, a subsidiary of CommScope Inc., staffing: check. This jack-of-all-trades has the ability to learn a bevy of skills and weave them together into what has become a successful 20-year career in HR.
“I’ve had a broad tour of the HR function and learned from some great managers and mentors who helped shape my career along the way,” she commented. “I enjoy the variety of the functions within the HR discipline and believe it is a very marketable skill set. Regardless of whether you are in the financial services sector or manufacturing, there is usually an HR function to support the employee lifecycle from acquisition to offboarding.” 
With such an impressive tenure in corporate HR, it’s not surprising that Wohler started in the industry small—as an administrative assistant for a chief HR officer of a large financial services organization. It was here that she earned a hands-on education that motivated her to stay in the field. The organization was Continental Bank, which was acquired by Bank of America, and employed up to 160,000 employees worldwide, which made a lasting impression on her.
“In my experience at larger companies, the HR function was more established and defined with centers of expertise. The size of the employee population drove the need to be more efficient with resources, process oriented and metric driven,” she said. “I also found HR’s role to be more strategic and aligned with the business goals.”
Not one to limit herself, Wohler has also worked for small organizations. Federal Signal, a manufacturing company, had fewer than 5,000 employees when she worked in its HR department. “In smaller organizations, you have the opportunity to broaden your role and do so much more than what your defined job description states,” she noted. “You also have the opportunity to introduce best practices and really drive greater change in a smaller organization.”

Her current company, telecommunications provider Andrew Solutions is somewhere in the middle with 15,000 employees. An important component to the company’s landscape is its global footprint, with two-thirds of its staff working outside the U.S.
“Telecom has a very bright future globally, and there’s huge opportunity for CommScope to expand our footprint in both the developed and emerging markets,” Wohler added. “We’re currently serving more than 130 countries. From an HR perspective, we’ve integrated many of our processes and systems but still have more opportunity to globalize our function in the coming year.”
Staffing a global company comes with a unique set of challenges, a factor that played a role when Wohler vetted companies for enlisting a second-generation RPO engagement in 2007. It was simple: Andrew’s provider at the time wasn’t supporting or generating the results that HR leaders had expected. The previous model lacked structure and metrics, which became two critical must-haves in securing a new deal and provider. The company eventually chose Wayne, PA-based Kenexa.
“We engaged Kenexa because we liked their model and the assurance of reduced cost in external search and relocation expenses,” said Wohler. “Even though we had outsourced our staffing to another RPO provider, we weren’t seeing a reduction in search fees for headhunters.   Staffing was clearly Kenexa’s core competency, and we knew they would bring best practices and consulting to the table and improve our current process.
“It’s also nice to know Kenexa has a global presence in places like China, India, and Europe, where we have offices as well. It’s important to know that the resources are locally available (if needed) when the current economic situation turns around and normal hiring activities resume.”
Time for Another Change
When Andrew Solutions initially engaged in the RPO deal, the contract was straightforth—provide comprehensive recruitment services to the telecom company. But less than a year after the rollout, another carrot was thrown into the soup: The company was acquired by CommScope. At first, it appeared there would be difficulties integrating the RPO solution into the new organization. However, Wohler was able to turn the situation to her advantage.
“After the 2007 merger between CommScope and Andrew, Kenexa helped us reengineer our process and implement our applicant tracking system in the U.S.,” noted Wohler. “We have since implemented it globally, which was no small task. It’s great because we now have real-time reporting globally. Before we had a huge spreadsheet that tracked the international side, which was out of date three minutes after it was revised due to the constant changes with workforce planning. Now, with a real-time global applicant tracking system, we can advise both HR and business leaders on global talent acquisition status in just a few minutes.”

The global applicant tracking system is helping Andrew Solutions stay on top of the best talent in their field and keep their pipeline healthy for when the company begins hiring once again. Like most businesses, the firm has not escaped the fallout of the economic downturn. Wohler noted that the company’s hiring volume has dropped significantly. In previous years Andrew typically made 500 annual hires; in 2008 that number was 250, and for 2009, the number will be closer to 100 to 150. The company has seen a few layoffs and voluntary terminations. At an unprecedented time like this, the scalability of its RPO engagement becomes a major benefit.
“Scalability is one of the reasons we partnered with Kenexa,” she said. “Knowing we could flex our team resources during market downturns or upturns was very important and has been demonstrated this year since volume is way down from previous years. Kenexa is providing our back-office support in terms of sourcing, screening, and staffing administration.  During this slower period, the team is doing a lot of proactive pipelining and networking so we are ready when our business picks up and hiring levels rise.”
Part of that connectivity is due to today’s technologies such as social media that staffing managers and outsourced recruiters alike can take advantage of.
“I am dating myself, but in the olden days, you placed an ad in the classifieds and waited for hard copy resumes via mail,” Wohler quipped. “Now we post on job boards, actively search the web, or leverage tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to network extensively. We’ve employed Web 2.0 practices in searching for active and passive candidates, and our own applicant tracking system has been an invaluable tool to warehouse talent. We’ve dramatically reduced our dependency on external search, which is positive for building a consistent employment brand and, of course, in reducing costs.”

Keeping it Balanced
As an HR leader, Wohler has a unique perspective when it comes to the dichotomy of retained and outsourced services. She said that for some functions—for instance, benefits administration and payroll—it can be advantageous to tap into the expertise of outsourced providers. As for her current function, she has found that leveraging an RPO relationship is beneficial when balanced correctly. 
“It’s very seamless with my internal and Kenexa staffing team, and that’s the way I like it,” she said. “I don’t want a hiring manager to distinguish between a CommScope or Kenexa recruiter. They usually don’t even realize the difference. We’ve all gone through the same training, and we continue to learn and collaborate with each other every day.” 
Wohler said she has been fortunate to work in an industry she has truly enjoyed for the past 20 years. And this year has made that feeling even more meaningful considering the economy.
“We’re obviously going through some very difficult economic times and CommScope, like most companies, has felt the pain as business has slowed and we’ve reduced headcount accordingly. It’s not a good time to be out of work with unemployment so high, but hopefully the worst is behind us and we’ll begin to see recovery in the second half of 2009 and beyond,” she said. “Don’t underestimate the value of networking. My last three jobs were the result of both networking and professional relationships that led me directly to great job opportunities. You never know how paths will cross and then cross again in a job search.”  

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