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HOW WE SOLVED: Giving ABX’s HR a Lift

Outsourcing recruitment enabled a cargo carrier’s consolidation plan to take off. The provider’s involvement includes designing a mobile recruitment center.

by HROT Staff

When Wilmington, Ohio-based ABX Air, the Airborne Express spin-off, needed to ramp up its hiring last year, it looked to outsourcing to give it a lift. Expanding its base of employees from 7,800 to more than 13,000 in 2005, the company faced a tall order to fill mostly sorting positions as well as others at its 19 U.S. hubs. However, with some outside help and a few unique tools, the cargo specialist was able to meet its needs following a whirlwind recruitment effort.

It’s not every day that one of the country’s largest cargo carriers finds itself reborn, but that’s what happened when Dutch freight giant DHL acquired Airborne Express. Because DHL is a foreign-owned company and is prohibited from owning U.S. air assets, ABX was spun off as a standalone public company in 2003. Forward to 2005: ABX undergoes a reorganization plan in which the company consolidates some of its facilities while expanding its headquarter hub in Wilmington. As part of the plan, the company must quickly beef up its staff at the facility, which was expanded by one million square feet to accommodate higher cargo volume in part shifted from its Cincinnati hub.

While ABX—which posted revenues of $1.4 billion in 2005—might be an expert in cargo handling, it needed help when it came to people
handling. Its greatest need was at the Wilmington facility, for which some 14,000 resumés for exempt candidates were processed last year by its candidate sourcing provider JW Barleycorn & Associates. That represented about 85 percent of all new hires during that time, which also included about 500 exempt positions as well. It also relied on another outsourcing provider for staffing help at other hubs. Because of the number of positions involved, ABX needed its provider for not only sourcing capabilities but also the tools it had, including a comprehensive applicant tracking and online application system.

Valerie Scarfpin, manager of recruitment for ABX, pointed out that the company’s hub employees consists of both full and part-time workers. Because of how quickly ABX needed to fill the positions in Wilmington as well as at its other hubs, the company required a candidate sourcing provider that can help with its search at various locations and beef up its recruiting capabilities. She conceded the carrier was handicapped by several factors: it operated an HR administration
system without robust applicant tracking capabilities, and the main hub was located in a rural part of Ohio, which did not boast a large labor pool and made it difficult to attract candidates.

The most difficult challenge was “the volume and the fact that Wilmington isn’t exactly Dayton or a Newark, Ohio,” said Scarfpin, who noted that the hub was located about an hour from the largest cities in Ohio.

Although ABX’s culture is focused on developing internal capabilities, the company needed the expertise and candidate processing capability its providers offered. Scarfpin said filling so many positions required all the help she could muster.

While ABX had worked with Barleycorn & Associates in the past on executive searches, filling hundreds of non-exempt positions required a different approach. What recruitment process outsourcers (RPOs) and other candidate sourcing providers bring to the table is their ability to develop creative ways of finding qualified candidates, and Scarfpin said her case was no different. After using traditional recruitment tools such as web postings, she said she suggested to her company’s CEO that ABX buy a mobile recruiting center complete with laptop stations, two interview rooms, and a satellite data hookup that enabled the company’s recruiters to screen applicants on the road and send their information back to the office. Jim Barleycorn, the firm’s principal, helped ABX find the 42-foot gooseneck trailer and designed modifications that turned it into a recruitment center, including working with the satellite provider to set up the back-office connection. The trailer was put to good use, including visiting near a UPS facility in Dayton, Ohio that was being closed.

It was not a conventional service that outsourced recruitment firms provide, but Barleycorn said that his firm had previously been involved in the design of another such center for another client.

Still, Scarfpin pointed out, the most valuable service wasn’t the recruitment center but the experience an outsourcing provider can offer. “For me, it was just having someone who we can bounce ideas off, almost like benchmarking,” she said.

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