Shedding Light on Outsourced Screening

When REC Solar faced growing pains from strong demand of its solar panel products, HR turned to an integrated solution that made the hiring process light years better.

by Russ Banham

With energy costs spiraling upward across the country, many businesses and consumers are turning to solar energy as an affordable and “greener” alternative than buildings powered by more traditional forms of electricity. The growing trend toward renewable sources of power is fueling explosive growth at companies that install solar panels.  Among these is REC Solar, Inc., based in San Luis Obispo, CA.

As a small but rapidly expanding business, REC Solar faces the same talent challenges as larger counterparts—recruiting and hiring the best candidates in the market. But unlike large employers, REC Solar lacked the tools and resources typically available to them—until now. Supported by an outsourced solution aimed squarely at small and midsized businesses, the solar energy company is able to quickly vet and process candidates to help meet the needs of its growing business.

Founded in 1997 by two graduates of California Polytechnic Institute, REC Solar is a designer, seller, and installer of commercial and residential solar panels and grids. Since its incorporation, it has grown from its original two employees to more than 350 full-time workers in five states. Business was up 75 percent last year, and company officials again expect to report strong growth by year’s end.

As REC Solar pushes into new regions to serve the solar power demands of key customers such as big-box retailer Costco, it needs to hire locally, quickly, and responsibly. Assisting this necessity is the company’s embrace of recruitment process outsourcing (RPO).

“We’ve hired more than 300 full-time and part-time people so far this year, and the amount of time and effort it would have taken us to accomplish this without these tools would have been prohibitively costly and cumbersome,” said Erin Culp, REC Solar’s head recruiter. “With several projects underway at the same time around the country, each of them requiring up to 30 new employees engaged in dangerous work and handling very expensive equipment, we were challenged by great complexity and liability. Our brand reputation in the marketplace depends on the highest quality project installation and performance.”

While outsourcing would seem a no brainer for REC Solar, what makes the decision unique is the seamless, cost-effective, and transparent outsourcing solution it ultimately chose. The solution involves two major vendors—Intelius for candidate screening and Taleo for the technology backbone, in addition to several other vendors. Together, the partnership has created a holistic, comprehensive, and easy-to-use applicant sourcing, tracking, and hiring system. Said Culp: “Outsourcing not only helps us deal with the challenges; it helps ensure we have the best job candidates possible.”

Matter of Reflection
Prior to its decision to outsource recruitment processes, REC Solar hired employees the old fashioned way: advertised openings, collected paper resumes, and sent candidates to drug testing appointments with carbon-copy, chain- of-custody forms.

“We had resumes coming in through whatever means possible, from emails to faxes to candidates dropping off a paper resume at one of our offices,” Culp recalled. “It was burdensome, inconsistent, and hard to keep track of the volume. Moreover, because we are an environmentally focused company always trying to consider the environmental impacts of our business decisions, a giant stack of paper resumes was improper, in addition to being inefficient.”

Culp had prior experience with background checking and application tracking systems from a previous job. And as she looked to make REC Solar’s hiring process more efficient, she was introduced to Taleo Business Edition, an applicant tracking system focused on the mid-market. After sitting through a demo, she found its usability and pricing fit the bill.

“Being a small company, price is a huge consideration for us,” Culp said. “The system greatly minimized paper resumes, giving us a single place to track status and stay in touch with candidates.”

She implemented the web-based system, but other aspects of recruiting and hiring such as background checking and drug testing still required internal management. Culp wanted a more efficient way of administering these processes, one that could somehow be integrated with the applicant tracking system from an administrative standpoint. Enter Intelius, a Bellevue, WA-based provider of pre-employment screening services.  “REC Solar apprised us of the kind of work its new hires would be doing, which required intensive background checking in a time frame that was extremely narrow,” recalled Todd Owens, general manager for screening services at Intelius, Inc.

The fast-growing company was challenged by strict project timelines that were heavily deadline oriented. Moreover, REC Solar is a small organization with limited resources to attain best practices in recruitment.

“They need to run lean, and the back-end process of getting candidates screened and on board was not something they wanted to worry about,” Owens said. “There was also the logistical challenge of managing projects all over the country from a staffing perspective, and the special demands of the actual work. Solar power equipment is very costly, and the installation is complicated because of the weight of the panels and the fact that people are installing it on roofs. The equipment also is installed in people’s homes in many cases, making background criminal checks a critical consideration.”

Culp recalled a two-month period earlier this year in which REC Solar had tallied more than 250 job candidates in background checking alone. “We needed a vendor to provide the background checking, drug screening, and associated physical exams to ensure we had qualified workers who could handle the rigors of the installation,” she pointed out. “We also needed the vendor to be able to perform these services in the regions in which we were growing into, and for locations we may grow to in the future. I also needed a solution that would minimize paperwork for my hiring managers—the people who conduct the actual interviews and make hiring decisions.”

Separate But Equal
Often, when a company seeks to outsource all the elements of the recruitment and hiring function, it typically confronts the need to outsource the associated processes to separate vendors—one provider for drug screening services and another for criminal background checking. REC Solar wanted a more integrated process that bridged the disparate vendors. As it turned out, Taleo’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) model is an open platform that permits such integration.

The background screening services provided by Intelius are completely embedded within Taleo’s applicant tracking workflow. This enables recruiters and hiring managers to view all the results of the screening process from the dashboard.

“We’ve built a very rigid and comprehensive package that is integrated into Taleo’s applicant tracking system. All it takes now are a few clicks of the mouse to get the (screening) process going,” Owens pointed out.

Having an integrated solution enabled REC Solar to respond much more quickly to business demands. As soon as senior management apprises Culp and her team of hiring managers of a new project in a specific locale, job openings are advertised on the company’s web site. The rest is handled by Taleo.

“Once advertising starts for the available jobs, the applicants apply online to our web site and then the resumes come in through Taleo to me,” she explained. “When I am ready to order the background screening, I click on a heading that says ‘submit background check’ and order it through Taleo. If I need to order a physical exam, I click on that as well. Whether we need to order a physical exam depends on the position—for instance, we do not need to verify physical strength for candidates in consideration for a sales or marketing position. The system addresses our different needs accordingly.”

Once the background check is ordered, Taleo dispatches this information in real time to Intelius. “Everything is pre-populated in the Taleo platform so our system can process whatever the client requires,” Owens added. “If Erin needs a candidate to undergo a drug test, criminal check, education verification, employment verification, or skills assessment, we can provide all of it or some of it, depending on her needs. We take care of the necessary written authorizations by the candidates to perform these checks. Within 24 to 72 hours, the information is processed and inputted in Taleo, depending on how fast the applicant can go down to the clinic for drug testing. Erin can see in a few clicks of the mouse whether an applicant is verified or an alert has been posted.”

Intelius performs some functions such as the skills assessment in-house, sending applicants a brief computerized test embedded in an Excel spreadsheet. When it comes to verification of past employment and education, it conducts some of this work in-house and also relies on outside vendors’ assistance. The vetting includes an online search of county courthouse documents. Depending on the jurisdiction, it may also have access to state criminal records, such as those in the state of Washington.

When online access isn’t available, Intelius hires local companies to send a court runner to, say, Chesterfield, VA or the Clark County Courthouse in Nevada. It’s not uncommon for screening providers to send runners to a courthouse two or three times a day to conduct hundreds of record searches or confer with court clerks, he noted.

Intelius also relies on outside vendors to conduct candidates’ drug testing. The vendor utilizes a cutting-edge drug screening technology called eScreen that simplifies this process. In traditional drug testing scenarios, an applicant arrives at a clinic or collection facility and hands over a carbon-copy, chain-of-custody form provided by the prospective employer prior to offering up a urine sample. A sticker from the form is appended to the sample cup and then dispatched via overnight courier to a testing laboratory. If the result comes back positive, a medical doctor is retained to determine if any other factors besides illegal drug use—prescription medi­cation, for instance—is a possible causal factor. The process can be time-consuming, Owens maintained.

“eScreen is different,” he noted. “There is no carbon-copy, chain-of-custody form. It’s all done via an online passport, an electronic ticket that we issue to the applicant that informs which collection site to go to for drug testing and how to make an appointment, thus eliminating the need for employers to stock chain-of-custody forms all over the country.”

Candidates receive an email from REC Solar with an electronic ticket attached for printing. The applicant presents the e-ticket and proof of ID to the collection facility. Instead of sending the specimen to a laboratory via overnight courier, Owens pointed out, it is processed using an on-site analyzer, and results are entered into the eScreen system. That data is immediately entered into Intelius’ system and into Taleo’s applicant tracking platform. “We’re not only eliminating paper forms—a stated goal of REC Solar—we’ve cut the turnaround time by 36 hours,” Owens said.

Intelius maintains a “best-of-breed network of partnerships to ensure our customers always have a world-class experience,” Owens added. “Until recently, the integration between an applicant tracking system and background screening companies was available only to larger companies with deep pockets. Our relationship with Taleo, eScreen, and other partners is allowing us to provide the same benefits to small and midsize companies.”

Culp said she likes the fact that the entire recruitment process is automated online and visible to her through a single dashboard. “Hiring managers still need to conduct face-to-face interviews—there are always pieces that cannot be automated—but we’ve eliminated much of the paperwork that previously consumed them,” she said. “I also get regular status updates from Intelius on where a candidate is in the recruitment pipeline, saving me the time of having to log on and determine this on my own.”

And like many outsourcing practitioners, REC Solar is able to shed administrative burdens to free up resources to focus on what really matters to the company: serving its clients in this fast-growing industry.

“We’re growing so fast, and because we have limited recruiting resources, every keystroke I can shave off of the process helps save time,” Culp said. “Our mission here is to make solar electricity part of the mainstream energy supply. Outsourcing recruitment processes is helping us achieve our mission.”

Posted November 10, 2008 in Talent Acquisition

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