Improving the recruitment of seasonal staff

By Roger Greenway, Account Manager, UK & Ireland at Perceptive Software.

It is October and the summer (what we had of it) is over, the kids are back at school and the seasonal aisles are looking festive! This Christmas is set to be an important time for retailers, as the expected surge in sales from visitors to the UK to watch the Olympics failed to materialise and in many instances had the opposite effect. Meanwhile, the harsh winter of 2011, followed by a very mild 2012, hit sales hard as it became a real challenge to make sure the right stock was on the shelves at the right time.

At this time of year, retailers are thinking about the annual recruitment drive for temporary seasonal staff, and whilst there were reports of a reduction in the numbers needed last year, the likes of Sainburys, Debenhams, Asda and Argos still employed additional staff in their thousands, to meet the demand.

However, finding the right people with the right skills and experience to fill these positions isn't always the greatest challenge, it is how you manage the additional volumes of paperwork involved in the recruitment process. On-boarding a large number of people over a relatively short period of time can result in a massive paper trail and a logistical nightmare for HR, finance, back-office, distribution and the shop floor. Whilst some businesses have become used to this challenge, it doesn't necessarily mean improvements cannot be made to refine and speed up the process and save man hours. After all, there is a world of difference between doing the right things and doing things right.

With so much of the population now online, whether it is via a desktop PC, laptop, smartphone or tablet, the traditional paper application form is obsolete. Directing candidates to the website and an online application form is convenient for the applicant and one of the quickest and easiest ways to begin making big savings in the recruitment process, eliminating printing and postage costs and speeding up the time in which completed applications are received and managed.

Removing the paper-trail at this initial stage is an obvious step that many retailers have already taken, but having done this the real opportunity is in streamlining and automating many of the back-office processes involved in the recruitment process, through the use of enterprise content and business process management (BPM) technologies. Having BPM in place means that from the moment the vacancy is created, through to the applicant registering their interest, the application process, on-boarding them as an employee and ultimately them leaving the business, every step is managed via pre-determined processes, based on the very best practice of the business. What is more, as every retailer has these processes already in place, digitising is relatively straightforward. Here is a typical scenario of a retailer recruiting seasonal staff using BPM software.

The applicant goes online and completes and submits the application form. The applicant receives an automated email response confirming that the form has been received and advises him/her that they will be contacted if they are successful. Simultaneously, a unique reference number is allocated to the application and it is automatically routed to the department managing the recruitment project. The person responsible for applications is alerted that a new form has arrived, logs on to the system and reviews the form. If successful, the application is approved and moves to the next step in the process, to schedule an interview. Crucially, at each stage, the status of the application is updated and cannot proceed to the next step unless the correct procedure has been fully adhered to.

Once the HR team is satisfied with the interview and that the applicant has passed all relevant checks (whether internal or external e.g. CRB, specialist qualifications) a start date is assigned and all relevant documentation and training packages regarding the role is automatically sent directly to the new employee via email. The system alerts the Finance Team that a new employee has been recruited and instructs them to register them on the payroll (again the process is fully automated, with no need for paper to pass from department to department). Finally, when the contract of employment has come to an end, all of the digital documentation can be securely archived, without the need for storing paper records. However, many retailers do tend to offer the best temporary staff permanent contracts and again BPM can be used to manage the transition with ease.

Another important benefit of the BPM approach is the improvements it offers with regard to information security, as access rights can be assigned to certain stages in the process. For example, a store manager will want to be involved with the scheduling of hours but would not require their financial details.

Using BPM is ideal for mid to tier one retailers, to respond more efficiently and effectively to the seasonal peaks and troughs in staff resource allocation, but it is also ideal for managing recruitment year round. Using the technology to automate the many process steps associated with recruitment, ensures new starters become operational sooner, which in turn has a positive impact on the performance across each store and the organisation as a whole.

For retailers the concept of BPM is not entirely new, as most have been using technology (in one guise or another), whether at head-office or store level, to streamline processes across their supply chain, such as inventory management and stock replenishment.  Today, every retailer is under pressure to do more with less, so it is important to look at every process and ask the question can we do it better, slicker and cheaper? And when it comes to recruitment, the answer is often yes.

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