Rikki Fullerton, Resourcing Director at Serco, delves into the importance of personal touches within the candidate journey and the role data plays as the bedrock of Serco’s recruitment strategy.
I've been with Serco for five and a half years now. Prior to joining Serco, I was with Compass Group for just over 20 years working. While I was in college, I used to work weekend shifts as a porter, a waiter, and in the bar, and I really enjoyed that environment. So when I was about 17-18 years of age, I applied for a fixed-term contract to support their recruitment department, particularly to assist with the Grand National. Three months ended up turning into 20 years! During my 20 years at Compass, I held various roles, all within recruitment and HR. My last roles at Compass involved managing the contingent workforce across the sports and leisure division, which comprised about 40,000 contingent workers. I primarily worked across the entire UK business, but in 2015-16, I spent a year in India on secondment, which was a fantastic experience.
Then I joined Serco, setting up and managing the in-house contingent workforce. For the past 18 months, I’ve been the Resourcing Director, which encompasses our permanent hires and our in-house contingent workforce. We're expected to make around 6,700 permanent hires this year, and our contingent workforce consists of approximately 1,500 to 2,000 temporary workers. I’ve been really fortunate to work at two fantastic companies with really strong values.
Currently, I would say it's the day-one attendance rate. The markets have changed significantly since the pandemic. It has been a candidate-driven market for the past two and a half years. Most candidates have multiple job offers on the table, so the challenge is how we can stand out from the others. A key part of that is engagement throughout the process, with a particular focus on engagement from the point of offer acceptance to the first day on the job. This is a relatively new phenomenon for us. In the pre-pandemic era, you might call the candidate once during that period, and you would expect them to turn up on their first day. Whereas now we have several touchpoints - interactions with the activation team, the hiring manager, invitations to meet the team, coffee and cake mornings, and sending them our business updates - and making sure that there's never more than a week without communication during that period. I think a challenge most businesses are currently facing is the dropout between offer accepted to start.
The combination of Brexit and the pandemic has significantly impacted nearly every business across the UK from a hiring perspective. The job market experienced a rapid and massive shift. It was relatively stable before the pandemic. As we went into the pandemic, for about a nine-month period, it became an employer’s market as lots of employees were displaced during that time. Then, in early 2021, it swung massively in the opposite direction. It's well-documented that the past two years have probably marked the toughest recruitment market in over 50 years. I think that because this change happened so quickly, many companies were caught off guard.
At Serco, we experienced a huge increase in vacancies within a relatively short time frame, with our vacancies doubling over a six-month period. Fortunately, we were able to put a plan in place and bring those vacancies under control relatively quickly. Since the beginning of this year, our vacancies have fallen below our pre-pandemic levels, and they continue to drop. While the job market has eased a little in recent months, it’s still a really tough recruitment market, so having that clear plan of action remains essential. We are proud of the position we are in today in terms of effectively managing the situation.
Whilst there has been a significant increase in automation and process improvement over the past few years, what we have found is that the human touch is still really important. So, even though it may require substantial resources, having engagement from various sources, not just the talent acquisition team, is crucial. Candidates want to receive updates from the hiring manager and team members. For example, if they will be working in a specific office or location, they want to see what the environment may look like, or if there are any business updates, making sure this is also communicated to candidates. What works exceptionally well for us is having coffee and cake mornings or evenings where candidates can come in and meet the team.
Yes, it does. For the majority of the roles we recruit for, which accounts for around 90% of our positions, we can advertise on job boards and expect to receive a healthy number of applications. However, for certain roles, such as hairdressers or electricians, individuals in these professions typically don't search for jobs on these platforms. Therefore, it's crucial to ensure we have the right attraction strategy for these niche or challenging-to-fill positions. I'm encouraging the team to consider where a hairdresser would typically look for a job. Would it be through the traditional method of posting a notice in a local shop or, more likely, in a local Facebook group?
Large job boards aren’t a one-size-fits-all, you’ve got to make sure you have an attraction strategy that fits the requirements and needs for different roles.
I don't think it has ever been as important as it is right now due to the current state of the job market. Many companies, including our own, invested a lot of time and money automating processes to provide candidates with a quicker and more efficient experience, and, of course, to streamline the process for ourselves. This approach worked well for us before the pandemic, but now we've had to undo some of that and reintroduce a more personal touch.
I've already mentioned the importance of this personal touch in the period from offering a job to the candidate’s first day, but I think it’s crucial throughout the entire process. There are some areas of our business where my team is working seven days a week. We are deviating from the traditional in-house team's Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five schedule. We operate in one of our business areas from 8 am to 8 pm, Monday to Friday, and from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday and Sunday. This adjustment allows us to reach candidates at a time convenient for them. We've noticed that our ability to contact and schedule calls with candidates during these non-traditional hours is much more effective than during regular office hours. Responding to what candidates want is really important.
Data is the foundation of our recruitment strategy. Over the past four months, we’ve been putting together our 2024 business plans, and we’re used a huge amount of data to inform those plans. We’ve analysed each business unit individually, while also consolidating this data to get the whole picture for the UK. Our projections for next year involve assessing our current year’s performance, considering any new contract wins or losses, and factoring in market expectations regarding attrition rates. This gives us a solid foundation, and then we can start thinking about the types of roles required and the geographical locations across the UK, and then we develop our attraction plan accordingly. And then we think about how we incorporate social value and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into our plan.
We’ve done a huge amount this year, particularly in our justice and immigration sector, but it has evolved to encompass all of our business units in the coming year. And as I say, data forms the cornerstone of our entire strategy. It’s enabling us to become much more proactive as a business. We currently work in business units, and each of my team is aligned with a specific business unit. But we may hire for the same role across multiple business units.
Understanding and monitoring the numbers on a daily and weekly basis is a critical aspect of our day-to-day operations. 80% of our recruitment is volume hiring, so understanding our data is critical. If we look at our prison estate, where we need to hire a high volume of prison custody officers, we know how many PCOs we need to hire for each contract for a given month. To illustrate, let's assume that in one of our prisons, we need to recruit 10 PCOs in a month. We also know what our conversion rate is for that contract. On average, across our prison estates, we require 10 applications to yield a successful candidate, but this varies significantly from contract to contract. Our best performing contract necessitates just 6 applications, whereas our worst performing requires 17. So to hire 10 PCOs in our best performing contract, we need 60 applications, and 170 in our worst performing. We monitor how we are tracking towards this on a day to day basis, and then we can use this information to dial up or dial down our advertising. Monitoring this on a daily basis has enabled us to achieve our 100% staffing levels in a really tough industry.
AI. It's a cliche and a buzzword, but can you really talk about anything other than AI right now?
I’m really excited about the potential of what AI can offer our team. Continuous improvement is a major focus for me and the team. Whilst it goes without saying that we want to continuously improve, I believe it is really important for the development of the team. At any given moment, we have three ongoing continuous improvement projects within our team. During our team meeting yesterday, we outlined the next three projects that will carry us through to the end of Q1 in 2024. One of these is the use of AI in recruitment. Team members choose which project they’d like to be a part of, and AI in recruitment certainly had the most interest. We’re all really interested in understanding what it will mean.
It has to be the data-driven recruitment strategy. We’re a high-volume recruitment team. We have to be incredibly well organised in order to deliver against our targets. Our recruitment operations are relentless, and we have to be particularly good at forecasting attrition and responding to the fluctuations. The majority of our roles involve extensive screening, vetting, and substantial training before day one. In some cases, our roles require up to 10 weeks of training. If an individual were to depart today, it could take up to four months before we can onboard a replacement, at best. Looking forward to our predicted attrition to make sure we’re filling these roles before the person leaves is really important, and data plays a significant role in achieving this.
Have fun and enjoy what you do. What we do is relentless, it’s non-stop. You’ve got to make sure that you create a good team atmosphere, let your hair down from time to time, don’t take yourself too seriously, and have a laugh. Recruitment can be a tough role, you have to be able to enjoy yourself.