Serco Justice transforms its recruitment process

The number of new recruits hired each year for Serco’s Justice business means that it is one of the largest of the Serco sectors that the company’s Shared Service Centre recruits for.

So it’s not surprising that the company’s Talent Acquisition team is always looking at ways that they can innovate and improve the current recruitment processes.  Their aim is to enable faster and more qualitative recruitment, attract a more diverse and better quality of candidate and improve the candidate experience for all those that apply.

During 2020, Serco implemented its biggest change to the recruitment process in a long time, and since its launch it has been heralded as an award-winning innovation within the recruitment industry.

The project, which started in 2019, involved a complete transformation of volume recruitment, migrating current and traditional recruitment processes and techniques to a fully digitalised and online platform. This project involved working in partnership with operational line management to ensure that the needs of the business were being met and that the underlying success of the project added business benefit.

The recruitment industry has seen a rise in assessment technology – online platforms that test candidates against specific skills and competencies. This technology is allowing Serco to completely change its approach, moving away from CV sifting and screening calls (which are not always effective and are prone to bias) to online tests that are a better measure of a candidate’s ability to do a job as well as being less resource intensive to manage.

Serco has worked with its partners to redevelop the end-to-end recruitment cycle and move each stage to an online platform. This began with pulling apart the application process, basic testing and interviewing to fully analyse and understand if the current process was delivering the required competences and capabilities in the candidate pipeline. The company needed to know if the current process was testing candidates in the right way.

In partnership with Prison Directors from across Serco’s prison estate, the behavioural requirements of new recruits were established from a baseline of assessments of existing high performing Prisoner Custody Officers.

The importance of understanding the behavioural requirements of Prisoner Custody Officers has been key to unlocking the attrition problem faced within the sector, which found that high numbers of staff leave within the first two years of service. The identification of key skills in managing vulnerable people; the ability to operate with emotional resilience; effective communication skills and a genuine desire to make a difference were considered as the key people specifications that were previously overlooked or not considered.

Serco’s partners were then able to design a series of online gaming tests, including one that asked candidates to respond to scenarios provided to us by prison staff, some of which are presented to candidates as videos which were filmed inside one of its prisons for authenticity.

This approach was designed to put a candidate under the kind of pressure they might encounter to test their resilience and observe how confrontation was dealt with. It was important that candidates were given a snapshot of the experience of a Prison Custody Officer, and that Serco could test their ability to think like a member of the team.

Serco began using this recruitment approach for two of its contracts initially – the Prisoner Escort and Custody Service, widely known as PECS, and at one of its prisons located in a challenging labour market. The new process was well received by the assessors and candidates, and quickly rolled out to all other Serco managed prisons. The data and information collated through the process has enabled the opportunity to understand far more about candidates than ever before.

Not long after the new process was implemented in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown across the UK halted all face-to-face recruitment. A solution was urgently required to prevent reduced staffing numbers impacting the business and the lack of new staff entering the business.

Part of the new recruitment process - which included a face-to-face assessment day with paper-based exercises and assessments with line managers - was adapted to an online platform. Interviews were conducted via Skype, Microsoft Teams and Zoom which enabled the Talent Acquisition Team to carry on recruiting and supporting the various Justice operations, creating a strong pipeline and talent pool of candidates ready to join the prisons.

Despite a very challenging year with the pandemic and the social distancing restrictions it demanded, Serco’s Justice business unit ended 2020 in a far stronger position that where it started with staffing levels at 104%.

The transformation of the end-to-end recruitment process is a great example of HR working more collaboratively with the business to address the recruitment challenge and to create a new norm in the management of online recruitment instead of the traditional ‘need to see’ approach to assess candidate suitability. The new process has continued to evolve and feedback from both line managers and candidates is positive.

To see the new online recruitment processes, click the link