1-on-1 with James Witcombe: AFCA dials up candidate care as internal applications boom

As a Director at SMAART Recruitment (and Squad member with the ATC), I am fortunate to be able to spend time regularly speaking with Talent Acquisition (TA) Managers around Australia.

Apart from my passion for wanting to get a deep understanding of my client’s organisation and team, I enjoy learning about what they are working on, what technologies they use, what trends are emerging and how they are positioning their TA function to ensure it best serves their organisation.

Amidst the COVID-19 storm and all that comes with it, my role has provided me with a unique position in which I have been able to observe how different TA functions have responded to what has gone on all around them.

A lot of the time I am watching with heightened curiosity, somewhat perplexed at how the TA function has suddenly been asked to do so many things – ramp up, ramp down, retrench, redeploy, retrain, respond and reposition.

We all know there is no playbook for what we are going through. It has never happened before, and for the first time, many of us have been asked to make significant decisions in a short-term frame with little data that has permanent impact. Case studies will start to emerge, but most TA functions haven’t had the luxury of being able to compare their situation with others.

Over the next month, we will be releasing a series of articles in which I sit down with leaders from Talent functions around Australia to hear what they have been doing and what they are expecting to happen next.

We start off talking with Ryan Biggs, Head of Careers & Employer Branding at the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA). If you haven’t come across AFCA before, they are a large ombudsman formed in late 2018 that replaced the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), the Credit and Investments Ombudsman (CIO) and the Superannuation Complains Tribunal (SCT). AFCA employs over 800 staff.

James: Ryan, what are some of the challenges your TA team has faced over the last 6 months?

Ryan: In terms of looking to where we are now – we have a renewed focus on uncovering hidden Talent internally compared with pre-COVID. Internal applications are growing more than ever which has been a real positive.

That has created some challenges though. Internal candidates generally have much higher expectations around their recruitment experience than an external candidate. It is therefore a slightly different process dealing with internal candidates. It puts a little more pressure on our internal Talent team on several fronts.

We already have a high touch engagement model. However, we need to give more time and care and consideration to our colleagues. Essentially, we are a careers support team for our employees, we coach, guide and help prepare people for their career path at AFCA. We are not your average recruitment function, we always planned to do that, COVID-19 supercharged the effort.

Additionally, we have also been inundated for roles that we have advertised externally. Overall, I would say for frontline roles we have had 250 percent increase in our normal response rates. We had 720 applications for two frontline roles we advertised on Seek. We knew we would be saying no to 99 percent of those candidates so we decided to turn it into opportunity – we wrote a COVID 19 specific note. We “dialed up” the care, recognising that people need it now.

James: Ryan what will be the biggest difference to how your TA function operates in 2021 compared with pre-COVID?

Ryan: The COVID-19 lesson has been that you can employ someone from anywhere and with the right onboarding, induction, training and support they can get the job done. Things are opening up and will probably continue to do so.

We mobilised our entire workforce to work flexibly and we now have the blueprint. There is better integration between work and life which will extend into next year and beyond. While people will return to the office in time, it would be unlikely that us and many others will return in the same capacity.

So, what felt like a temporary change has opened up an exciting conversation around the future of work.

James: What has “surprised” you (in a good or bad way) in all these changes?

Ryan: Well, we have skipped a whole Melbourne winter of catching the train to the office. That’s been a big bonus!

I have been humbled by how genuinely grateful people are for someone giving them time. We have been trying to spend just a little bit more time than we normally do with candidates. Some people need advice, some need an ear, some need feedback with love.

And we have been getting a lot of “thank you for listening to my story” which has been nice. Unfortunately, expectations are low at the moment for so many.

A struggle for us has been trying to find how we can uncover hidden capability in our ATS so we can free up more time. With so many internal and external candidates we don’t want to drop our service to them but we have limited resources.

As the shape of the economy continues to change, it is interesting to hear how we are quickly reminded that finding the best Talent is still hard.

As Ryan said, “We have some particular vacancies at the moment that we are still struggling to fill. While application numbers have boomed for some jobs, others have remained very low.”

It is in these difficult times we have learnt a lot about ourselves, our teams and our workplaces. The AFCA talent team has shown their true colours in their actions by prioritising employee welfare and candidate care – something that all organisations like to think they do, but in reality, don’t always deliver on.

If you are an internal Talent Acquisition executive for a corporate organisation, we would love to have you at our exclusive Future of Talent 2020 event series. Click to learn more and register your interest today.

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