Washington, D.C. — Feb. 26
Recognizing the United States relies on a steady influx of new recruits to keep the U.S. Air Force the best and most sophisticated in the world, examining recruiting practices and educating the public about career opportunities in the service is an ongoing initiative.
Competition in the private sector and baby boomers getting ready to retire from the federal workforce have created new hiring challenges and prompted the Department of Defense (DoD) to examine commercial recruiting best practices to improve recruiting and retention efforts across many areas of the DoD.
Following several DoD studies that pinpointed human capital challenges with competitive sourcing, the DoD selected five Air Force bases to be included in a pilot program initiated to demonstrate commercial recruiting best practices within the public sector to serve as a hiring model for the DoD.
Collaborating with Kenexa, a global provider of talent acquisition and talent management solutions, participating bases introduced a reusable applicant database for current and future hiring needs, an automated application process for job seekers and a robust set of metrics for reporting results and identifying process improvements.
Nestled in the heart of the Mojave desert is Edwards Air Force base, a premier facility for test and evaluation of our nation’s military weapons systems, and one of the bases chosen for the pilot program.
As with other bases, Edwards had no robust recruiting system in place and faced many challenges filling its pipeline with new college graduates and experienced, high-quality engineers. Compounding the challenge for Edwards was their remote location and lack of a visible face to the public — people were just not aware of the excellent career opportunities located at the base.
In addition to their unique physical challenges, the recruiting system at Edwards was also cumbersome. Similar to many government environments, there was no technology to collect and process resumes, no formal human resources recruiting team and engineers at the base were responsible for managing the recruiting process while doing their regular jobs.
Because of heavy paperwork such as Title Five codification requirements, engineers were unable to spend enough time recruiting candidates and establishing key relationships.
“Our recruiting process was very awkward and because of that, many candidates often did not complete the full process,” said Paul Tierney, squadron director of the 775th Test Squadron. “We were unable to find candidates and knew we had to get better at recruiting. I had an attrition rate averaging nearly 40 percent and was losing ground every year. When I got the call from the Department of Defense asking us to be part of the pilot program it was like receiving manna from heaven.”
Kenexa was chosen at the DoD level to work with Edwards, and after a 45-day initiation process, which included analyzing current processes and providing enhancements to their recruiting efforts, Edwards began its recruitment transformation with the implementation of Kenexa Recruiter, a complete recruiting management system.
Before, without a system in place to collect resumes, screen candidates and provide insight into the process, delays in contacting applicants resulted in stale data and an average “time to fill” of four to six month.
Kenexa enabled the organization to reduce time to fill to just a few weeks.
Also beneficial was being able to leverage the technology to generate an extensive set of recruiting data such as number of requisitions and their status, number of candidates being tracked, time to fill and cost per hire.
Kenexa’s easy-to-use graphical dashboard enables visibility into key performance metrics and interactive ad-hoc reporting. Engineers now spend less time shuffling paper and more time being able to communicate with key candidates about where they stand in the hiring process.
Another big issue for the organization was having a face to the public. Hidden in the remote desert and miles away from the nearest university resulted in the base being one of the military’s best-kept secrets.
Illustrating a need to brand “‘the Edwards swagger,” Kenexa assisted with a proactive marketing campaign that targeted recent college graduates and mid-level experienced engineers.
The campaign included use of printed collateral, working with professional engineering societies such as IEEE, e-mail campaigns, using Google optimization to drive passive and active job seekers to the base, establishing a presence at career fairs and instituting relationships with universities.
Building a pipeline of top-notch engineering graduates was important to the organization, and Tierney said Kenexa not only helped establish their university relationship program but also brought realism to the approach.
“What Kenexa really brought was a human capital process to the table,” Tierney said. “They explained their recommendation was to establish these relationships but stressed the importance of continuing the work once the pilot program ended. They helped us understand that it takes time to make inroads with universities and that you really needed to invest the time to establish the relationships.”
Selecting five universities, California State University (Northridge and Fresno campuses), California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo and Lancaster University Center based on locality and University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University as directive from the DoD, Kenexa worked to develop relationships with deans, department heads and business school representatives.
Before working with Kenexa, Edwards had no formal university relationship program and a scarcity of interested college graduates.
Today, notes Tierney, academic professors call him with requests from students interested in working at the base. Most recently, four honors students have been recruited into full time positions through this process.
”Improving our process, establishing branding and connecting with the universities has enabled us to attract college graduates and begin developing the pipeline we were trying to establish,” he said. “Two years into the process, because of this solution, I now have handfuls of the top students from these universities who want to work here.”
Because the Air Force culture is inherently mobile with diverse growth opportunities across the organization, keeping a constant inflow of new recruits is part of managing the workforce.
Other factors such as a large percentage of federal workers expected to retire by 2010 — according to the Buckeye Institute about 71 percent of the workforce will be eligible for either regular or early retirement — make it imperative to bring in new recruits to learn from seasoned professionals.
Tierney said since embarking on the pilot program their attrition rate is significantly lower.
“Not only are we recruiting more, but we are retaining more as a result of having the whole process in place,” Tierney said. “Our university relationship program is outstanding, the automated application process is helping us locate high quality candidates that are not stale in the process and we are able to use our resources more wisely.”
Nearly 20,000 candidates are being tracked in the system and time to fill is averaging 83 days — half the time it took prior to implementing an automated solution.
In addition to collecting information faster and more efficiently, the biggest benefits are seeing a better quality of candidate and improving the ability to build their talent pipeline.
“Because of the relationships we have with the universities, we have professors that are promoting Edwards as an institution of engineering excellence and as a result, we are getting higher quality candidates,” Tierney said. “We had such phenomenal results and would like to see other bases apply this concept to improve their recruiting and retention processes.”