University Hospital Southampton (UHS) had one of the highest vacancy rates for health care support workers (HCSWs) nationally, which was attributed to the large size of the trust. The city of Southampton and surrounding areas, in particular, have a lot of competition for employment in all sectors, combined with a high cost of living. During and after the COVID-19 pandemic, the trust found it increasingly challenging to recruit to HCSW roles and decided to look at new ways of improving its application process for candidates. This led to a new and innovative voice-guided chat function via smartphone being implemented to improve recruitment.
Key benefits and outcomes
- The application process is simpler and provides an alternative option for candidates instead of more traditional routes.
- The technology helps to streamline the shortlisting/screening process for employers.
- Following the implementation of the tool the conversion rate from application to offer has significantly improved.
What the organisation faced
UHS employs approximately 1200 HCSWs. Prior to the pandemic there weren’t any vacancies for these roles but this quickly increased to a vacancy rate of around 27 per cent.
The trust experienced many candidates dropping out of the recruitment process early on and this was partly attributed to the lengthy application procedure, namely the amount of online forms that had to be completed. The process took approximately 30 minutes on the trust’s application tracking system, which is not optimised for mobile.
The volume of applications received through third-party recruitment websites was also proving problematic as it was difficult to shortlist and process candidates efficiently through this route, and difficult to track where the applicants applied from. In some cases, so many candidates arrived without being filtered that the team could not respond to them in a timely manner and, as a result experienced numerous candidates who did not answer the phone or did not remember applying.
What the organisation did
The organisation required a quicker turnaround with processing submissions as well as a way to simplify the initial application stage for candidates, and so began exploring ideas of how this could be resolved. After some research, a member of the team discovered an advert on the internet for new voice application technology named Talk’n‘Job. The trust decided to investigate it further and once it was determined that the costs to set it up would be affordable, the team decided to pilot the app.
The voice app technology works by allowing applicants to answer a short series of screening questions (accessed on a smartphone app/web link), either by providing answers verbally or by texting/typing them in. This is an inclusive way of creating a job application and enables people with different needs and preferences to participate, therefore removing some of the barriers. The link to the voice app is easily integrated into all online media as well as via a QR code which can also be placed on physical adverts such as posters.
The initial questions are designed to ascertain the candidate’s suitability for the role. It includes questions such as how the individual feels about carrying out personal care duties and if they have relevant experience. The responses and contact details are automatically forwarded by the app to the recruitment team, who can then follow up with a phone call to do a further screening of the candidate and ensure the essential criteria has been met. An interview/assessment date is already scheduled and offered to the candidate should they want to progress. If they are ultimately successful in the interview, it then takes around four weeks on average for pre-employment checks to be completed and the prospective employee to start in role.
Results and benefits
The trust has determined that candidates are more engaged with this new application method and the trust is currently receiving 67 per cent of total submissions through it.
The conversion rate (interview to job offer) is also higher at 74 per cent of applicants using the voice app, which is higher than expected from a demographic that is unlikely to have engaged with the trust previously.
The project has also won an innovation award at The Firm awards in June 2023, further demonstrating the success and positivity of using this system.
TRAC, the trust’s application tracking system (ATS), was unable to provide an integration with the voice technology product, but this is commonly done with more modern ATS systems. As a work around the data is received as a downloadable CSV file. Screening calls are made offline and candidates are sent a TRAC link to complete basic candidate information for employment checks once an interview date is allocated. The trust reports that this doesn’t impact on the overall process as applicants are asked to do this once they have an offer in hand.
Additionally, UHS found that responses to the screening questions are not always honest or accurate, so when candidates progress to the phone screening stage or even interview there may be more withdrawals from the process because of unsuitability. Adjustments have been made to the screening questions to ensure candidates fully understand the requirements of the role and therefore those who aren’t suitable are less likely to be shortlisted, saving time and resources.
With proven success in recruiting HCSWs, the trust intends to roll out the voice application technology for other job roles at some point. If the recruitment team can be further expanded and supported by a robust ATS (with an automatic response function), it will be able to deal with a higher volume of applications.
- Ensure your recruitment team members are on board with the process, are proactive and are willing to fully engage with applicants – this is recruitment, not just application processing.
- Have a system of rapid allocation of interviews and offer responses setup in advance of launch.
- Consider if you are using the right types of screening questions to ensure the most suitable candidates are applying for the roles advertised.
- Be positive about embracing new types of technology as they can really benefit recruitment processes.
If you have any queries please contact Danielle Boothroyd, senior programme officer, NHS Employers: firstname.lastname@example.org, who can then put you in touch with University Hospital Southampton.