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How the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities overhauled its hiring processes in the wake of Covid

25 Feb 2021 By Jyoti Rambhai

Lockdown restrictions provided the government organisation with the opportunity to future proof recruitment for public sector jobs in Scotland

The problem

Lockdown has forced many HR teams to review their recruitment processes – and none more so than the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), which represents the 32 local authorities in Scotland.

COSLA runs myjobscotland, a national recruitment website for public sector jobs across nearly all Scottish local authorities. Since launching in 2008, the platform not only advertises around 40,000 jobs each year, but also has an applicant tracking system that helps councils streamline their hiring process.

But when Covid hit and the prime minister issued his ‘stay at home’ message, the organisation saw an almost overnight move from 5 per cent of public sector staff working from home to more than 80 per cent. “Our issue was that we had all these people sitting waiting to be hired, but we were no longer able to organise face-to-face interviews,” explains Douglas Shirlaw, COSLA’s chief digital officer.

With vacancies still needing to be filled despite the lockdown restrictions, the organisation had to quickly come up with an alternative process, all the while further hindered by the usual challenges of tighter council budgets and limited resources.

The solution

Like many organisations, COSLA considered making use of popular videoconferencing platforms as a virtual alternative to conducting interviews. However, this would have been difficult to streamline with its applicant tracking system, says Robyn Adamson, digital services L&D coordinator. Instead, Shirlaw and Adamson realised the current system offered the option for candidates to add a video as part of their application, and so piloted using this with 10 councils. Candidates were asked to put a video together answering questions they would usually be asked at the interview stage. Not only was this a “relatively quick” process to roll out, Adamson says, all the data could be tracked, and hiring managers “just had to log in to the system as normal to view it, saving us time on training”.

The outcome

So far, more than 5,200 candidates have produced a video as part of their application process, and 253 roles across Scotland have been filled using this system to date.

COSLA found that the new process created greater efficiency when recruiting. For example, the time to offer for vital home carer vacancies reduced from 74 days to 15 days, and time to hire decreased from 119 days to 44 days.

Feedback from candidates has also been positive: one applicant with dyslexia said they “relished the opportunity to not type out lengthy text responses”, Adamson explains. It also highlighted how “archaic” the recruitment process was before, she says, and that this could be the shift needed for what is typically a very traditional sector to become more digital in the future.

Shirlaw adds that given how varied public sector jobs are, managers have been generally positive about the addition of video to the application process. “It gave them a real insight into the candidate and an idea of their soft skills,” he explains. The organisation now plans to work with the remaining councils so they too can “reap the benefits”.

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