Extra: Human Resources - How we outsourced our human resources

Alex Blyth talks to one charity about how it bought an electronic system for recording staff absence, and to another about using a recruitment agency.

THE WALLICH

The Wallich provides support to homeless people in Wales. Founded in 1978, it now has an annual turnover of £6m, employs about 200 staff and runs 30 projects, including outreach, hostels and specialist accommodation for people who misuse substances or have mental health issues.

Two years ago its HR team of four conducted a major review of absence rates at the charity. "They were simply too high," explains Robert Blake, assistant HR manager. "Back in 2006 our staff were averaging 15 days absence every year. So we spent a lot of time finding out the reasons for this and then tackling the root causes."

One of the problems discovered by the team was how difficult it was to get a clear view about who had been at work on which date and who had booked holidays or training. It was all done through word of mouth and recorded on various pieces of paper. So Blake and the HR team decided to buy software that would introduce a standard system.

He says: "I'd spent a few months working at Admiral Insurance and it had used a program called Snowdrop. It allowed the company to get a central view of individual absence rates, encouraged a consistent approach across the organisation, aided communication between employees, line managers and HR, and saved everyone a lot of time. I wanted us to get something similar here."

The Wallich began searching at the end of 2007 and saw demonstrations from several software houses. In the end they chose Select Software because it was easy to use and could be simply adapted to their specific needs. Select installed the software in February 2008 and provided training to all Wallich managers; the system is now running alongside the old paper system. Blake expects the charity to have made the transition to complete reliance on the software by the end of this year.

There were a few minor implementation niggles at the start but, overall, Blake has been very impressed with the software. "It has allowed us to achieve a consistent and fair approach to absence, and also to get the correct ratio of staff to clients," he says. "It has streamlined the process and given us more time to do what we should be doing - delivering to our clients."

Getting the system up and running cost the charity £13,000, but it has helped it to cut annual absence to just eight days, a reduction of almost 50 per cent, which has saved The Wallich about £46,000. The organisation has also been shortlisted for a Personnel Today HR Impact award.

Blake says: "When you outsource something as important as this, you need to do your homework to ensure you get the right provider. Talk to as many as you have time for, and always speak to their clients. Finally, begin with a budget in mind so you don't spend too much."

ACTION FOR BLIND PEOPLE

Action for Blind People is a national organisation that aims to ensure blind and partially sighted people get practical support in all aspects of their lives. It employs approximately 530 staff and has an HR team of seven people. When Glen Walker joined as head of HR in April 2008, it was immediately obvious that the charity had some problems with its recruitment process.

He says: "We weren't getting a very good response to our job advertisements, which meant we had to advertise two or three times before finding someone. That was expensive. At the same time, we were getting some negative feedback from applicants. They were complaining that application packs were incomplete or contained incorrect information. The HR team was always getting distracted by other priorities, so recruitment got held up. It was clear we needed to bring in an agency that would focus on our recruitment, making it more professional and effective."

So Walker invited in several providers. He considered how well each agency understood the charity, how informed it was on the voluntary sector generally, its process for deciding the most appropriate recruitment media, how it would work with HR and line managers and what it could do to reduce the charity's overall recruitment costs.

By September 2006 he had begun working with WJP Floyd. By far the most significant challenge in the transition was getting support from the rest of the organisation. Walker explains: "Many line managers were worried that adding in this extra party would make recruitment more bureaucratic and slower. We've had to work hard to develop a streamlined process and demonstrate to our colleagues how using an agency actually saves time."

As well as making the charity's recruitment process more nimble, hiring a third party has also cut its recruitment costs. Walker says that, despite similar levels of recruitment, the charity has spent £65,000 less on recruitment in the past year than it did the year before. Freed of the administrative burden of recruitment, the HR team has been able to focus on more strategic projects and so provide greater value to the organisation.

Walker concludes with this advice to anyone who is considering outsourcing this part of HR: "Speak to a number of agencies. Although a lot of them promise you high-quality service, this can often tail off once you become a client. Pilot a number of agencies, and always get recommendations from other charities."

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