The airline industry – like most others lately – is rife with threats to its survival. Yo-yo-ing fuel prices, a fickle traveling public, and carrier consolidation pose many challenges to all air carriers’ survival, much less their success. Trying to move as many costs out of the variable and into the fixed column is paramount.
For Delta Airlines, one of these cost silos was recruitment – even during layoff periods – which was as much about efficient consolidation as trimming excess staff. At various times this produced an even greater need to hire the most qualified candidates.
The pathology of Delta’s HR trials is a curious one. For several years after 9/11, it outsourced many HR duties including recruiting to a big supplier. Everything was working well except one piece. So the airline decided to bring recruiting in-house in 2006, according to Chris Collins, director of HR service delivery at Delta.
But then Delta emerged from bankruptcy in 2007 and began eyeing what would become a merger with Northwest Airlines in early 2008. Collins and his associates again saw the need to outsource recruitment. But this time he wanted a provider with deeper recruiting expertise. Delta looked closer at Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO), primarily on the recommendation of those at Northwest who were pleased with RPO’s results for them.
RPO enables organizations to reduce their fixed costs, according to Harry Bottka, a director at sourcing advisory firm TPI. “Companies compare the cost of managing the internal search with the cost of an RPO engagement.”
Shifting environments produce changing employee hiring priorities
The driver in turning to an experienced RPO was Delta’s need to react to a fluid talent demand that had ebb and flow. RPO allows buyers to address changing volumes. Many organizations deal with hiring spikes by conducting agency searches for positions that an RPO can fill more cost-effectively.
In addition, the supplier had to do a better job of finding and retaining top talent even as it was retrenching after its 2007 bankruptcy. Attracting excellent customer care specialists — the focus of its new RPO mission — would not be easy, particularly during one of its most ticklish times.
Delta is a customer-focused organization that spends an inordinate amount of time finding and hiring its front-line workforce such as airport agents, reservations staff, and in-flight personnel. “What distinguishes Delta is how we treat customers. That must resonate with our employee candidates,” Collins explains. Translating this mission to potential employees was critical to Collins in improving the quality of hires because “new recruits with clear expectations tend to be more engaged and satisfied employees.”
Delta found Chicago-based PeopleScout to be a close fit for its needs. The provider had previously worked with the carrier on a shorter, much smaller scale a year earlier hiring ticket agents and other front-line customer-based employees at several large U.S. airports.
Delta was encouraged by this limited success sample. At the same time Northwest gave a strong reference for PeopleScout’s RPO enterprise skills and understanding of the airline recruiting business. These factors caused Delta to move a bit deeper into the RPO pool with a modestly larger project of hiring 1,500 multilingual flight attendants in four months.
Everyone’s eyes wide open
Collins says PeopleScout adeptly captures and conveys the Delta culture to potential employees. “It’s important because in the past recruiters told candidates things that didn’t match the brand,” he concludes.
Karen Browne, president at PeopleScout, notes that targeting the right audience and leveraging communication tools that promote candidate engagement is a key to sourcing success. “Filling positions to meet Delta’s needs requires a streamlined process that moves qualified candidates through the steps quickly,” she says. “When you have a qualified flight attendant candidate who speaks flawless Mandarin, you don’t keep them waiting or in the dark about the next step in the recruitment process.”
With a second success behind them, PeopleScout now assumes the duty for about 10,000 Delta North American new hires annually. For all hourly hires, it delivers an end-to-end service that includes sourcing and all administrative functions up to the interview, then all pre-employment services through the actual hire.
To manage and monitor the process, Delta employs PeopleScout’s ASP applicant tracking system, which reveals how the provider manages all branding functions such as creating ads. It operates the career microsite and other channels of prospect engagement and communication. The supplier also keeps up with the hiring program’s ongoing progress.
Collins cannot say how this new recruitment service model will affect Delta in the long run. But he reports initial signs are positive. At a town hall meeting involving newly-hired flight attendants and their managers, Delta took an informal survey. Collins says they literally gave HR a standing ovation when asked about their experience. Overall, managers generally cite a higher quality of candidate delivered through the Delta/PeopleScout hiring program.
“These new hires say they better understand the Delta brand and how consistent it is with what they learned during the hiring,” Collins notes. “Explaining up front who we are, what we expect from our employees, and what they can expect from us creates a better-quality candidate in the long run.”
Though he sees no strident challenges in how all this will work in the new world of Delta/Northwest, Collins says the future of the effort is not yet clear. But he trusts PeopleScout’s good history with both organizations and is optimistic about future success.
He adds that one of his biggest concerns is assimilating the cultures and making sure that the merged organization offers a consistent candidate experience regardless of the city in which they are based.
PeopleScout’s Browne says she is equally confident that the merged air carrier is an opportunity for all three entities. “We’re well positioned to handle the complexity simply because of our experience with high-volume clients and the airline industry.”
By harnessing a compatible RPO provider, companies can concentrate on hard-to-fill positions, according to Bottka. More firms are turning to RPO for larger, more complex hiring programs, especially those that have a global aspect, he concludes.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:
- A well-matched recruitment process outsourcer (RPO) can communicate the nuances and culture of its buyer to prospective employees while it simultaneously filters the highly valued candidates from what can be very large prospect pools.
- An adept RPO can reduce a buyer’s overall hiring costs and whittle down variable cost that can occur when firms do their own recruiting. If allowed, the provider can also reduce, and can even eliminate, a large portion of management costs of new-hire intake.
- The more sophisticated – or global – the employee hiring mission, the better the fit for the RPO provider.