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Lorraine Lopez

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Best practice: Transforming the recruitment breakdown in the AA


Lorraine Lopez, HR resourcing manager, explains how the Automobile Association has changed its recruitment processes and what difference this has made to the organisation.

The business
The Automobile Association (the AA) was founded in 1905 and now has around 8,000 employees across the UK, including 3,000 patrols. Every year it attends around 3.5 million breakdowns and teaches over 100,000 learner drivers. It is also the UK’s leading car and home insurance broker and offers a broad range of financial services.

As the UK’s biggest breakdown and motoring organisation, with around 15 million members, ensuring it has the right talent is vital for the AA’s success.

Lorraine Lopez joined the AA’s senior management team as HR resourcing manager in 2005. Lorraine explains: “I like to fix things. I’ve always been keen to take something on and develop it to make it better. I got involved in management because I enjoy the ‘helicopter view’ I get of the whole organisation and I can see how the recruitment function is integrated throughout the business. When I joined the AA, I saw a huge opportunity to improve its recruitment strategy, including process and policy, not just in terms of making it more efficient, but by offering an enhanced candidate experience.”

The challenge
A well-known brand like the AA attracts a high volume of applications. The process for managing these was largely paper based and it became time consuming. Printed applications were sent out to candidates on request, but the return rate was generally low. Of the applications the AA did receive, many were incomplete; meanwhile those candidates that did apply found the process long and drawn out – the AA’s candidate experience fell far short of what it wanted to achieve. 

The challenge for the AA was to make the recruitment process easier and less time consuming for both the applicants and the HR team, while improving the quality of the candidates. It identified the need to keep ties with strong quality candidates while improving the candidate experience for those who were considering working for the AA for the first time.

Lorraine explained: “At the AA, we take a view that our applicants are also customers, and they need to experience the brand with the same high level of satisfaction.  If I think that we’re not communicating with candidates properly, I will always urge the business area to think more carefully about the candidate experience. A key skill for all our employees, whether they’re roadside mechanics or call side agents, is being able to offer an excellent customer service – it’s therefore vital that we reflect this ethos in our recruitment strategy to ensure we’re attracting the right people for the jobs available.”

The solution
In 2007 while the AA was part of the Centrica Group it implemented StepStone Solutions Talent Acquisition solution moving its entire recruitment process online.

Following significant efforts to engage the AA brand with the talent acquisition solution, and ensure buy-in from the HR department, the company was able to use the talent acquisition platform to its full potential.

The solution enables all applications to be processed online and for the bulky candidate questionnaire to be streamlined, reducing the number of incomplete applications and increasing the speed of the recruitment process.

It also permits the AA to improve its employer brand by creating a talent pipeline which better engages potential employees and reduces the time to hire. The AA can now organise the volume of candidates by location and availability. For example, it helps the recruitment team identify candidates who are talented, interested and qualified, but might not meet the geographic criteria. These candidates can be saved and contacted again if another job opportunity becomes available that better suits their geographic location.

The results
With the new solution the AA has successfully transformed its recruitment process and has achieved impressive results. It now processes all applications online, reducing the number of incomplete applications from around 70 per cent to just over 20 per cent. In 2010 the AA completed over 30,000 applications, which was more than double the number from two years ago.

“Although we recruit for a wide variety of positions within the business, understandably attracting qualified mechanics is a key focus for us. There was a perception that an online application process would reduce their interest in our organisation from this demographic but, in fact, the volumes of completed applications have increased.”

In addition the AA has been able to increase the quality of its applicants by using the solution to implement a successful talent pool process. With a focus on achieving quality over quantity, the AA has reduced the size of its pools of target candidates from 700 to 500 and can now strategically group them based on where they sit in the recruitment process, in terms of whether their application has been processed and assessed, or whether it still needs to be reviewed.

The AA has halved its time to hire from 77 days in 2006 to just 37 in 2010. By improving the candidate experience and better engaging applicants the AA has managed to enhance its employer brand and begin developing the higher calibre of candidates needed to cement its position as a market leader.

Lorraine concluded:“Building a positive employer brand was a big priority for us. We’re delighted with what we’ve been able to achieve and we’re not planning to stop there with our transformation. We’re constantly looking for new ways to enhance our talent acquisition solution and internal processes to keep driving success within the business.”


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