Atkins attracting flexible workers through innovation and recruitment

Within Atkins, the UK business has ambitious growth plans of circa 2,000 new starters over the coming year.  In order to aid staff retention and meet the growth targets we realised that we needed to incorporate a number of key initiatives to our recruitment strategy.  These were identified as follows: Developing and launching a new Atkins employer brand and careers website; enhancing our candidate attraction activities; and widening the diversity of our new recruits.

Our innovation was “flexible working for new hires” and this spanned across the three categories within our recruitment plan – the careers website; enhancing our candidate attraction activities; and widening the diversity of our new recruits.

As a result of a close collaboration between our HR and recruitment teams we have implemented a full end to end solution for flexible working which will not only assist with attraction, it will aid retention and support our mission to be an employer of choice.

Our strategy:

Atkins operates in many different sectors and the majority of its employees sit within extremely niche skill sets.  For the past 18 months two of our larger business units had been actively promoting flexible working to prospective employees. They advertised their vacancies as both full time and part time on our website to appeal to a wider audience, as well as including the following statement on their job descriptions included the following statement:

“Atkins recognises that there are many well qualified people who are looking to further their career in engineering but who cannot commit to full time employment. We support flexible working arrangements and are interested to discuss how we can accommodate individual requirements.”

However in view of the significant numbers of new recruits we require to meet our headcount targets we decided that more work was required in order for us to put even more emphasis on flexible working as a reason to join Atkins.

At a top level we proposed the following in order to help us recognise our strategy:

1)    New search functionality/content on our careers website – advertising vacancies as full time/part time didn’t seem to fulfil our requirements and get the message across correctly to potential recruits. It felt dated and stigmatised, however it was all our applicant tracking system (Taleo) could facilitate at the time.

2)    Video profiles of existing employees who already have successful flexible working agreements in place.

3)    Engage with our HR business partners to gain support for the new approach throughout the business units.

4)    Up-skill our hiring managers

5)    Employee engagement – it was important to remind our current employees that they too can request flexible working and it is not just for new recruits.

6)    Publicity – We needed to make sure we had enough publicity for flexible working opportunities, while maintaining an appropriate balance of resources allocated to internal and external promotion so as not to alienate our current employees.

In order to support the above initiatives we implemented the following to our working practices:

1)    New search functionality on our careers website to quickly identify flexible working opportunities.

2)    A dedicated page for flexible working on our careers site

3)    A suite of videos on our YouTube channel compiled by existing employees to highlight there flexible working stories, For example, Jill’s story.

4)    An e-module that educates managers on “What does flexible working mean at Atkins?” and “How do I have a flexible working conversation?”

5)    A one-page document supplied to all managers to assist their flexible working conversations. This document is to be used to aid conversations with prospective candidates during the interview process

6)    Updated policies to support the changes.

7)    Ongoing employee engagement.

8)    The icing on the cake – we recently won two working mums awards for “Innovation in Flexible Working” and “Top Employer”.

We believe that as a company we have demonstrated that we are prepared to put our head above the parapet and offer something new to prospective and current employees. We hope we’re standing out from our competitors by offering choices – if an employee has a flexible working agreement in place with their current employer that doesn’t mean they can’t choose to move elsewhere (which historically has been the case). We want prospective employees to have those conversations with us as we truly believe that flexible working will enhance our attraction activities. It will also allow prospective employees to search quickly for flexible working opportunities and view content on “What flexible working means at Atkins” and it will allow us to widen the diversity of our recruits.

Widening the diversity of our recruits is particularly important to Atkins (as it is to many other organisations) however, we have chosen to put a particular emphasis on gender diversity as it is a problem faced in the whole engineering sector.  In view of our focus on gender balance we strongly believe that offering flexible working to new recruits will attract more females to the organisation as well as working dads who may not be able to secure flexible working with their current employer. We also hope it will help to attract more experienced engineers who may be looking to phase their retirement and cannot do so with their existing employer, another area of concern given the ageing population of experienced engineers – see John’s story.

We believe Atkins is the first engineering consultancy to offer flexible working opportunities to new starters in this way and we believe we are one of the first organisations to allow candidates to search for flexible working opportunities on their careers website (outside of the retail and banking sectors where shift work and flexible working are the norm).

We believe what we have achieved could be quite easily applied across the professions and industry that we operate in. This would certainly play a huge part in retaining more qualified engineers within the industry and potentially encourage more individuals to join the engineering profession and demonstrate that it can be family friendly and inclusive for both genders.