By Published On: February 10th, 2021
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The global pandemic has brought about a prolonged period of restrictions and scaling back for staff recruiting services at universities in every country. As these constraints are gradually eased, and demand for new recruits rises again, will the lack of investment in systems and processes – not just in 2020 but for many years beforehand – cause even bigger problems for service users and universities as a whole?

The Cubane team recently conducted an in-depth study looking at how the performance of staff recruiting services varied between universities and across regions, including in comparison to best practice in the government and private sectors. What quickly became clear was that whilst there are laudable examples of innovation, investment and good practice, staff recruiting can be something of a Cinderella service: often overlooked, with teams struggling to overcome inefficient processes, antiquated systems and a tendency for every different faculty and department to ‘do its own thing’. Amongst a rich and nuanced set of findings, three big questions stand out.

Making the business case for investment in systems

Staff recruiting is a classic example of a service where there are lots of routine, repetitive administrative tasks that can be streamlined and made much more efficient by means of a well-integrated system. And yet this systems capability doesn’t usually come cheap, and the job of buying and configuring can be high. How then to overcome the ‘chicken and egg’ situation of it being challenging to demonstrate the need for investment without the kind of compelling data that a good system provides?

Creating the space and conditions for staff to innovate and improve the service

Every university recruitment team we spoke to recounted brilliant examples of ideas they’d had about moving away from the traditional approach to recruitment… but rarely been able to implement because their teams were so thinly stretched. Having more staff capacity in and of itself doesn’t guarantee services will improve: a sense of direction, and a culture that supports ongoing service redesign (focused on the needs of service users) is crucial too.

Building the capability of the university as a whole

Staff recruiting is essentially an institution-wide service, relying as it does on hiring managers, academics and others in the team or department being recruited to, along with people in institution-wide and faculty roles to make the connections. The key ingredients of this kind of ‘all hands’ endeavour being a success include the central team setting and meeting clear service standards; providing training and capability-building for the people they work with routinely; and being able to rely on an effective business partnering model that isn’t itself swamped by having to deal with routine administrative tasks. But it also requires a culture of acceptance – both in the centre and hiring units – that a degree of consistency and common treatment is indispensable for a high-volume service like this one.

These three are the big common themes and key questions that stood out for the universities we spoke to: do they match your own? If you’d like to share your own challenges or good practice around staff recruiting in a university, or hear more about lessons learned from the global UniForum programme, then please do get in touch via LinkedIn or by contacting me by email at [email protected]

About the Author: Phil Copestake

Phil leads Cubane’s business in the UK and Europe. Before joining Cubane he was a senior member of the higher education practice at PA Consulting, with wide-ranging experience of supporting universities across the UK and internationally. He worked with a large number of institutions to develop and implement major transformation programmes to improve efficiency and service standards, and also aided several universities in developing and stress-testing global expansion and other investment plans. Phil specialises in strategy development and execution, preparing robust business cases to aid good decision making, and designing new customer-centred service delivery models. To contact Phil please email [email protected]
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