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Re-thinking Apprenticeship Recruitment in 2020

15th December 2020

by Bethan Phillips from the Hovis RPO team – October 2020.

When we started the recruitment process for our 2020 Engineering Apprenticeships at the beginning of the year, we had no idea about the changes that were ahead of us and what a different process it would turn out to be! It’s been a heady few months of adjustments and changes to our usual processes across the board, but the Apprenticeships in particular usually feature a lot of face-to-face interaction and ‘mass gatherings’ of the candidates and their families along with Hovis mentors, the college and other Hovis stakeholders. Therefore, we really had to think differently about how we could modify our approach to maintain our high quality candidate experience for the applicants, as well as deliver this next generation of Engineers for Hovis to our agreed timescales.

The Apprenticeship recruitment process usually kicks off with college open days. As these weren’t possible this year, we advertised on our usual channels and with the colleges themselves to attract interest from potential applicants. Four of our bakeries needed to recruit two Apprentices each, and we had over 170 applications for a maximum of eight roles. Compared to previous years we definitely saw a more diverse group of candidates with regards to gender and age, with an increase in applicants identifying as female and a rise in the average age of applicants also. We also had candidates from a wide range of educational and professional backgrounds, which we know from experience brings a lot to the team. Following this initial screening process, our first stage consisted of remote interviews with the shortlisted candidates and the bakery hiring managers.

Replacing assessment days is not something to take lightly and we knew we couldn’t just ‘replace’ the unique atmosphere and experience of these days with remote interviews. Those days provide several opportunities for candidates’ individual talents and approaches to shine through, especially when it comes to working in groups and exploring their leadership skills. The days have always had fabulous feedback from candidates and hiring managers alike so it was a real shame to lose them. Nonetheless, we had to proceed and so we set about defining a stringent remote assessment process to try to draw out the potential and skillset of the applicants without the interactive and relaxed atmosphere of a day’s event. We devised the process and ran briefing sessions with Hovis hiring managers.

Following this initial interview and assessment, site teams were very motivated to meet candidates in person, a factor which needed to be taken into planning the next stage of the process. Given the new guidelines in place owing to the pandemic, we approached this second stage with a very different mind-set to our usual bakery-based interviews. Many of our candidates had been at home during the lockdown for several weeks, and taking into consideration individual concerns they may have regarding their personal safety – and of course allowing for Hovis’s usual stringent approach to food safety, as well as general health and safety. There was a lot for us and the bakeries to consider before inviting candidates on-site. Site teams developed visiting guidelines with the average age of cohorts in mind; many of these individuals were younger than our usual interviewing candidate and the nuances of manufacturing site visits and interviews were an unknown to them. We invited existing Hovis Apprentices to ‘host’ the candidates, taking them on a bakery tour and answering questions on their experience. Hovis is rightly very proud of their existing Apprentices and the skills they bring to the business and there are no better brand ambassadors for us.

For the third and final stage, we took a site-specific approach, allowing teams to fill any gaps or cover any outstanding questions. The successful candidates have all been offered their places now and we are delighted to say they will start on 21st September in our sites. Like last year, the standard of applicant has been so high that our Avonmouth bakery has offered three places rather than the two they planned! Obviously we will still navigate on-going challenges but we are confident any obstacles can be overcome.

It’s a challenging time for us all but the last few months has proved great progress can be made when we take time to reconsider what ‘normal’ means and work together to find new solutions.

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