Helping to Improve Operational Leadership at Pandrol: A Coronavirus Success Story

Since the Coronavirus pandemic began, it has presented some big challenges for the many organisations that have continued to need to recruit during this time. We have been speaking to some of our clients and candidates to find out what they thought of the process, how they have adapted to social distancing measures and what they have learned.

This week, we spoke to Steve Forrest, Head of Operations at Pandrol, who recently recruited two new Shift Leaders for their Operations Department, whilst the country was still on full lockdown, to find out about their experience and what advice they would give to other businesses.


Background - why recruit during the pandemic

Pandrol is a successful global engineering company that specialises in manufacturing rail fastenings. Pandrol made a strategic decision to improve the strength of their operational team by recruiting two new, high calibre Shift Leaders to support the ongoing success of the business.

Steve explained their decision to recruit during these challenging times:

"Following the retirement of our Production Manager, we decided to create a better structure for our future team - we decided to have Shift Leaders that would have full autonomy and accountability for managing the staff on their shifts.”


The challenge  - how to recruit in a safe way

Pandrol has continued to perform well as a business during the global Coronavirus Pandemic, with Steve explaining that luckily they had largely been unaffected by it. However, the challenge would be to recruit for these roles, whilst adhering to lockdown restrictions and ensuring the safety of everyone involved.

Elevation and the client were required to conduct a thorough interview processes with as little contact as possible during the lockdown period, whilst enabling the prospective candidates to have some on-site experience to gauge cultural fit and interact with the teams on-site.


The Approach - Ensuring an extensive search and developing a rigorous but flexible recruitment process that was right for both the client and the candidate

Whilst recruiting during a pandemic presented a number of challenges, both Elevation and the client were able to use a mix of tools at their disposal to ensure a rigorous market search that suited both the client and the candidates’ needs.

In addition to an internal recruitment process that Pandrol undertook, Elevation conducted a retained market-wide search using our extensive network of candidates. We spoke to a range of managers and conducted initial telephone interviews to ensure that they were the right cultural fit and that they matched the key criteria from the job specification outlined by the client. From there, we created an initial shortlist of 8 candidates for the client to interview.

The client interviewed this initial shortlist of candidates remotely via Microsoft Teams. Steve went on to explain how he found this process:

“Obviously social distancing meant that this was the only real vehicle to get to speak to these candidates. It was the first video interviewing I had done too and it was a quite strange to start with. What we did find though, was that people were treating it as they would do a formal interview. We found that this was great for an initial screening process.”

The successful 5 candidates from the initial interview stage were then invited to do a socially-distanced walk-round of the site so that they could get a feel for the place that they might be working and to meet some members of the team face-to face. Steve explained the decision behind this part of the process:

“Although video screening was great for the first stage, we found it was impossible for the candidates to fully appreciate who we are as a business without coming and seeing our facility. The second part of it was a much less formal introduction to our site. The candidates came along individually for a very informal walk around the site. They had the opportunity to ask questions and have some time talking through our improvement plans to get a feel for we wanted to do moving forward.”

The following week, the candidates were then given a presentation task and invited back to a final interview, conducted once again using Microsoft Teams. This gave them the opportunity to show their understanding of the role and it’s requirements, and to ask any final questions.


Outcome - Two great new recruits and a new recruitment process for the future

Whilst lockdown presented some clear challenges for both Elevation and the client, we were able assist the client in ensuring that they had a wide selection of candidates to choose from.

Utilising digital interviewing platforms meant that the client was still able to interview for these business critical roles, even during the lockdown period. Ensuring that the candidates were able to conduct a site-visit was an important part of the recruitment process as it enabled them to have the opportunity to interact with their potential employers and colleagues.

Whilst the interview process had to be modified significantly to ensure it was safe, both Elevation and the client were able to adapt their recruitment processes to ensure a thorough screening of the market and conduct a rigorous interview, whilst still offering the candidates an opportunity to get a feel for the business and it’s culture as well as engaging with the people that they would be working with face-to-face.

In fact, Steve explained that they have learned a lot from this adapted process and will definitely be making changes to their normal recruitment process as a result:

“It’s probably the most enjoyable recruitment process I’ve gone through. It was exciting learning different things and it was also good that we were kind of making it up as we went along. It worked really well for us and now this process is something I will use in the future. The key to it was that informal bit in the middle. Just seeing how the candidates carry themselves on the shop floor, how they manage conversations with other people and you just get a feel for who they are as a person as well. And from the candidates perspective, it gave them the opportunity to take on board what the team do, and what the job would be like, so it worked well for all involved.”

The clients selected both candidates from Elevation’s initial shortlist and both the candidates and the client are looking forward to their start date.


What the Client felt they had learned

We asked Steve to discuss they key challenges, what impact that had and what that meant for their future recruitment strategies. Overall, Steve explained that his experience was really positive:

“Interviewing is always difficult as people always have pre-prepared answers and tell you what you want to hear. The key challenge is trying to get an understanding of who the candidate really is as a person and what drives them. The informal bit enabled us to see how people would light up when talking about improvements, see how they interact with someone who is driving those improvements and just get a feel for who they are. It really helped some of the candidates stand out for me -  people who walk forward, want to get involved in conversation and talk about how things are done. They are the kind of people that have an energy and drive to improve things. I would say that the informal bit helped made my decision more so than any of it - you got to see the candidates dynamic properly - a chance to see who they are and what drives them."

In fact, Steve went on to explain that this new process meant he was able to consider candidates who on paper, he might not have thought was the right fit:

Elevation provided us with a great shortlist. One of the candidates that John put forward, who we selected as one of the Shift Leaders, was a bit more of an outsider initially as the previous industries he had worked in were very different to ours. On a formal interview, we wouldn’t have seen the energy that came through that we did in the second stage of the process. That for me was what added real value to the process. The outcome being that we found someone with the better character fit, rather than a CV fit for our business.”


What the Candidate Had to Say

We caught up with one of the candidate's following the recruitment process to get their perspective on what it was like to search for a new job during the pandemic. Here is what they had to say:

“The key challenge of this process for me was not having the personal feel that you would normally have. A week after my first interview with Pandrol, I was invited to site for a Tour and had the opportunity to meet the team face to face and observe the facility and processes, which was very interesting.

On reflection, I really enjoyed the process and was made to feel at ease by the team at both Elevation and Pandrol. In fact I would go as far as to say it was the best process I have been through other than the social distancing which takes the personal edge away from it.

My advice to anybody that goes through the process is be prepared, treat the process exactly as you would in a face to face interview, do your homework and really own your CV whilst being questioned about it. Preparation will build your confidence and is key to success!”


Key Takeaways:

  • Digital interview tools such as Microsoft Teams, used here by Pandrol are still really useful for the many businesses who are needing to recruit but have not yet returned to normal, or would prefer to limit the amount of visitors to site
  • Organising a site visit and/or a more informal part of the interview (such as a walk around to meet the team) for prospective candidates could be a vital part of the recruitment process and could be as important for them as it is for you. It offers a great opportunity to see your candidates in a different light, giving you a chance to reflect on their personality fit too.
  • Being flexible on your interview process now, could mean that you learn a lot about how effective your current process is in terms of finding the right candidate. Don’t be afraid to try something new - it might just really work for you.
  • Ask for feedback from your candidates - feedback can work both ways, and it is always worth hearing back from your candidates about how they found the interview process - continuous improvement can never be a bad thing!
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