Ramping up recruitment for government funded start-up institute, the Aerospace Technology Institute

The Challenge

The Aerospace Technology Institue is a government-backed start-up created to lead and challenge the UK’s technology strategy in one of our most exciting industry sectors. Based in Cranfield, the company’s goal is to act as a catalyst across UK Plc, ensuring that the UK capitalises on its potential to be a world leader in aerospace.

With a core management team already in place, the next step was to find another 35 people within six months to fill the organisation. These were mainly technical and strategy specialists in the aerospace sector at varying levels of experience, from recent graduates to Directors. There were very few recruitment systems or processes in place and planning was at an early stage. Candidates are hard to find and harder to attract in this industry of risk-averse engineers whose careers tend to span many years with an employer, who are in turn few in number.

As well as finding and attracting the right candidates, our challenge was to design and implement a thorough and robust end to end recruitment process which could handle high volume pressures with a great candidate experience and could be handed over at the end of the project, suitable for the needs of the business going forward.

The Result

We designed the recruitment process around the company, implementing an Applicant Tracking System linked to the company’s website, creating a careers section and managing their LinkedIn and Twitter presences. We designed assignment briefs and advertising that reflected the company’s positioning, keeping the company’s distinct tone of voice. With very few people needing to interview a great number of candidates in a short space of time, the focus was on filtering out as much as possible to give a high interview to offer ratio. It was important to stay flexible as the company still had some thinking to do around its internal structure. We developed a long list of target companies, both large and small, and contacted around a thousand individuals at a range of levels to introduce the concept of our client to them. We also worked with a number of trade and industry bodies, universities and industry outplacement services to dig out any likely candidates.

Our recommendations and the calibre of candidates identified helped to reduce the headcount needed from 35 to 20 overall, significantly reducing headcount budget. The average time to hire was 34 days, including roles filled by executive search, often delayed by interviewing time constraints as our hiring managers were very stretched during this set up phase. The Strategy team is of exceptional quality; there are some extremely strong MDc. PhD and EngD graduates in some of the more junior technical roles; some roles have been combined due to the strength of senior candidates; the profile and visibility of the company has been raised significantly through engaging with potential candidates; there are strong recruitment processes and onboarding programmes in place, with happy, engaged candidates; the technologist team is being built successfully despite geographical challenges.

One of the key aspects of this project has been maintaining positive engagement with the business, and in particular HR. The backing of HR is absolutely crucial in all projects, but never more so than in start-ups where emotions can often run high due to stress and lack of resources. No-one has enough time for interviewing as everyone is too busy doing their day jobs, but it is impossible to hire people without interviewing. This is further made difficult because teams are under-resourced, which would ease with more people in the team… the problem becomes circular and it is very easy to blame recruitment. Strong HR support helps the hiring teams to understand the process behind finding good people, that it takes time and effort, and much work goes on beneath the surface. When everyone pulls together, great things can be achieved.

Jaclyn Castledine - HR Director

"I was the HR director for the Institute during its start up phase. We successfully recruited to our target, well within time, some of which were quite complex technical searches. We were extremely pleased with the calibre and personalities/fit of the people we selected. Lucy runs a tight, professional and focused ship and Quarsh will go to the nᵗʰ degree to understand your business so they can source the right people for you. Her staff are effective, responsive, visible, accessible and dedicated throughout the process. As always, there are lessons to be learned from partnerships, to ensure that something already extremely good is great. This is more to do with ensuring that the partnership works as well for you as it does for some tricky line managers internally - who assume that recruitment happens overnight - and who can be difficult to pin down on their decision making and keeping to process. Quarsh were very professional in that situation - if you enable them to have the freedom and space to operate."