Transit Recruiting

It’s a struggle to attract and hire people who will be successful as a transit operator and finding the right person is only a piece of the puzzle. Edmonton Transit System is on track with a recently revamped hiring process to get the right person in the seat and keep the operator pool at optimum capacity.

A few years ago, the economy was in a different state and ETS was constantly short of operators. This shortage developed due to a number of factors, including growth of transit services in Edmonton, the exodus of the baby boomer generation of employees, promotions from within the driving ranks and a higher-than-normal failure rate of trainees meant to replace those retiring or being promoted. This shortage meant paying excessive overtime or canceling runs. Add to all of this an extremely hot economy where people selling donuts and coffee were being paid $20 per hour and you can understand why a transit operator may not have been the choice of those job hunting.

What the process looked like four years ago

  • Determine how many operators need to be hired.
  • Set targets for hiring.
  • Work through Human Resources on up to nine different job postings per year.
  • Candidates applied online or in person at the agency.
  • Candidates were screened through some basic questions.
  • Remaining candidates invited to complete video testing and license verification.
  • Remaining candidates invited to come in for an interview.
  • Successful candidates sent for medical, functional capacity evaluation and criminal records background check.
  • Successful candidates were hired and booked for training.

From start to finish the process it could have taken between 75 and 90 days to become an ETS operator.

In 2009, ETS partnered with the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) to develop an online psychometric evaluation named Strada. Operated through Assess Systems, Strada replaces video testing in ETS’s hiring process. In 2011, ETS updated its functional capacity evaluation to include more job-specific requirements. ETS also updated its manpower planning process to include a formula that consisted of manpower requirement and availability, vacation, training attrition and forecasting for other indicators and predictors based on an average of previous years. This manpower plan is updated after each training class and provides a framework to estimate the continuing manpower requirement for the current and next calendar year.

In 2012, ETS updated its Taleo software to allow better online processing and linkages with other online tools. However, the human resources partners had some difficulties of their own. They were engaged in reactive portfolio management rather than proactive. This created significant issues on this high volume posting — 2,000 applications with 150 typically hired. They were dependent upon shared resources and were absorbing budget cuts.

At that point ETS had an average 72 percent success and first-year retention rate. This would decrease to 55 percent at times. A number of underlying factors were identified, including driving skills, inability to understand oral directions, poor understanding of the position and Alberta’s hot economy. There are financial implications in training — $562,500 to $787,500 in addition to the human cost pegged at $12,500 to $17,500 per person.

As a result, HR and ETS worked collaboratively to create a streamlined recruitment lifecycle, with efficient and effective recruitment processes and procedures with the goal of increasing training school completions by 5 percent.

A synopsis of the new process

  • Competency-based recruiting process based on seven core competencies. Candidates are evaluated using the competencies through each stage of the recruitment process. These competencies also align with those identified in the Strada recruitment toolkit:
  • Communication
  • Customer service
  • Problem solving and decision making
  • Safety and emergency response
  • Professionalism and ethical conduct
  • Vehicle monitoring and driving
  • Personal management
  • Updated classification specification to grade 12 from grade 10. It already includes proven ability to understand and execute oral and written instructions in English equivalent to a Canadian Language Benchmark Assessment (CLBA) Level 7.
  • Moved to one posting per year which can go live on the ETS website and be taken down as required. This minimizes the work and limits the candidates to one application per year. ETS also runs a duplicate profile check to flag candidates who are trying to cheat the system by creating multiple fictitious accounts.
  • Applicant screening online means that everything from the résumé process to links for exams and appointments for tests can be done via email. The online screening has nine pre-screening questions aligned to the updated classification specification. As soon as applicants submit their application online they receive an acknowledgment email containing information regarding the position and the job shadowing exercise.
  • In early 2013, ETS integrated Taleo Passport software with Assess Systems for the Strada assessment. As a result, candidates now have the opportunity to take the Strada assessment online in the comfort of their own home. An email invitation is sent containing a link to theassessment and with the instruction that the assessment is completed within 72 hours. Results are automatically uploaded real time into Taleo and candidates who are highly recommended or recommended are automatically moved forward to the next step. Those who are unsuccessful are rejected and are sentcorrespondence automatically. Seventy-five percent of remaining candidates are moved forward.
  • Candidates receive an email inviting them to schedule themselves for the driver cognitive assessment test (DCAT) and the driver on-road evaluation (DORE), both provided by a third-party vendor — DriveABLE. The DCAT is a push-button/touchscreen test which looks at the mental abilities necessary for driving, including reaction time, attention, judgment, executive decision making and identification of hazardous situations. The DORE is a scientifically validated and specialized road test which looks at the mental aspect of driving. So far 55 percent of candidates tested have the basic driving skills required to safely operate their own vehicle.
  • Candidates receive another email inviting them to take a basic map reading assessment online. This test is aligned to CLBA 7 and was developed in-house by the ETS training area.
  • Candidates successfully passing these phases of the process are invited to an interview and reminded of the need to complete their job shadowing exercise. The new interview plan has a scripted welcome and includes a review of the job shadowing experience, provides candidates with an overview of the position, reviews their original documentation, and discusses overall expectations of the position. There are four separate interview plans each containing six questions. Two questions are general, followed by four job-related scenarios aligned with the seven core competencies. The interview is concluded with the standard mandatory questions, such as criminal record or relationship with anyone presently employed with the city of Edmonton.
  • ETS went out to the industry and found a best practice example of how to use the job shadow exercise which was incorporated into its revision. The realistic job shadowing exercise requires candidates to ride two different routes and answer nine questions, recording their observations. Candidates are required to discuss this experience at the interview. The discussions during the interview are very interesting and this is one of the ways ETS is trying to make people see if the job is one they will truly enjoy. ETS has already had a number of applicants self select out of the process based on the job preview.
  • ETS’s medical and functional ability recruit evaluation (FARE) testing is provided by a third-party contractor. The ETS FARE has recently been revised and now includes a treadmill test among other activities that would be normal for an operator on a daily basis. It involves simulating the stresses involved with moving the steering wheel and other objective tests observed of people doing the function.

ROI realized as a result of all the process changes

  • Pre-screening used to be three minutes per application, it is now down to one minute. All information is on one screen, greatly reducing the time spent scrolling from one to the next. In addition, ETS is now only looking at those who score 9/9 or indicate they’re an internal candidate.
  • Strada formerly required two resources full-time for up to five weeks throughout the year, plus manual entry of test scores. This process is automated and test scores are uploaded into the recruiting screen when tests are completed.
  • Reduced time to complete interviews by 25 percent and ETS also has the option to tighten the interview schedule. Overall, ETS has seen the interview success rate increase by 15 percent.
  • Calculated from the time the posting goes live until the candidate is moved to the offer stage, the time to fill target is 55 days. In 2010 it was 109; in 2012 it was 71.97. Now it is between 42 and 45, meaning 30 days have been trimmed off the time to fill.
  • This project included a number of different process revisions incorporated either by ETS, HR, or the contractors CUTA/Assess, DriveABLE and Taleo. While ETS is early into the revised process, the instructors have already seen a difference in the type of candidates who begin training and indicate that trainees seem more engaged and capable. Finally, ETS is seeing an early success rate increase from 72 percent to 80 percent. MT

At ETS, James McDonald is a divisional supervisor of branch operations support services, Georgina Fairbank is a strategic coordinator and Len Dehek is a hiring supervisor.