Editor's note: This is the second in a series on implementing self-service technology in human resources. The next story will look at using kiosks to train workers.

In the past, it has taken Southeastern Freight Lines about four weeks to hire a new driver, which is unacceptable to the company's management. "You have to wonder how many good people we've missed out on because of that lag," said Braxton Vick, senior vice president of corporate planning and development for Southeastern Freight Lines. "But we're aiming to cut that hiring time by 75 percent." How? By using kiosks to take job applications and screen prospects.

Companies like shipping firm Southeastern Freight, which is now deploying kiosks in its service centers, are using self-service technology to hire better-quality workers and to use their HR staffs more efficiently. See related story, "Kiosks aid not-so-human resources," part one of the HR series.

"Just in the past 12 months have we seen strong interest in kiosks for hiring," said Matt Wrabley, executive vice president of sales for Neoware Systems Inc., a supplier of thin-client appliances and software.

Neoware is pairing with application-service provider Unicru Inc., which produces workforce selection and optimization systems. The companies already have kiosks with hiring and remote-management software deployed in Kroger and Super Valu stores.

"In retail, if you don't manage your recruitment, hiring and staff retention well, it doesn't matter how good you are at selling things. Turnover is a major problem in retail, and that affects customer service," said Wrabley.

It was employment kiosks in another retail outlet, Lowe's home-improvement stores, that attracted Southeastern Freight to the technology.

"You see those kiosks with job applications right in the front of Lowe's. Lowe's is a big customer of ours," said Vick. The transportation company had already put the opportunity to respond to job postings on its corporate Web site. "We got a good response, and good candidates. We said, `hey, what else is out there?'" And kiosks were the answer.

Unicru/Neoware hiring kiosk

Two good reasons

Doug Peter, president of St. Clair Interactive, said there are two reasons employers would want to consider using kiosks to screen and hire employees. One is consistency of presentation.

"You can't discriminate against prospective employees in any way. You have to talk the same way to everyone and present the same hiring information and opportunities to everyone," said Peter. The second reason is that automating the process of sorting and screening a large number of applicants saves time and money.

St. Clair is currently working on an HR project with hardware vendor, Kiosk Information Systems Inc., but Peter did not disclose details.

For its part, Southeastern has installed kiosks in 62 facilities from Texas to Virginia and down to the Florida Keys. The company is using technology from Unicru, which also partners with kiosk companies such as Radiant Systems and XperEx. Frank Mayer & Associates supplies Unicru with both screen phones and Web-based kiosks.

"People are constantly looking for jobs with us. We have some facilities in which 25 people are employed, and those have one kiosk each; and some in which 700 people are employed, and those buildings have two kiosks," said Vick. Vick declined to put a price on the project because it is still in the early stages. "What I will say is that, on a per-facility basis, it's a no brainer."

Unicru charges customers a monthly service fee, and that fee depends on several factors including level of customization, number of locations, number of devices per locations, number of employees and number of third-party interfaces (like those needed for background checks on job candidates).

Showing professional side

Unicru custom-built software for Southeastern Freight. Users sit down in Radiant-built kiosks and interface with the Unicru applications. The employment applications take users 20 to 30 minutes to complete.

In some service centers, the connection is wireless, meaning the kiosk simply needs to be plugged into the wall. Solutions range from a touchscreen/keyboard combination to a regular screen with keyboard and integrated trackball. The goal is ease of use.

Annette Kuhn, Unicru hardware technology business manager, said aggregate data has proven that on-site devices have contributed to an increased applicant flow. "Overall our customers have increased applicant flow by 219 percent." She said that applicants can become more interested in a company using kiosks because it shows the company is progressive and professional.

Kuhn said that, typically, a large percentage of candidates that ask for paper applications never return to the location with completed applications. An on-site device captures the candidate while they are still in the store.

At Southeastern, the first screen asks for basic hiring information like name, address, social security number, wage desired and education level achieved. The next screen asks for what position the candidate would like to apply.

If they answer "driver," they receive a set of questions inquiring about their driving records. If they answer "sales," the questions ask about sales qualifications. The same happens for clerical and other positions. There is a built-in decision tree.

Vick said the next series of questions forms a psychological profile of the candidate, looking at the personal traits of the candidate and trying to match those traits with job criteria. If a person is interested in a driving job, yet lists a recent accident, the kiosk may automatically disqualify the applicant.

Southeastern Freight kiosk

Interviews go live

"The system finds things out that we don't have to waste time learning in an interview," said Vick. Within minutes, the system puts candidates in prioritized order. Southeastern's service center managers see the information on their own PCs, as the data traverses the Unicru servers and Southeastern's own network in real time.

"We could even go out to the kiosk and request a live interview with a candidate as they are still filling out the form," said Vick.

The system then suggests questions for the live interview, based on what answers the candidate entered. If the service center manager clicks "hire," the candidate is automatically submitted to background checks. Candidates could be checked at the department of motor vehicles or against a criminal database.

Central HR people also check the candidates, and when they approve an offer of employment, the information the employee has given is automatically used to fill out hiring forms, payroll requests.

Vick estimated that his HR department saves about two or three hours not having to fill out typical new-hire forms. And he added to that a higher caliber of employees hired, which should increase retention.

Other options

Southeastern is also working on an interface from its Web page. If a prospective employee sees an interesting job listed on the site, one click will bring that person to the Unicru-built application. Southeastern is developing online ads for truck stops. If a driver sees a Southeastern job listed, and clicks on the job, he or she will be pumped through the Unicru system.

And the kiosk does not stop at hiring. When an employee leaves either voluntarily or involuntarily, an employee exit survey captures termination reasons and integrates them into the employee's file.

If a company is losing employees because of competitive wages, this will show up in the exit data. If employees are leaving because of management or work-environment problems, this will be evident as well. The Unicru reports offer management the ability to focus on questions of retention.

"The Unicru hiring-management system gives each manager a kind of dashboard to see where the personnel problems are, what's working and what isn't working. And this is all in real time, on a location-by-location, region-by-region or corporatewide scale," said Kuhn.

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