Keeping recruitment processes consistent isn’t easy. Especially when you have tens of thousands of job applications a year to deal with.
With more than 20,000 employees, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is the second biggest government agency in Australia. In 2018 alone, the ATO received more than 42,000 job applications and ran 456 recruitment processes. Given these numbers, ensuring that everything runs efficiently and reaches the agency’s target audience is not an easy task.
In April 2018, the ATO took on a project that would help it manage recruitment at scale. The talent acquisition team, in conjunction with the systems team and recruitment system provider Acendre, decided to replace the ATO’s legacy recruitment system with a new streamlined one.
The goal was to expedite recruitment processes while maintaining the ATO’s integrity. It hoped to achieve this through the design of a tailored template that would allow multiple assessment options in a single form, and the development of robust assessment tools.
Enter Rita Ahuja CPHR, who was until just recently an HR advisor, talent acquisition at the ATO.
She joined the organisation in 2016, with an education record that spanned the US and her native India. In 1995 she completed a Bachelor of Commerce at Shri Ram College of Commerce, New Delhi, and in 1998 she graduated with a Master of Business Administration from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.
“When it came time to choose a specialisation, I decided on HR,” says Ahuja. “Even though I had a background in commerce, I didn’t want to work in finance. I wanted to work with people.”
Over the past 20 years, Ahuja has held HR roles in a variety of organisations including Mining One Consultants, St Michael’s Grammar School and BPM Vision. So, why the move to the ATO?
“I’d always wanted to work in a large organisation and in the federal government,” she says. “I also have a friend who has worked at the ATO for 20 years now. I thought that if she’s been there for so long, it must be good! When an agency called and asked if I was interested in the ATO, I jumped at the chance.”
What started as a three-month contract turned into a permanent position. Ahuja began in an administrative role, supporting her team leader. “It was an excellent opportunity to learn from the ground up how the ATO’s systems worked, how recruitment was done and the overarching legislation.”
Ahuja soon became a key member of the onboarding team, involved with mentoring staff and supporting HR systems, business lines, payroll and the people helpline.
Like many of her former colleagues, she has been through AHRI’s Practising Certification (APC) Program, which involved spending two years consolidating her skills and knowledge in advanced strategic HR management. For her capstone project, commenced in October 2018, she helped streamline the ATO’s recruitment process as part of the operations team.
“My project was a critical need at the time,” she says. “It was different to what I thought I’d be doing, as I’d started in onboarding. But it was just as exciting. I got to work with many different teams that worked in various specialist areas of HR.”
Ahuja had her work cut out for her. She was responsible for analysing the various pain points of the old recruitment process, researching the recruitment processes of other public service agencies, managing multiple stakeholders, launching the new process, training staff on the new process, identifying areas that could be improved… and this isn’t even a complete list.
In the meantime, she also had her day-to-day responsibilities to meet. And having been used to smaller organisations, she admits that the sheer size of the ATO was a challenge.
“Where I’d come from, it was fairly easy to question and challenge things. At the ATO, it takes time to make change. It requires a lot of consultation and collaboration.
“There are good reasons, as there are so many stakeholders involved and so many approvals required. But it was a big culture shift for me – and it still is.”
That’s where undertaking the project as part of the APC Program was helpful. She describes the support of Poonam Vohra, her ATO project sponsor, and Helene Strawbridge, her AHRI academic coordinator, as “invaluable”.
“I tended to fall into the trap of thinking operationally, but my coordinator kept reminding me to think strategically too. I learned to see the gaps in the project’s design, develop consulting frameworks, influence stakeholders and prepare Gantt charts for critical milestones. They’re tools I wouldn’t otherwise have used because I don’t normally work in the project management space.”
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In addition, Ahuja got to see the positive results of her project.
“The ATO’s recruitment process is much more streamlined and much better aligned to the organisation’s needs,” she says. “The administrative burden has been reduced, saving time, costs and resources. It’s now able to conduct more efficient assessments at the front line. Given that we have up to 5,000 candidates applying for any one position, this new process makes a huge difference.”
This is an edited version of an article that appeared in the Dec 2019 edition of HRM magazine. When the magazine went to press, Ahuja was still an ATO employee.