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How to increase your response times and hire more seasonal workers

Seasonal job seekers are not as patient as Prince Charles!

Whether you’re hiring for summerfruit, apples, kiwifruit, berries or hops and whether you need thinners, pickers or packers—the competition for seasonal workers will be challenging again this year.

Growers, contractors and post-harvest operators are competing for the same workers and we’ve seen incentives to get and retain seasonal workers increase across the horticultural industry.

But did you know that simply by responding more quickly, you can increase your likelihood of securing workers?

In this post, we’ll be looking at why response times are important in seasonal recruitment and how you can respond more quickly so that you can secure more workers.

What is response time in seasonal recruitment and why does it matter?

Response time is simply how long it takes you to respond after someone contacts you.

In terms of what that looks like for seasonal hiring, our research with job seekers based in NZ showed that they are wanting to hear back at the latest within 2 days and ideally within a few hours.

Job seekers will apply for multiple jobs and often take the job with the person who responds first.

"People are applying to 10 different places and if you don't hire them quickly, they're going to the person who responds first." Mark Ballantyne, Finance Manager, Pro Kiwi

This puts pressure on growers, contractors and post-harvest operators to be able to respond in a timely way, at what is an increasingly busy time of year.

What is the current response time of seasonal employers in NZ?

Here’s the rub.

It is common in NZ to hear stories from job seekers that they are applying for jobs and don’t hear back. Yet we have extreme seasonal labour shortages, so that doesn’t make sense.

It makes sense when you hear the other side of this story. Seasonal employers tell us that they’ve had many experiences of responding to job seekers, only to find that the person already has another job. And this has meant they don’t necessarily respond to all the messages and applications they receive.

What’s happening here is a vicious circle. Job seekers don’t hear back so they apply for multiple jobs at once. Then employers contact them but they’ve already got another job. So, over time, employers are less inclined to respond to all job seekers.

Q: How long does it take for your seasonal job seekers to find out if they have a job with you or not?

When is response time important?

When we talk about seasonal hiring, we talk about three stages—Attract, Assess and Onboard. Response times are important in each of these stages, but in different ways.

Attracting workers

When you are trying to Attract workers, you spend time answering questions about pay rates, start dates, hours of work, types of work.

It is particularly important in this phase to think about the different types of workers eg. a returning worker vs someone new to your business.

Where possible, you should prioritise communicating with returning workers and responding quickly to any questions they may have. As you know, these workers are a huge asset to a seasonal labour force. They can do the work, they know what’s needed and they are more likely to turn up and to stay than new workers.

Assessing workers

Do I have a job or not? It’s obvious, but that’s what job seekers want to know as quickly as possible. They want certainty about what’s next for them—a job or continuing the job hunt. Response times here are about how quickly you’re able to make the decision to hire.

Onboarding workers

Think about this as the time from when they have signed-up, to their first day on the job. Staying in touch with them regularly will increase their turn-up rate. Particularly if you respond quickly to any questions they may have about the job.

What makes response time so challenging?

Volume of work to be done

Seasonal hiring requires intense focus for relatively short bursts of time and the biggest peak of activity comes at your busiest time of year.

Seasonal hiring is often a part of someone’s role (as it is only required at certain times of year) so it can be challenging to cover your normal work and the demands of seasonal hiring. Some businesses will hire additional part-time staff or move people from other parts of the business to focus on this. Either way, the time pressures, and the pressures to secure workers for the success of the business, are intense.

Multiple channels of communication

You are likely to be receiving applications from multiple channels—email, job boards, website forms, walk-ins, Facebook, Instagram, phone calls, text messaging—and it can be challenging to keep track of all those interactions.

Wanting to keep options open

Often employers will know who are their ‘easy yes’ candidates (eg. returning workers, those with transport, those who are already eligible to work in NZ) and ‘easy no’ candidates (eg. previous poor performers) but will want to keep others on a ‘waiting list’ in order to keep options open in case they don’t get enough strong candidates.

So, you don’t want to decline their application but this leaves the job seeker hanging.

Manual vs automated

The number of seasonal workers you hire each year will likely have dictated your move from manual to automated processes.

But even those with automated recruitment workflows still often have manual assessments of workers which impacts response times.

Single vs group comms

Dealing with 200 job seekers to offer them a contract in one broadcast email is simple, but if you are sending 200 individual emails back and forth, that’s trouble.

It is often the individual questions that you set aside to answer later and don’t come back to.

You are likely to be dealing with larger groups before the start of peak labour needs, but then you’ll be dealing with individuals or smaller groups as you continue to recruit through the season to cover churn.

Why is a different approach needed?

Not only is there a shortage of available workers, but the competition for them is real. Growers, contractors and post-harvest operators have been increasing their incentives offered to workers. These are offers like post-harvest bonuses, free accommodation, free transport and free wifi.

Competing with these incentives can be tough, yet the pressure is on to secure workers to ensure the success of the business.

You need to use every tool available to you to secure your seasonal workforce.

How can you increase your response time and hire more seasonal workers?

This is not just about jumping every time you receive an email notification. It is about getting yourself set up so you are able to respond quickly.

Six months in advance—make your plan

As early as six months before your peak seasonal hiring period:

  • Use data from previous years and information about business changes (locations, crops etc) to work out:

    • how many seasonal workers you’ll need

    • what roles you’ll need

    • the approximate start dates

Five months in advance—final checks and start attracting returning workers

About five months before you need people to start:

  • Be proactive in contacting your returning workers so you lock them in and start to get certainty about your workforce

  • Get clear on the essential criteria for each role so that you can quickly assess someone’s fit and make the decision to hire or not. At a minimum this will include:

    • Legally able to work in NZ

    • Physically able to do the work required

    • Able to start when needed

  • Check your contracts are up-to-date and your application questions are still fit for purpose.

  • Update your job ads and confirm where you will advertise (eg. Pick NZ, backpacker job boards).

  • Get clear on how much you will pay (workers will put pressure on this, you’ll be able to respond faster if you know the upper limits) and which incentives you want to offer.

  • Think about the end-to-end flow for getting someone from the initial contact to being ready to work (eg. signed contract, induction, getting accurate IRD and bank details into payroll, timesheeting systems etc)

While you are hiring

Once your hiring is underway:

  • Allocate your time to tasks that will speed up the response time eg. two rounds of assessing candidates per day and responding with an offer of work or decline message.

  • If needed, have a standard response that you can send back quickly (or even better, automatically) that acknowledges the receipt of the application and tells them when you will come back with a decision. This will increase the likelihood that they’ll still be available when you go back to them.

From sign-up to first day

From contract sign-up to their first day:

  • Keep in touch with them regularly to increase the likelihood that they will turn up on the first day. And respond quickly to any questions in relation to start date, hours of work and negotiations around pay and other incentives.

We hope that this has helped you to generate ideas for speeding up your response times so that you can secure more seasonal workers. If you’re looking for a way to really transform your response times, check out how PICMI can help.

How PICMI can help

PICMI automates the back-and-forth of seasonal hiring so you are responsive without effort and securing workers quickly.

The setup is easy. By using our industry-specific application and contract templates, you can be hiring online in 15 minutes. And you only pay when a worker signs a contract. No set up or monthly fees.

Signing up workers is as easy as sending them a link. Or, you can put a link to PICMI directly into your job ads.

Please book a demo—we’d love to find out more about your seasonal hiring and how the response times baked into PICMI can help you to secure more seasonal workers.


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