A student loans company provides loans and grants to UK university students. The client manages over 1.8 million applications per year and has over 6 million repaying or due-to-repay customers.
HGS began servicing both the application and repayment work streams for the client in 2015 from Preston, UK. One of the most challenging elements to this operation is the massive peak in volumes between May to September, when students complete their A-levels, receive acceptance letters, confirm funding, and start university. To meet the contractual resource delivery and quality SLAs, HGS must expand from 100 to 550 people for three months.
Preston has a population of 140,000 people. With a relatively small population and approximately 2% attrition a week, growing the client account four-fold each summer is a large undertaking, but HGS’s Preston team rises to the challenge every year.
It is uniquely challenging to source temporary resources who meet the client’s requirements and can empathise with students. While student employees seemed a natural fit, the hiring solution presented some commitment risks and increased operational complexity. With the positives far outweighing the negatives, the HGS team got creative and, in late 2017, formed an innovative partnership with University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN).
The client’s peak period, unfortunately, does not directly align with the schedules of an average student. However, with flexibility and ingenuity, HGS and UCLAN have created a mutually beneficial arrangement to allow UCLAN students to serve the client student applicants.
How We Do It
This client has unique seasonal needs, with approximately 100 people needed in April and a September peak of 550 advisors. Prior to HGS’s support, the client struggled to meet service level requirements due to the complicated staffing requirements of these ramps, and the lack of service consistency.
HGS brought stringent employee recruitment and training, in alignment with the UCLAN partnership. Additionally, HGS’s stronger leadership and governance ensured succession planning for upskilling of advisors and learning curve mastery. This ensures employee development and engagement that improves agent competencies on the client’s schedule.
Today, HGS provides exclusivity to UCLAN for all fixed-term contract roles, resulting in a mutually beneficial partnership, in that the University can promote work experience as one of its advantages, while HGS gains access to an energetic, educated demographic who understands the customers and who, in most cases, actually prefers a short-term contract.
Work to accommodate this requirement starts each February, with HGS meeting with UCLAN to plan commitments. HGS brings in extra recruiters in March. Interviews start in April, allowing students to secure their summer jobs early to concentrate on exams. To reduce “no-shows” on the first day of training in June, HGS has collaborated with UCLAN to maintain student interest. To support high-volume intakes, HGS has designed a business-as-usual management structure that is ready to support an annual ramp via deputy manager roles. Deputy managers are formally part of the management structure, although depending on the time of year, the tasks they execute change. In low season, deputy managers answer calls whilst also undertaking management development. As the summer headcount grows, deputy managers lead teams.
To minimise resignations at the critical peak operating month of September, HGS organises shifts around individual student academic and social needs. Students receive indicative timetables by early August and, where possible, HGS uses these timetables to build workforce management models manually at 30-minute intervals. Flexible scheduling requires cooperation among HGS departments, clients, students, and fulltime staff. Students need only travel 10 minutes from UCLAN to HGS, and even this travel time is factored.
In 2018, our highly customised approach enabled HGS to deliver 99.9% of the resource delivery requirements. And our creative recruiting ensures our employment of team members caters to their own unique schedules. That could be one reason for the attrition improvement—from 14% before our staffing to today’s remarkable only 2% attrition. Finally, perhaps the best testament to the success of our staffing program is the fact that we are now aligning with yet another university in Lancaster. Needless to say, this is a win-win-win for HGS, the client and community alike, which could be the potential beneficiary of an HGS internship and on-the-job skills training.
HGS enables students to not only help pay for their education, but to graduate with business skills and a solid employer reference. Many UCLAN students need summer and part-time employment in Preston. HGS leadership has restructured to give students a taste of post-graduate life; HGS nurtures future employability.
Perhaps one of the best testimonials of the staffing success comes from HGS’s university partners. According to Mike Thomas, UCLAN Vice Chancellor, “We are proud that UCLAN will be supporting students around the country with their loan applications and to be partnering with a local employer with a vested interest in ensuring that, together, we are building the employability skills for UCLAN students.”