While many employers begin the slow transition back to bricks-and-mortar offices, the lockdown period has prompted large numbers of businesses across the country to consider the opportunities for remote working in the medium and long term.

What functions, roles and activities can be delivered effectively in a virtual environment? The answer to this question has changed significantly during 2020 as companies embraced previously untried methods for delivering services and value while working remotely.

One function that was previously assumed to rely on face-to-face interaction was early talent recruitment. However, many businesses have adapted and put processes in place to source, recruit, onboard and train new employees all through a virtual process. WhiteHat spoke with RPC, a full-service commercial law firm who actively hired apprentices during lockdown, to understand how they transitioned from offline to online early careers recruitment and training.

Recruitment in a Time of Crisis

Ellinor Davey is the Early Talent Lead at RPC who is responsible for their UK apprentice and trainee solicitor programmes. This includes both the recruitment and development of apprentices and graduates, overseeing 20 apprentices across RPC’s Bristol and London offices covering roles in design, finance, legal, marketing, HR and IT. Davey says “Recruitment certainly feels a little different in the virtual world.  However, with the right technology and preparation we have been able to run successful virtual interviews and assessment days fairly seamlessly.”

One success story was the recruitment and onboarding of Joseph Williams, a WhiteHat Design and Creative apprentice studying Level 3 Business Administration. Davey elaborates: “He took part in the firm's virtual induction programme, and his supervisors created a 6 week onboarding programme to ensure he settled into the firm as easily as he would if he were physically in the office.”

Ellinor Davey, Early Talent Lead at RPC

Adapting and Optimising

It was a combination of systems put in place by WhiteHat and RPC that allowed Williams to go from application to productive member of the RPC team through entirely remote recruitment and training. RPC provides it's people with a laptop, and at the beginning of lockdown also offered all of them a £150 IT Fund  to set up a home workstation. Sean Alberts, Design & Creative Manager at RPC, describes the process of training Williams during the initial period at the firm: “Ensuring a comprehensive mix of technical, systems/processes and soft skills was essential when determining Joseph's work schedule. This was predominantly training/coaching sessions initially, though this volume is decreasing now in favour of real work/projects together with greater interaction with internal clients.”

Sean Alberts, Design & Creative Manager at RPC

On the WhiteHat side, each apprentice is provided with a one-on-one coach who not only supports them through their academic qualifications but also helps mentor them through the world of work. WhiteHat’s team of coaches had already established the foundations for remote delivery pre-lockdown, so were able to quickly adapt to the new reality. Davey says “Both WhiteHat and RPC already had the relevant virtual systems in place which meant each of our apprentices could carry on with their apprenticeship without any disruption.”

As for Williams himself, he has found shadow sessions a key component to learning the trade and applying himself to his new design role. After a couple of months in the job Williams says: “I am comfortable with most of the tasks and software which are assigned with the design team. I've been able to shadow John Rowlands who is a senior designer in the team and specialises in video production which is an area I have a passion for”. Regarding his BA apprenticeship he says “WhiteHat has helped me through regular catch up sessions with my coach. I find them very helpful because it allows me to touch base on what needs to be addressed. It also allows me to reflect on what I have been able to achieve, as well as areas where I could improve as an apprentice at the firm.”

Joseph Williams, a WhiteHat Design and Creative apprentice studying Level 3 Business Administration, was virtually recruited and onboarded by RPC

Maintaining the Human Connection

While the structures may be in place for junior talent to excel in both the job and qualification, one of the biggest challenges for businesses hiring and training remotely, is establishing a human connection outside of their core responsibilities. This is undoubtedly one of the elements that will most affect job satisfaction and employee retention as increasing numbers of employers choose to move to a remote-first or even remote-friendly work environment. Here, both WhiteHat and RPC are aligned on putting the community at the forefront of their offering.

WhiteHat’s community programme has ramped up dramatically since lockdown began with a packed calendar of yoga classes, social events, mentorship programs and an inspirational speaker series featuring prominent figures like Laura Kuensberg, Alisdair Campbell and Rory Sutherland. RPC has also created an interactive community hub that provides helpful resources for each employee.

Next Steps

The results of both employer and apprenticeship provider implementing robust remote hiring and training structures have meant that new hires are thriving at RPC. Williams plans on continuing with shadow sessions to help complement his day job and qualification. “I plan to continue to shadow John and absorb as much as I can to a point where I would be comfortable with doing similar tasks to him; as well as being more fluent in video production.”

As for Rowland, his concern is less about John’s training and development and more on slowing his appetite for work “Joseph is especially enthusiastic to the point where he's declined taking leave as he feels he's "learning so much, he doesn't want to stop!".  RPC of course will be making sure Joseph takes some of his well-earned annual leave as well as taking regular breaks throughout the day and make use of some of the health and wellbeing resources offered by the firm!"

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