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Case study

Skills-based hiring case study: An AWE-some award-winning apprentice selection process!

Read time:
5 minutes

A look at Spotted Zebra’s award-winning work with defence firm AWE, exploring how our skills-based hiring application improved the recruitment process and made talent acquisition more successful for hiring managers and candidates alike.

In November 2022, Spotted Zebra won the Gold Award in Candidate Assessment at the In-House Recruitment Awards for its work with defence firm AWE.

This success reflects how the Spotted Zebra ‘Hire’ application, and in particular the Early Careers solution, enabled AWE to completely rethink their apprentice assessment programme, which was deployed within the recruitment process that ran from September 2021 to April 2022, resulting in over 600 applications for 73 jobs.

The Spotted Zebra solution enabled AWE to:

  • Reduce the time candidates spent completing an assessment by 50%.
  • Reduce time-to-hire from six months to four months.
  • Hire 18 individuals using Spotted Zebra’s multiple matching solution, who otherwise may have been rejected from the process.
  • Reduce attrition on the apprentice programme from 35% to 10%.

The Spotted Zebra solution received 100% Hiring Manager satisfaction, and AWE’s delight was turned to complete joy when we were awarded the IHR ‘Assessment Solution of the Year’ award in November 2022 for the solution.

This led the AWE Apprentice Skills Academy Director to comment:

“The skills-based solution we adopted from Spotted Zebra has been first-class. Deployment of the new process has been outstanding, and the end result has shown in the excellent quality of candidates coming through and offers being made’

Hiring practices in need of improvement

This is a highly visible and important scheme. Apprenticeships are seen as a key mechanism to improve the diversity of the AWE workforce and to address a skills shortage that has been identified within technical roles, which will threaten AWE’s ability to meet government targets in the future.

AWE was clear that the assessment process was broken, because...

  • They were hiring the people who did not have the behaviours required for success.
  • Higher quality candidates were dropping out of the process before final stage.
  • 7% of new hires were leaving within 5 days of starting the role.
  • 35% of people were leaving in Year 1 of the apprenticeship scheme.
  • It was not educating and guiding young people towards a role that would suit them.

AWE did a “deep dive” into the process and learned that…

  • Each assessment stage was too long and complicated.
  • The assessment content was generic and did not allow them to predict the candidate’s performance against the specific skills required for success on the apprenticeship scheme that the candidate had applied for.
  • Some candidates were applying to multiple schemes but being assessed against a generic set of skills.
  • The process did not predict likelihood of being hired, or success in the role.

AWE therefore set out the following objectives for the assessment methodology:

  • Each stage should be as quick and simple for candidates to complete, and the recruitment team to evaluate.
  • The assessment should be specific to each role within the scheme – with a complete removal of the generic approach. It should enable candidates to be fairly assessed for multiple roles.
  • The solution should promote inclusivity by focusing on skills, and should not lead to adverse impact.
  • It should engage candidates, encouraging them to want to apply to AWE.
  • It should predict job success and therefore deliver ROI to the business.

On this last point, they set out two key objectives which also delivered strong ROI to the business:

  • Reduce time and cost of rejection at offer stage from 32% to 20%.
  • Reduce Year 1 attrition from 35% to 10%.
Skills-based hiring case study

Implementing the Spotted Zebra solution

AWE selected Spotted Zebra as the only provider that could deliver a scalable assessment solution that would be unique for each of their 17 Apprentice Schemes. We deployed the Early Careers module within the Spotted Zebra ‘Hire’ application to define the specific skills needed for success in the role to ensure unbiased, highly specific selection decisions. Individuals could then be matched to a specific role, or create a broader assessment and be matched to the scheme that best aligned with their skills.

Using the Spotted Zebra online assessment solution, AWE were able to have a significant impact on their key objectives:

Completion time
  • Reduced application form time from 30 mins to 8 mins.
  • The online assessment only measures the skills required for the scheme, so now takes 20 minutes rather than 45 minutes.
  • The Assessment Centre is now virtual (0.5 days from 1 day).
Scheme specific assessment
  • Spotted Zebra created a specific assessment for each of the 17 schemes, providing AWE with a highly detailed understanding of each candidate's suitability. This was achieved with input from the hiring leaders and using Spotted Zebra industry benchmark data.
  • In addition, an "all scheme" assessment was completed by candidates who were interested in multiple schemes or who couldn't decide which scheme was right for them - a challenge for some of AWE’s school leaver candidates in particular. Once the individual completed this assessment, the Spotted Zebra technology platform matched candidates to the best-fit scheme (based on the skills profile for each scheme).

This was a huge success, with 18 candidates being offered roles from the "multiple" track who otherwise would likely not have applied for their best fit role.

We created an inclusive assessment process:
  • Our entire solution is centred on measuring the skills required for success in each role. Skills are not specific to genders or ethnicities, and so we instantly removed some of the inherent bias associated with traditional assessment approaches.
  • The Spotted Zebra platform created a blended assessment that contained technical, personality, cognitive and situational judgement questions in the measurement. This meant that decisions were never made on the basis of one input or one type of assessment, as this can lead to adverse impact (i.e. selecting on cognitive ability in isolation).
  • Via the Spotted Zebra platform, Managers were provided with interview questions to ask that focus directly on skills rather than irrelevant factors, and the AWE team trained them on the use of the questions to support adoption of this best practice approach.
  • We adjusted the process through the campaign for neurodiverse candidates, including different approaches to provide the right environment for candidates and adjusting time to complete assessments.
We engaged candidates:
  • We created an engaging experience for candidates by fully immersing ourselves in the experience, and using recent graduates to test each assessment stage.
  • We ensured that the assessment was relevant to the role and could be completed quickly on any device.
  • We offered candidate feedback at each stage, along with the opportunity to ask questions of the AWE team.

Measuring success

The success of the Spotted Zebra skills-based solution was measured against 5 metrics related to the SZ solution implementation, and two key business metrics.  Results are summarised below:

Time to complete the process, and therefore time to hire

We reduced the time for candidates to complete the process from 10 hours to 5 hours, a reduction of 50% and significantly better than our target of 30%.  We also reduced time to hire from an average of 6 months to 4 months!

‍Skills-based approach

Our approach enabled us to match candidates who didn't know which scheme to apply for to their best-fit role. 18 hires came through this route, who would otherwise not have progressed through the process. We know that this generated ROI on the solution cost on its own, and has also been hugely beneficial in terms of candidate engagement and AWE's reputation as an employer of choice.

‍Inclusivity – no adverse impact

We were delighted that analysis of the process indicated absolutely no adverse impact in terms of the scores achieved by candidates from different ethnic groups and genders through the Spotted Zebra online assessment, and the proportions of candidates from each group who progressed through each stage of the process.

Engaging experience – candidate feedback

AWE received 100% satisfaction with the process (for the first time ever!). Candidates also provided verbatim comments, such as "I was very impressed with the whole experience and learned a lot".

Job Success – predicted through the process and into AC

We are collecting Quality of Hire data to continually correlate assessment scores with job performance.  However, the Spotted Zebra online assessment has already been shown to predict both assessment centre score and job offer, and predicts likelihood of completing the apprenticeship scheme

How about those all-important business metrics?

  • The solution reduced candidate rejections at offer stage from 32% to 16%
  • There was a huge reduction in Year 1 attrition: from 35% to under 10%.

And finally, what have the business had to say about the candidate assessment solution?

They’re delighted! AWE Line Managers have commented on this being the best solution that they have worked with:

"This is definitely the highest calibre of candidates we have seen coming through"
"The selection process is working"
"The strategy worked really well this year"
"Quality of candidates has been incredibly high with very few poor performers"

It’s clear to see that implementation of the Spotted Zebra solution has enabled AWE to make a significant impact on business performance and on the lives of young people, matching them to roles that best suit their skills and realising the benefits for everyone of this being in case.

It’s perhaps no wonder it was award-winning!