· 4 min read · Features

Case study: Hiring at the Church of England


The Church of England was struggling to reach people not already familiar with the organisation

The organisation

The Church of England is the state church of England, headquartered in Westminster. It has around 25 million members, and its churches are visited by an estimated 35 to 50 million tourists every year. The organisation is led by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and 106 other bishops, while the Queen is the supreme governor with the responsibility to appoint archbishops, bishops and deans of cathedrals on the advice of the prime minister.

The problem

At Christmas many of us choose to visit a church to pray, sing and give thanks. But how many of these people have ever considered that they could find a fulfilling career in the church? Hannah Foster, director of HR at the National Church Institutions of the Church of England, says recruitment has often been a stumbling block for the organisation. “People just don’t realise the breadth of jobs available in the Church of England,” she tells HR magazine. “Everybody knows we have priests – that much is obvious, and we do have fabulous people doing that work – but we also have marketing people, HR teams, project managers, and so on.

“The roles could be ordained, or at governance level, or even voluntary. We have a huge number of opportunities, but they seemed to be getting lost at an organisational level.”

In an increasingly digital world Foster knew the Church could find a way to reach people who were not spotting opportunities advertised in the traditional manner. “We needed to reach the person in an office 10 miles away, who might like to work for us but didn’t know there was a job available because they don’t look at the parish noticeboard,” she says. “We had a lot of people who joined us over the years who have said they didn’t think of us as a place to work because we simply weren’t on their radar – but they were glad they had found us. Our job was to make those roles more visible.”

The method

“We’d asked our people what they most needed help with, and we knew recruitment was the big one,” says Foster, who knew she could not provide this help alone. The Church hired TribePad, a recruitment software firm, to help it develop an applicant tracking system (ATS) to bring it into the 21st century.

Neil Armstrong is the commercial director of TribePad. “Immediately we were impressed with the vision and scope of their project,” he tells HR magazine. “The whole candidate and recruiter experience from top to bottom is being radically modernised and improved. That’s no mean feat given the process and organisational change required, but Hannah and her team had a clear vision, realistic timeframes and a real attention to detail, which in turn caused us to raise our game to meet the challenge of such an ambitious project.”

The new careers service was named ‘Pathways’. The site promotes open roles for ministry positions and lay vocations within dioceses and parishes, as well as professional roles at the National Church Institutions. Candidates can create their own profiles and receive alerts when roles matching their preferences are posted, and recruiters are offered features to help them with their campaigns.

Such features include an insights tool, which allows those posting jobs to see how many candidates they have and how long it has taken them to be processed. Hiring managers can also see how well their jobs have performed on the jobs boards.

It is totally voluntary, so individual organisations under the Church of England umbrella can choose to adopt it or continue using more traditional methods.

It was not all plain sailing, reports Armstrong. “With the Church there were far more configuration and feature changes than with other clients we’ve worked with on a similar scale,” he says. “The sheer complexity of the organisational structure was the first challenge, along with a very different lexicon of roles, skills and vocational experience, which we needed to build into the ATS.”

Aaron Werner, project systems implementation manager for the Church of England, says a major challenge was helping people transition from a manual recruitment system to a digital one. “We saw this more as a change transformation programme than a digital one; in the sense that our people needed to be taken on quite a long journey in quite a short space of time,” he tells HR magazine. “They needed, for example, to understand the terminology that would help them put their vacancies in front of a much wider audience.”

He realised quickly that simplicity and ease of use were vital. “We couldn’t have a system that was too daunting to use as our adoption ratio would be too low,” he says. “Most of our people have no formal HR or recruitment background, so they might never have heard of an ATS let alone seen one. Our initial concept and the one we launched were quite different, as we learned that what might seem simple [to HR professionals] was very daunting to someone who might only recruit once every 10 years.”

The result

The pilot phase lasted from the end of August to October, where 13 groups were given access to the ATS. Each group successfully put up job postings, and around 2,000 applications passed through the system during the trial.

Even better, around 30% of the new applicants are coming through mobile technology. “These are applicants that we might never have seen before,” says Werner.

“Considering nothing went live before the start of September, that ain’t bad,” adds Foster. “We’ve had lots of feedback so we know it is already making a difference. We have a pipeline of roll-ins, so one or two organisations a week can join in.”

Clergy have also shown an interest, with many building their own candidate profiles to make themselves available for future roles that match their needs. “That’s a real cultural shift,” adds Foster. “We’ve been surprised by the number who have decided they want to put themselves on the system, bearing in mind we haven’t done much internal marketing yet.”

The Church sees this as the first step in an ongoing journey.

“Since the launch of the ATS in August we’ve broadened our partnership with the Church of England; increasing the scope of the ATS with more of the organisation going live in the New Year and a raft of new onboarding features to be added early in 2018,” says Armstrong.

Additionally, a service named ‘Transitions’ will be launched next year. It is designed to provide a confidential space for Church of England ministers who find themselves wondering where they can move to within the Church, or who are seeking development. Those who take part will gain access to one-to-one coaching support from advisers who are connected to a network of practitioners and specialists.

“Our ministers might be working in hospitals or schools and want to transition into parish ministry, or the other way round. Other organisations might call it redeployment,” says Foster. “We can put them in touch with someone who helps them think about their career in a broader sense. They might feel like a square peg in a round hole, but we can help them find somewhere they fit.”