Social media, communications help K+S Potash Canada mine for recruits (National HR Awards)

Winner, Best Recruitment Program

Recruitment for K+S Potash Canada (KSPC) has been far from straightforward. Created in 2011 when Germany’s K+S Group purchased a junior mining company in Saskatchewan, it has had to build both a company along with a $4.1-billion potash mine at the same time.

The project involves the mine site, Saskatoon corporate head office, Vancouver head office and port and rail projects. 

“It’s completely different from an expansion situation where you have everything in place for a company to support the project, so you’ve got all your… foundational pieces in place, and then you can focus on the project — that’s great. We were doing both at the same time, so it really makes it a bit more challenging that way,” says Kim Poley, vice-president of HR and corporate services at KSPC.

When it came to recruitment, HR found out early on that the fit during the project phase was not necessarily the same as that for an operating company.

“We very quickly saw that a great person could fail simply because of poor fit in terms of just the sheer weight of change and how quickly you have to move and be flexible and change in something that is a project and a growing company,” she says. 

“We had to identify people that were very open to that rapid change, that were very, very flexible… because, of course, the whole thing is a metamorphosis going on, everything’s changing constantly and what you know today might be very different a few months down the line.”

And while there will always be turnover in a company, it’s a bigger issue when you’re in a project phase, says Poley.

“Time is of the essence and the impact of having key people leave at the wrong time or recruiting the wrong person for a key position, the impact to a project can be absolutely significant and then, of course, the impact to the company is significant as well.”

KSPC uses an applicant tracking system and one of the modules is an e-recruiting tool. The systems are great for what they were intended to do, she says, but they’re not perfect.

“Sometimes the applicant can find them frustrating, so we’ve had to work through some issues in that regard. But the efficiencies that they can save you in terms of shortlisting and really being able to do a good job of narrowing down your candidates obviously just increases your ability to be efficient in the recruitment process.”

KSPC has a lot of ongoing communication with potential applicants and actual applicants because lots of people are looking at positions that may come up down the line, says Poley.

“As we move into the operational phase of our project, they’ve actually put in their application two years early, so we do a lot of work to try to keep in touch with people.”

The situation’s a lot more fluid than might be found elsewhere.

“My philosophy is that with lots of candidates, it might be ‘no’ right now but it’s not necessarily ‘no’ forever, so I want those individuals to walk away with — even if they were not the one that was offered a position or perhaps they maybe even turned us down — I want them to maintain that relationship with us, I want them to feel like they were treated well through the recruitment process,” she says.

Saskatchewan is not a big place and the mining industry is very strong, so everybody knows everybody, says Poley, “and you just never know when you might see them apply again and they might be the perfect fit. So it’s a respect issue.”
HR works very closely with the communications department to identify target audience groups and align key messages. In looking to brand KSPC as an employer of choice, and to raise its profile, the company worked with an agency to create the tagline “It’s not K+S unless it’s You + Us.”

“That just took off like crazy and we were able to use it both as an external brand and as an internal brand and our employees have been very open about the fact it resonates with them — they feel like it’s something that should never go away,” says Poley.

The tagline was featured in a media campaign in 2013-14 that included three full-length commercials profiling real employees. The ads aired during the Super Bowl and the Olympics and ran with other traditional and non-traditional mediums including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

In 2015, a second media campaign was launched with the new tagline “See Yourself Here.” The campaign included videos made to look like a movie trailer, mirror decals in bathrooms, online banner ads and pre-roll ads targeting specific audiences using geo-targeting. The hashtag #ksrecruit was used in all social media job postings, bumper stickers and other media.

To give potential employees a look into the company, several videos on YouTube feature the construction site along with employee testimonials. The mining company also has a subscription to LinkedIn, allowing recruiters to target potential workers and to promote KSPC as an exciting place to work. 

The company started using social media right from the beginning, says Poley.

“As we’ve become more targeted now in hiring a large number of positions — because we’re really looking at bringing on our maintenance and operator workforce — we have really dropped our traditional recruitment media down. We still use some of it but not to a large degree — our social media has become our key strategy.”

For some people at the company, that was a bit of a challenge and a fear, as they questioned whether social media was really something KSPC should be doing and whether it would work, she says.

“We really though did look at, with our communications department, we looked at it from the basis of… looking at the metrics that are out there to prove to a lot of people that social media really does get the word out. And it’s been extremely successful.”
That’s where the future workforce can be found, says Poley.

“They’re on Twitter, they’re on Facebook… for them, communication is social media. And they want to talk to somebody and they want a response and they want to have a dialogue and I think that we’ve tried to really create a situation where that goes on.”
KSPC also uses career fairs to meet potential recruits, along with email marketing to target people who have given the company permission to contact them. This also allows the company to educate potential candidates about special programs and incentives it has to offer.

One particular e-blast targeted individuals who had submitted resumés in advance of postings in their area, with information on job progression, contact information and up-to-date information on the mine project. The campaign was sent to 220 recipients and 79.1 per cent of recipients (compared to the 18.3 per cent industry average) opened the e-blast while 40.9 per cent (compared to the 2.5 per cent industry average) proceeded to click on links within the e-blast.

In the branding and recruitment, it’s about showing the essence of the 284-employee company, she says.

“It’s not only ‘What are we trying to achieve?’ but it’s ‘What is the culture of your company, what is special about your company?’”
says Poley. “That branding campaign really drives the kind of applicants that you’re looking for, if you can really nail that essence of what your company is all about. And I really felt like that happened here.”

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