Sharon Forster – S.i. Systems
- Written by: David Harry
- Produced by: Liz Fallon & Mike Szajner
- Est. reading time: 4 mins
Once upon a time, Sharon Forster was headed for a graduate law degree in Canada.
Then she went on a ski trip with friends near Calgary, Alberta. While her friends went home when the trip was over, Forster “called my parents in Ontario and said, ‘send my stuff.’”
They did and Forster—who’d just earned a bachelor’s degree in labor relations and marketing from Smith School of Business at Queen’s University from Kingston, Ontario—got a job managing employee relations at Alberta Hospital instead of going to grad school.
In this new job and life chapter, Forster says she got 10 years of HR experience in one hectic year. Now decades and several jobs later, she’s vice president of HR at S.i. Systems, where she’s helping to improve employee engagement and retention at the tech staffing organization.
“We make the match to bring people together in the tech world,” Forster says. “Our employees say it’s a great place to be because they can add value and make a difference, and the people we place feel we help them find the perfect job.”
Providing the talent
S.i. Systems has offices throughout Canada as well as in Chicago and Houston. Primarily, it recruits IT professionals to work for customers in the public sector, financial services, retail, health care and telecom industries.
The company places more than 10,000 IT professionals annually in areas including software development, project management, cybersecurity, quality assurance, and data and analytics, both as contractors and as fulltime employees.
In 2001, the company introduced its proprietary FloThru Contractor Payrolling Service. A year later, it launched MatchGuide, its staffing platform. In 2020, S.i. Systems added cybersecurity professionals to its staffing services.
Forster joined S.i. Systems in January 2021, several months after helping the company develop COVID-19 policies as an independent consultant. She now leads a team of six, as well as 12 account executives who train recruiters. She says it’s a constant stretch to fill recruiting positions—about 45 percent of recruiters depart after a year and 40 to 50 percent of them are promoted to account executive positions.
“We hire everybody at entry level and we train, train, train,” Forster says, adding the turnover rate for recruiters has dropped from more than 70 percent since she joined the company.
Students and interns welcome
The recruiter training—more than 80 hours in the first six months—is based on a program developed in 2011 by Christina Jahn, the company’s learning and development lead.
Trainees spend their first 60 days training in two baseline areas, or foundations. The first teaches them company values and provides an overview of MatchGuide. It also preps them for recruitment on topics including the job placement process, how to conduct a search and how to check references. When this first phase of training is done, trainees begin working with job seekers and company clients.
After five weeks, they enter the second phase of training. They’re promoted to recruiters only after they’ve been certified in 20 areas and only after they’ve made 10 placements. New recruiters can be promoted to account executives within a year.
S.i. Systems also offers an internship program in conjunction with colleges and universities throughout Canada. It was developed shortly before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and then halted. Now it’s resumed and has been expanded to 12 to 18 co-op students for each term. While 80 percent of the co-op internships are for recruiting jobs, there are also ones for finance, IT, HR, and marketing roles.
co-op students receive the same immersive training as all new hires, Forster says; and Susan Sinclair, the company’s talent attraction lead, meets with co-op students every month. Forster says about 80 percent of the co-op students are offered jobs, and 95 percent of those offered jobs accept them.
“When a co-op converts to a full-time recruiter trainee they are already trained up and know what challenges to expect with the job,” Forster says. “We believe in people and people can’t succeed unless they know what to do and how to do it.”
Retaining and diversifying talent
Forster has also introduced retention strategies, including “survive and thrive” modules on the company internal website to help employees manage stress.
She has also worked with Chief Diversity Officer Audra Tettenborn to increase awareness of challenges faced by Canada’s Indigenous population. Forster and her team currently use WonScore analytical tools to assess candidates who are interviewed for all open positions to reduce bias in the hiring process.
The WonScore platform enables employers to test and score on personality, cognitive ability and motivation to find the best candidates. Forster says staffing at S.i. Systems is now 61 percent women and, according to the company website, 58 percent of its managers have diverse backgrounds.
Once hired, employees are given up to five paid days off per year to volunteer. Branch office staff also have volunteer events once per quarter. Those staff also work with the chief diversity office to set up dates and awareness training to observe events.
Forster, who also earned her MBA from Alberta School of Business at the University of Alberta, says her goal is to reduce the recruiter turnover rate to 40 percent or lower as S.i. Systems broadens its diversity and continues to promote from within.
“I want to help leaders, through coaching and mentoring, to support their teams,” Forster says. “Our values are to be accountable, professional, transparent and possible. I enjoy leading and helping set the vision and strategy for HR.”
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