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Will BA's fair deal take off?

Paul Gosling on the airline's recent jobs exhibition
BRITISH AIRWAYS believes it may have started a trend last month. It presented its first big recruitment fair at an exhibition centre, attracting 20,000 people interested in filling 7,000 vacancies over the next year. The event was such a success that the airline says it expects to run similar events in the future.

"So far we have received 8,500 CVs, and are receiving another 300 a day for jobs in finance, corporate resources and world cargo," says Tina Oakley, BA's head of recruitment. "We have been impressed by the calibre of people, particularly since many who have had the opportunity to speak directly to staff at the fair are submitting informed applications."

A key reason for BA to conduct the recruitment fair, called "The Working World of British Airways", was to improve the quality of applications and ensure that potential employees understand more about the jobs they are seeking. Since the fair more than 1,000 people have applied for cabin crew jobs and more than 3,500 have sought customer service jobs at Heathrow or Gatwick.

Ms Oakley added: "The idea behind the fair was to find an imaginative way of boosting recruitment by showing people just what a huge range of different jobs we offer, and also the opportunities for career development. We are currently going through our biggest ever recruitment drive. With the number of recruits we are looking to attract [totalling 15,000 over three years], it makes sense to stage the biggest company careers fair the UK has ever seen."

Mervyn Walker, director of human resources at BA, adds: "The fair has given people a chance to find out all they need to know about British Airways. It also attracted people we might otherwise miss through traditional recruitment methods. We wanted to reflect our changing customer mix and will focus on recruiting people from more diverse communities with language skills."

One hundred BA staff were on hand to explain to visitors what the available jobs were really like, supported by several interactive exhibitions to demonstrate typical working experiences. One of these was a flight simulator, operated under the supervision of an experienced pilot. Career workshops were also on offer. To ensure a high attendance the fair was heavily promoted.

BA's fair also proved popular with the host exhibition site, Earls Court Olympia. Barry Brown, a spokesman, said that the numbers attending were impressive and justified the decision of BA to employ street entertainers, keeping queuing visitors happy. Mr Brown said that holding a recruitment fair reflected Earls Court Olympia's desire to break away from the image of a traditional exhibition and conference venue.

Angela Baron, policy adviser to the Institute of Personnel and Development, says that other large employers will have carefully noted BA's experience. "If it has been that successful then I would expect others to follow," she says. "It does depend on the cost-benefit analysis. Others probably wouldn't put on something as big as that even if they were looking to recruit a couple of thousand people. It depends on what sort of staff you are recruiting. It doesn't surprise me that an employer like BA should do this, with jobs like those of customer service staff. It is beneficial because you can demonstrate what the job is actually like. There is very little you can get over in an advertisement. Lots of people will say they will give an application a go even if the job is not suitable. Then it is up to the recruiter to sift through, and dealing just with CVs doesn't tell you much. With a fair you have 10 to 15 minutes with each potential applicant to tell them what the job is really about, and people can self- select. You are more likely to have quality candidates."

Ms Baron says BA is only one of many corporations looking to adopt more imaginative recruitment processes to attract more applicants from within ethnic minorities.

One of the issues, particularly for Asian job seekers, Ms Baron suggests, is that it is the traditional professional jobs such as accountants and doctors that are most sought after, and employers have to promote their own high-status jobs as a respected alternative.

Demonstrating at an exhibition that a corporation already employs many ethnic minority staff can encourage others to apply, explains Ms Baron.