Aon enables Serco to improve staffing levels and reduce attrition of prison workforce with immersive recruitment process

Aon plc (NYSE: AON), a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement and health solutions, has announced the implementation of an immersive recruitment process for Serco, a leading provider of public services. The new process, which shows candidates what it’s like to work with prisoners, has been developed to improve staffing levels and reduce attrition. Serco manages six prisons in the UK, employing 1,200 Prison Custody Officers (PCOs) and 1,200 Prison Escort Custody Service (PECS) employees, recruiting 400 people to each role annually.

In place since earlier this year, Serco’s new process not only enables candidates to deselect themselves early-on, but also to self-assess their attitude, mindset and skills to understand the impact they could have working inside a prison. Prison realities are well-documented, and recruiting is an enormous task, complicated by attrition because the situations employees face cannot be easily described through the recruitment process.   

Anthony Kirby, Group HR Director, Serco, explained:

“Having good quality staffing levels reduces violence for officers and inmates. By developing this new selection process, our recruiting team is creating a safer environment and supporting rehabilitation. This project is hugely ambitious for both the prison and public sector. We needed to address the issue at its root cause – recruiting the right people with empathy, resilience and confidence – yet we needed to make it really clear that this role is about making tough choices.”

Aon’s and Serco’s programme has been shortlisted in the Forum In-House Recruitment (FIRM) Awards in the best use of video category. The FIRM Awards acknowledge in-house recruitment excellence, innovation and best practice.

Serco’s recruitment videos are intense, professional and cinematic. To understand what makes someone successful in the roles – either as a prison officer or escorting prisoners to court – Serco and Aon conducted a deep-dive into the situations these employees experience through job analysis, focus groups and spending time in the prisons and prison vans. The videos were filmed inside the prison walls to give a real sense of what a prison looks and feels like.

The videos are coupled with a job pathfinder to help candidates understand which role they are best suited to – or not. They go through a Situational Judgement Questionnaire (SJQ), and assessment centres then provide Serco with an understanding of individuals’ resilience, conflict management skills and whether they are empathetic, non-judgemental and interested in rehabilitation. The process reduces previous labour-intensive manual recruitment and re-focuses Serco’s HR team on attracting candidates and the candidate experience, giving them time to do tasks that require a human touch. 

Jane Crane, Talent Acquisition Director of Serco, said:

“Serco is leading the way within the sector. With this process, candidates understand the roles available so they can either deselect themselves – or potentially go on to find their vocation. We are creating a competitive edge, making the experience engaging and educational as well as enhancing our employer brand.

“We believe we’ve created a highly innovative solution for talent acquisition. We’re providing an outstanding candidate experience that saves candidates’ and hiring managers’ time as well as delivering much stronger shortlists.”

Suzanne Courtney, European growth director, Aon’s Assessment Solutions, added:

“Serco’s overall goals have been to automate their recruitment processes and create efficiency, enabling their team to spend more time adding human elements important to the process. The HR team wanted to create such a strong experience, as well as improve their staffing levels and reduce attrition overall. We’re delighted with this incredibly intense but rewarding project and we hope it achieves a significant reduction in staff turnover.”

Aon’s Assessment Solutions, Aon’s talent assessment practice, provides clients with powerful tools and insights to help them make better talent decisions at every stage of the employee lifecycle. This includes pre-hire assessments, identifying future leaders, screening for digital skills and agility, and AI-enabled solutions. More information at