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game changer

Jeff Bowen says technology upgrades to Bowen Workforce Solutions’ family-run operations have allowed it to compete with bigger firms for bigger clients.Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

Bowen Workforce Solutions is making it easier to approve a time card from an oil rig.

It's a more common challenge than you might think. Providing payroll services in remote field locations across Alberta is a priority for Bowen, a Calgary-based recruiting and staffing company. The majority of Bowen's clients are in the oil and gas sector, and that's one of the reasons the company has decided to go mobile, says Jeff Bowen, director of information services.

"Wherever there's an oil rig, we likely have a person doing some work there right now," Mr. Bowen says. "And their ability to interact with us over a mobile device [such as a phone or tablet] is critical, because getting a computer on an Internet connection in a remote location either doesn't happen, or if it's by satellite, it's incredibly expensive."

Full mobile device support for time card management is just one of the new services Bowen will start offering next week when it launches Adapt V11, the latest version of the company's staffing and recruitment software system. Mr. Bowen says working with the innovative, Web-based system has been crucial to its growth since it was first adopted in 2006.

"It's a priority to maintain business, because nobody is standing still," Mr. Bowen says. "To remain relevant in the marketplace means that you have to bring that technology along, and bring it along well."

Bowen is a family-run organization that has been in the recruiting and placement business since 1974. It finds qualified candidates for temporary, contract and permanent positions, as well as providing human resources services, management and payroll for a client's temporary workforce.

Until the late 1990s, Mr. Bowen says, business was conducted by way of Rolodex and paper files and carbon copy time sheets, and the company relied on its reputation for being "the place to go" if you wanted a job in Calgary. But by moving toward cutting-edge technology like the Adapt system, Bowen has been able to thrive in a highly competitive industry and compete with much bigger players in the recruiting and placement space.

"We have the technology, the software, the process to support big companies, but we're smaller than the big players and so we're nimble and flexible to adapt to the client's needs," Mr. Bowen says.

In addition to managing Bowen's contact database, job orders and assignments, Adapt also provides Web-based self-services for clients and job candidates. Candidates can search for open positions, apply for them, manage their profiles and update their résumés, while corporate clients can submit job requests, time sheets and keep track of their temporary workforce.

"It's allowed us to push administrative tasks that we would have done internally out to our candidates and clients, and not from a negative perspective either," Mr. Bowen says. "The candidates want access to their information, they want to see it, touch it, deal with it and have control over it, so it was a response to what the marketplace was asking for.

"It's helped streamline our process and it made our candidates and clients happy."

Adapt has also helped the company provide more services to clients with less staff. As an example, Bowen's finance department has shrunk to a staff of five from 10 since Adapt came in, Mr. Bowen says, even though its business has doubled in size.

"The biggest win that we had was time sheets," Mr. Bowen says. "Before the advent of Adapt, time sheets came in on paper and were input into a payroll system manually. … Now, instead of having clerical individuals running payroll, we've been able to upscale to people who actually provide payroll experience knowledge and can provide feedback, like, 'Are we following payroll standards? Are we doing overtime calculations properly?'"

"So it isn't just to crunch numbers, but to provide some analytical support," he says.

Changing technology has also had a huge impact on how recruiters do their jobs, Mr. Bowen says. These days, recruiters need to be highly technical people – skilled in Internet search techniques and social media.

"You no longer write a six-line, snazzy thing for the Calgary Herald in black and white and hope it generates a hundred people," Mr. Bowen says. "Today it's based on peoples' ability to do Boolean searches in Google and trawl through LinkedIn and successfully post interesting articles on Facebook. It's changed how you interact and attract people."

Staying on top of the latest technological innovations is also essential to attracting the best recruiting talent, Mr. Bowen says. "We have video conferencing to support remote training, we've got video calling for one-on-one interviews for people who can't make it in to our offices, we provide support for home users, most – if not all – are tied in to a mobile device. The list goes on and on and on, in order to support and be relevant to that new generation," he says.

Mr. Bowen says his company will continue to seek out leading-edge technology in order to continue "scaling up" its business and broadening its reach. While Bowen used to do placement solely for Calgary-area businesses, it has expanded across Alberta and beyond, to British Columbia, Saskatchewan, even Nova Scotia. And it's no longer limited to servicing the smaller operations that used to be the company's bread and butter.

"That's really what technology has allowed us to do," Mr. Bowen says. "We don't go after the small companies any more, we go after the medium to large enterprises. Our target is companies with 250 employees or more, and that means we're playing with international companies. And the only way you can do that is if you've got the technology and the people to support those companies.

"We have to do it efficiently, or we're not in that game and we can't compete."

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