Slot Strategy Working, Delta Leaders Say

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

A new strategy to manage workforce attrition is playing a significant role in helping Boston College achieve the aims of Project Delta, according to administrators.

Known as slot management, the strategy was enacted last summer through the Human Resources Department as a Project Delta initiative. It places an emphasis on encouraging internal transfers and promotions, and advocating temporary hires as a means of filling available slots.

Since Boston College began using the strategy, over 150 open slots have been reviewed and 43 of these were slated for one-year hirings. Seven of the open slots have been retired.

Administrators say slot management offers an innovative means toward achieving a smaller, more efficient workforce without having to rely on layoffs of permanent staff. As Delta continues to reshape the University by introducing new technology and consolidating or minimizing redundant services, they say, slot management provides offices and departments more flexibility in filling their staff needs.

"We're pleased at how receptive offices and departments have been to taking on this philosophy," said Vice President for Human Resources Leo V. Sullivan. "There seems to be an understanding of what BC is trying to accomplish through Delta and that's vital. We need a University-wide commitment for this strategy to succeed and employees need to be open to new ways of doing their work."

"It's a proactive, thoughtful approach to provide future opportunities for current employees," said Employee Development Director Bernard O'Kane. "The reorganization of Boston College cannot take place without changes and not all of these will be easy. But one of our primary institutional values is our sense of community. We should think of slot management as a safety net for colleagues who may be particularly affected by Delta."

Among other instances, slot management was employed in relocating several student services, including identification card and parking permit distribution, to the Registrar's Office. The appointment of an associate dean for graduate student life [see Murray House story on page 1] is another example, O'Kane said. Instead of adding a new administrative slot, the University created the position by consolidating or reassigning areas of responsibilities within the Office of the Dean for Student Development. Furthermore, he noted, the secretarial position in the graduate student dean's office is a slot relocated from the Housing Office.

Under the strategy, an office and departmental request to fill an open slot is reviewed by a team of Human Resources administrators that includes Sullivan, O'Kane and Employment Manager Anita Ulloa. The team weighs the proposal against such factors as departmental needs, as well as those Delta or other University initiatives which might affect the department. Members discuss these factors with the office's hiring manager and explore the options for filling the slot.

Those options might include - but not necessarily be limited to - eliminating or retaining the position, transferring it to another organizational unit, or reducing the hours, weeks or months of employment associated with the position.

"It is not a casual review by any means, nor are the decisions made lightly," O'Kane said. "Human Resources works in close consultation with offices and departments, and there is considerable discussion of future needs."

Many administrative and staff searches initially focus on internal applicants, O'Kane said, and the University plans to offer ongoing training initiatives - especially in the area of technology - to help employees obtain the qualifications necessary for them to be considered for transfers or promotions.

Administrators emphasize that the strategy focuses on those slots which become available through normal attrition. As O'Kane points out, on average some 250 slots become open each year at the University, from clerical positions to administrative posts. Slot management "is a way to take greater advantage of this turnover," he said.

O'Kane adds that utilizing one-year or other short-term employees does not lower the quality or performance of the University workforce.

"First of all, BC receives approximately 8,000 applications annually for our open slots," he explained. "We are, therefore, able to be selective in choosing job candidates. Secondly, there is a great interest in, and demand for, short-term employment. People are willing to work at BC for a year, gain valuable experience and build skills, then move on to another position in the University, or to another institution or field."

Law School Associate Dean for Administration Michael Cassidy says slot management "has worked quite well" at the school, where two secretarial slots have been filled on a one-year basis.

"We were skeptical at first about using temporary employees," Cassidy said, "but the people who were hired have been doing very well. They enjoy the full benefits package like any BC employee and are definitely part of the Law School community."

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