An online registration program for state police and correctional officer examination applicants is not only helping the Connecticut Department of Administrative Services (DAS) cut down on labor and paper costs, but is allowing human-resource managers to quickly track the demographics of applicants and make recruitment adjustments to maintain workforce diversity.

During an experimental 30-day enrollment period last fall, the department used a completely paperless registration process offered on the department's Web site. Each day, online exam application statistics were dumped into the human-resource mainframe and sorted by a variety of criteria, including race, nation of origin, gender and location. State police officials could then monitor the demographics of the applicant pool, see where they needed to bolster recruitment, and, if necessary, step up advertising campaigns in those areas.

What started as a simple effort to reduce labor and paperwork evolved into a valuable human-resource tool, since managers could continually monitor applicant data and make midcourse recruitment corrections to meet hiring goals of the state's Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. If data showed a dearth of minority applicants from culturally diverse areas of the state, the administrative services department would increase examination advertisements in newspapers and other media outlets targeting that segment of the community.

"Connecticut is a diverse state, and this was a useful tool to let the state police know if they were going to be able to diversify the workforce enough," said Alan Mazzola, deputy commissioner of the administrative services department.

From Land and Sea

Reaction to the registration program, which drew more than 10,000 applicants from all 50 states and from overseas, surprised DAS officials, who said they received few complaints about the all-electronic process. Applicants without access to a personal computer or laptop could stop into any of the state's employment-development centers or most public libraries to access the Web site. Registrants received an electronic acknowledgment that their applications had been accepted by the database, saving them the cost and inconvenience of a registered-mail stamp.

"We were getting responses around the clock," said Vin Lombardo, the administrative department's director of management information solutions. "We were even getting hits from ships at sea, from military personnel getting ready to leave the service."

In the past, the department had needed up to seven administrative workers to type into the human-resources mainframe data from each of the several thousand examination applications received during the annual registration period. The mainframe then ran a suite of applications to print acknowledgment letters, screen applicants and schedule exams. As the number of applicants grew, the process quickly became unwieldy.

"With the volume of paper we were seeing, we said, why not use an Internet front end to automate registration online and let the applicant key in the data directly to the mainframe?" Lombardo said.

The move paid off, Mazzola said, saving the DAS an estimated $80,000 in staff and paper costs for the one-month registration period. State police officials, at first worried that an all-digital registration process would limit responses from some socioeconomic classes, were pleased with the results.

"The biggest benefit to the Connecticut State Police was that (online registration) accelerated the application process," said Capt. John Leonard, commanding officer of the Connecticut State Police Bureau of Selections and Training. "By taking less time to handle data, we were able to process examination applications more quickly and move into the next phase of our training program."

Being able to readily see applicant demographics was an added bonus, Leonard said. Agency staff, accustomed to years of searching through large printouts of raw data to track applicant statistics, welcomed the more efficient online method.

Risky Business

"DAS took a huge risk in implementing this with the state police exam, which has historically received the largest volume of applicants of any state agency," said Leonard, who's been contacted by other law enforcement agencies interested in implementing similar programs. "To their credit, they were able to take reams of data and provide it to us on disk and in a format that was more useful to us in the screening process."

The DAS plans to test the online exam registration again early next year, when a new class of state police applicants will be recruited, and compare the response to last year's

successful effort. Similar online application and screening programs are also under consideration for other state agencies, Mazzola said, pending the outcome of next year's beta test.

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Tom Byerly is a writer based in Elk Grove, Calif. Email