Founded in 1943, Concordia is a charity that supports people to develop skills and gain experiences so that they can thrive.
One of their core services is the Seasonal Workers Programme. The programme aims to support the UK farming industry through the supply of labour, skills and resources, while offering people of all ages worldwide the opportunity to work in the UK. Concordia believes that the ethical supply of labour is vital to the UK farming industry and promotes intercultural understanding and peace.
At the end of 2020, Concordia asked Bit Zesty to take over their existing application and help with support and improvements.
The UK’s seasonal farm workers traditionally came from EU countries visa free. However, due to Brexit, from 2021 they required Seasonal Worker visas. In 2021, the team anticipated processing three times as many visa applications.
The old visa application process was repetitive, lengthy and error-prone. It allowed a Concordia employee to process a maximum of 25 Seasonal Worker visa applications in one working day. With the peak season starting in March and a forecast of thousands of visas to issue, Concordia was looking for ways to ramp up its ability to process the visas to meet the requirements of local farms on time.
Our preferred approach would have been to use an API to automatically pull the data from their central application into the Home Office system to allocate visa sponsorship numbers. However, after exploring the capabilities of the Home Office system, we soon realised that it was not an option.
After a few workshops with the Concordia team early in January, we proposed developing a Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tool. The RPA sends batches of applications to the Home Office system via Watir. (Watir is a Ruby automation library that interacts with the browser the same way that people do – it can click on links, fill out forms, validate text.) Once the batches are sent, it then syncs the issued sponsorship numbers back to Concordia’s system once they are paid for. To create a seamless experience, our development and user experience teams worked together to deliver the RPA tool and make the required changes on Concordia’s system.
With the support of Concordia’s team, we were able to have the tool deployed to the production environment within one month. After a couple of weeks of refinements, the application was ready before the start of the peak season.
The Robotic Process Automation tool helped Concordia issue over 3,500 CoS numbers in under two months. It ensured they could meet the needs of the farms without having to increase their workforce.
We are now working with Concordia to enhance the tool further and generate reports that give Concordia’s team more visibility and control over the process.