Skilled temporary workers – a growing trend for procurement and HR to consider

A couple of weeks back, Beeline, the Vendor Management Software (VMS)  provider, announced the acquisition of US firm OnForce. That firm's specialism is in the area of the extended workforce, more specifically supporting the engagement of the more highly skilled interim (contingent) workforce.

This was presented by Beeline as an acquisition that reflected  a major trend in the market - firms looking to use more highly skilled temporary or contingent labour, and looking to non-traditional routes to engage these skilled people – for example, using their alumni networks to identify such folk. Those people then need to be managed somewhat differently from the "traditional" blue-collar or lower-skilled administrative “temps” who have formed the vast majority of that market.

So is this something we are really seeing in the UK? If it is happening, what do procurement and HR managers need to think about in terms of handling this highly skilled “extended workforce”? To find out, I spoke to Jon Milton, industry expert and Business Development Director at Comensura, which manages interim workforce provision for public and private sector clients and is one of the leading players therefore  in the UK temporary staff market.

So Jon, are we seeing firms using more highly skilled temps, or was that just Beeline justifying the acquisition?

No, I think it is happening. And the reason for this is interesting - we believe that many organisations downsized in the recession, jobs in the back office in particular were lost, and it was often the older, more experienced staff who went first. Now as the economy picks up, in the UK and US at least, firms are realising they have gaps. So they are looking for the more experienced temporary workers to fill those gaps.  But recent surveys have suggested that one in four employers sees shortages in the technical/engineering sector, so demand is exceeding supply in some key areas.

The OnForce business appears to focus mainly on IT professionals.  Is that a major sector where you're seeing this move to highly skilled temps?

Yes, Comensura’s most recent research identified that the percentage of temporary workers in IT increased by 11.2% and in professional roles, by 10.5% in the past financial year.

And there may be another factor here. Technology is changing so quickly, so firms don't necessarily want to commit to long-term staff whose experience might not be relevant next year.  So they'll look for temporary resource with very specialist skills, and buy that on a project-by-project basis really. For instance, the move to Cloud and more localised, flexible systems rather than giant enterprise ERPs means quite different tech skills are needed.

Do these people need handling differently from a "traditional" temp?

Well, they are harder to find by definition and at any given time, many will be busy and not available -  firms can end up spending a lot of money on the search and  recruitment process, whether via  agency or through OnForce-type systems.  There are of course similarities as  with any temporary worker - aspects such as checking qualifications or skills, or security clearances in some cases, these things are at least as important for the top-end people.

How do you see the OnForce model?

What they are doing is building a database of high-skilled people in the technology field  that their clients can have access to, with some good enabling technology.  But as I say, there are still checks to be made, and they will still need to manage the database, or pay someone to do it.

It does seem very much a technology workforce that OnForce has addressed  – I got the impression from the Beeline announcement that the OnForce solution was wider that that?

It certainly looks like it is skilled IT professionals on the OnForce datasbase. It is looking to help clients reduce costs by providing that ready-made database, but it does rely on individuals to “self market” to an extent, and you can lose control of price if you allow the contractors to simply set their own pricing. As with  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, I’m not sure its really another nail in the coffin of “traditional” recruitment!

So if the temporary labour workforce is ever expanding and taking in higher-level people, where are we going on this from a provider point of view?

There are still the basics of finding people who are available, who have the right skills and experience, the right certifications – there are elements that can be automated but there is still work to do, whether done by an agency or by the  end user. But the recruitment and temporary labour industry has to progress, and agencies have to move on and embrace technology like this if they're going to survive. In our role, we manage and work with over 3,000 agencies, 72 percent of which are SMEs,  and we encourage them to innovate and think outside the box

 

Thanks Jon – more and more procurement professionals and functions are getting involved in these people-based service categories, and they look to be growing spend areas for many organisations in years to come. So procurement needs to keep up with the latest thinking, solution providers and trends here. And a plug for Comensura: it really understands its market, so do get in touch if you want to talk about how you might approach your contingent labour spend.

 

First Voice

  1. Bill Kohnen:

    I would agree that firm are looking to use more highly skilled labor and the recruitment and management of that process could align with the vendor management process. Specifically for Purchasing professionals I see that very skilled Category Mangers will be in more demand than every however companies will be reluctant to add high cost employees to permanent staff that have a focused area of subject expertise. So for instance I can imagine companies engaging temp Category experts in the early stages of Strategic Sourcing projects and then turning over project to broader operations and supplier management team.

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