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As the skills shortage continues to affect businesses across the country, new research reveals most small businesses don’t even have staffing plans in place.

Alyson Warnock looks at what it takes to recruit and keep the right staff.

Active ImageEvery business wants staff that will maximise its chances of success and yet very few SMEs back this desire up with strategic recruitment plans. Recent research on human resources management in small business illustrates the growing concern in small business about staffing plans.

Getting and Keeping Good Staff, a survey conducted by Monash University’s Family and Small Business Unit, shows key areas of concern for employers include finding the right staff (96.4 percent) and finding skilled staff (50.3 percent). In comparison, the ability to dismiss staff, traditionally a major concern, was only identified by 36.4 percent of the businesses taking part in the survey.

Though small businesses are exempt under new unfair dismissal legislation, the need to regularly terminate unsatisfactory employees reflects poor recruitment practice that can prove costly in terms of repeated termination and recruitment costs.

Recruitment, whether it be replacing a current position or adding staff, requires some form of investment from your business. It is important to act strategically rather than on an ad hoc basis to ensure the investment is beneficial to your business.

Strategic Planning

Getting and Keeping Good Staff highlights a lack of strategic planning in human resources, including recruitment practices, is a weakness in small businesses. Though 54.3 percent of businesses had a strategic business plan, only 21.4 percent had a staffing plan. Only 70 percent said they used a written list of skills and qualifications when recruiting new staff. And ad hoc methods such as advertising (42.2 percent) and referrals or walk-ins (28.4 percent) were predominately used for recruitment.

Before beginning the recruitment process it is important to take the time to consider what your business needs are. What skills and experience are required? Can a current staff member fill the position or can you train a current staff member to acquire the skills you need? You should also identify the values that are integral to your business, as it’s important to employ people who share these values, and who will fit in well with their peers and the organisational culture.

In the current environment it is also important to consider flexible conditions, such as part-time and casual positions, and less traditional pools of workers such as skilled migrants.

Stephen Jolly, CEO of Complete Staff Solutions, explains that offering part-time positions can be a good way of becoming attractive to a larger number of skilled workers. “There are many skilled workers in the market who are only looking for part-time or casual work; older workers or people with families returning to the workforce,” he explains.

“By offering work on a part-time or casual basis, you make your company attractive to these people. You may never attract them otherwise. It increases the number of people in the market you are pitching at.”

Part-time and casual positions should be considered even if you haven’t offered work on this basis in the past. “Part of the challenge for employers is identifying work that can be completed by part-time or casual employees,” Jolly says. “However, a lot of employers are surprised by the amount of work which can be done part-time. Most find they need a core number of employees, but other work, such as special projects or seasonal increases in workload, can be offered on a part-time or casual basis.

“Using part-time and casual staff can also reduce overheads by resulting in a lower average number of workers, and casual workers especially provide a high level of flexibility which is a valuable tool when trying to manage seasonal workloads efficiently.”

When employing part-time or casual workers on an ongoing basis, it is important to recognise they have different needs to full-time employees so you need to manage them accordingly. “Part-time and casual workers will require different management. It’s important to ensure they’re made to feel part of the organisation if they are to become loyal employees,” Jolly stresses.

Skilled Migrants

Active ImageA major component of Australia’s migration program is designed to assist employers so they can understand and utilise the benefits of using skilled migrants. The Federal government has placed immigration officers within industry organisations to provide free information to employers.

Peter Lovell, an immigration officer, is working within Australian Business Limited/State Chamber. “Employing overseas skilled workers can be a good solution for employers who have been unsuccessful in filling vacancies from the local labour market,” he says. “With the newly streamlined processing arrangements, skilled migrants are able to start quickly and bring significant experience and knowledge to a workplace.”

Lovell says there are different options for employers under the migration program, including temporary as well as permanent residence workers. “An advantage of sponsoring temporary residents is the minimal processing times. Potential employees don’t need to have their professional or trade skills assessed,” Lovell explains. “Temporary residence can be for periods of up to four years, so this program provides a very real resource for Australian businesses.

“There are also reduced requirements and a trade skills training visa for regional employers to help them use the program,” he adds.

A sponsoring employer has to meet certain requirements towards the sponsored employee, such as paying above a prescribed minimum remuneration level in accordance with local awards, and covering public hospital emergency costs. Employers are also required to ensure they have made adequate provision for training existing Australian employees. You must consider your ability to fulfil these requirements when deciding if employing a skilled migrant is right for your business.

To assist employers locate skilled workers, the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs has developed the Skill Matching Database. The people listed on the database have already had their professional or trade skills recognised by Australian assessing authorities and have good English language skills.

Job Descriptions

Once you understand your business needs and the type of employees who can provide those skills, you can develop a job description including skills and experience, the responsibilities of the position and hours per week required.

If you are recruiting for an existing position, take the time to update the job description by reviewing the role and talking to staff to get an updated understanding of the needs and responsibilities of the business area. The job description is an essential tool throughout a recruitment process. You can use it as the basis for advertising, interviewing and final selection.

Once you have the tools to recruit, look at the different options available for attracting potential employees. Referrals or advertising in newspapers or online may be appropriate, but if specific skills are required less traditional methods, such as using an agency, may be needed.

If using an agency, take care in selecting the agency you use, as Kathy Bracken, senior HR officer with Australian Business Limited/State Chamber explains, “Supplier insight into your busin
ess can be a key contributor to making a choice on which agency you use, but it shouldn’t be the only consideration.

“Understanding the position and what type of candidate will be attracted to the role is critical to be able to source an agency that will attract your ideal candidate. Using an agency that you have used before because they have filled a previous vacancy successfully doesn’t always mean you will have the same success, especially if the position is not in the agency’s speciality market.”

It takes time to recruit staff, but this time must be invested if you are to find the right people to help you maintain and grow your business. Be patient. Making the right choice first time around will be of greater benefit in the long run. 

* Alyson Warnock is public relations officer Australian Business Limited/State Chamber (NSW). For advice on employing skilled migrants, contact Peter Lovell at peter.lovell@australianbusiness.com.au

Simple Steps to successful recruitment

• identify the business requirements
• develop a job description
• advertise internally or externally or employ an agency
• acknowledge applicants
• shortlist applicants
• interview applicants
• undertake referee checks
• make a selection
• negotiate with the chosen candidate
• get appointment form signed
• issue contract
• have contract accepted
• send letters to unsuccessful candidates

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