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Combat skills shortage with outsourcing and part-timers

Combating the skills shortage plaguing small and medium-sized businesses is tough. But if you want more free time and need staffing solutions for the skills shortage, it’s worth investing money in outsourcing and part-time employees.

As a small business owner, you’ll probably be familiar with two scenarios symptomatic of staffing issues. One is the ubiquitous business owner, which is generally what happens in many start-ups. Owners of these types of businesses tend to do a bit of everything—from the marketing and human resources, to IT and the books—in addition to driving the core business. Often these businesses don’t have enough money to employ full-time staff, or each individual role may not be big enough to fill with an employee yet.

Then there’s the divide between acquiring staff for your core business and acquiring staff to run the back end. While your stunning product or service might attract talent for your core business, it can still be a struggle to find good people to look after the inner workings that support the ‘stars’.

With a skills shortage already affecting many Australian businesses and a general labour shortage, —where there are not enough employable people, let alone people with the right skills—predicted in the next decade, small businesses should be looking at as many ways as possible to keep their human resources in check to sustain their trade.

Outsourcing the experts
Outsourcing is one method of employment that can ease staffing issues. In simple terms, outsourcing is the practice of obtaining a service from an external supplier, but if you think of it more as ‘payment for a task done’, you’re better able to understand how outsourcing can assist your business.

If you have someone to look after your books once a week and wrangle with your monthly business activity statement, for example, you can clearly see the time value they bring to your business. Instead of hours of frustration, you can focus that time on furthering your core activities. And once you start converting time into money, you can equate the money you spend on that task with the money you bring in from not doing it yourself.

The other argument in favour of outsourcing is one of expertise. While it’s great that you know enough about IT to set up your office computer network, unless you run an IT service company yourself you’re probably going to need specific expertise for other IT services, or someone to turn to if things go wrong. Outsourcers provide a level of expertise that you don’t need all the time, but you can readily access when required. This is particularly true of businesses that hire publicity agents to represent their business; as part of its usual activities, the agency will have acquired the necessary tools, such as relevant media contacts, which businesses cannot usually gain simply by hiring someone to start a publicity department.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a business that doesn’t use a third party in some way,” says Oliver Pennington, co-founder of Service Seeking, a website designed for outsourcing. “We outsource accounting, payroll, bookkeeping and some graphic and web design work. We want to concentrate and spend our time on things that we’re good at, developing our product and speaking to our customers and honing that area of the business and thinking about what the next big idea is. We don’t want to waste our time on the books. We’re terrible at the books. Outsource the stuff that someone else is better at than you.”


Many small businesses are outsourcers themselves usually because they prefer, or it is more beneficial to them, to run their own business than to be an employee. As most businesses outsource one area or another of their functions, even large companies, there are plenty of opportunities for outsourcers to find and fill skill gaps.

As an outsourcer, pitch your service in a way that makes it clear to potential clients that outsourcing a function will save them money, or allow them to make more money by freeing up valuable time. This is the most basic transaction. Advance your pitch by understanding what they need and matching that with your skills and expertise.

Benefits of Part-time Employees
While outsourcing is one way to beat the skills shortage, there are other staffing solutions that might help bridge the skills gap within your company to make human resources more stable. One of the drawbacks is the lack of control you might experience working with another company; if their staff turnover is high, you’re forced to contend with a different face every time there’s a change. Rhonda Sermon, co-founder of part-time employment website Your Parttime Workforce, says a lot of businesses aren’t thinking about staffing the way they should and thus miss out on the huge potential of hiring part-timers, which can relieve both a skills shortage and retention problems.

“A lot of businesses are very busy and they don’t have the time to sit back and think about what they need and how they’re going to staff and resource their business,” says Sermon. “We’ve spoken to employers they’ve gone ‘there isn’t anyone who will come and do that type of role three days a week’ or if there is, ‘we don’t think it will work for us’. They’re a bit sceptical. But often you’ll get a higher quality candidate with more experience who can work quickly and you don’t have to supervise them, so by default you’re getting a lot more work out of them.”

In her former position as chief financial officer of a growing company, Sermon negotiated a part-time role; an experience that convinced her part-time work was possible at any level. She also notes that part-timers are usually more prepared to work across a broader range of skill levels.

Although not present five days a week, part-timers also tend to give more back to the business over longer tenures, Sermon says. “If you take on a part-time person who is experienced, and they have priorities other than wanting to climb the corporate ladder, they’re going to give more back to you than if you have people turning over every couple of years.”

Both outsourcing and part-time work are part of the new flexible working arrangements businesses now find themselves offering to keep their trade ticking over. While there are bound to be teething problems as the traditional 9-to-5 mindset erodes, there are now plenty of opportunities for businesses to service niches in the market and employees to negotiate a work/life balance. Being aware of the opportunities is the first step; acting on them is the next.

Tips for outsourcing
1. Define the scope of the job. This will give you a more accurate idea of how much the job should cost.2. Spell out liability arrangements. If something goes wrong, the outsourcing contract should state the extent to which either party is liable.
2. Spell out liability arrangements. If something goes wrong, the outsourcing contract should state the extent to which either party is liable.
3. Look after intellectual property. If it’s important to your business, have IP assigned to you in black and white so you own it outright.
4. Identify key performance indicators. Make sure both parties agree on performance standards prior to entering an arrangement.
5. Know how to end it. Set out a procedure that will allow either party to end the agreement and state each party’s obligations for this point.

Online solutions to the skills shortage

Employ and recruit part-timers
Your Parttime Workforce (www.yourparttimeworkforce.com.au)
Your Parttime Workforce is an employment matching service specialising in the part-time workforce, both for employers looking to fill a part-time role and candidates looking for part-time positions. Candidates create thei
r own profile outlining what they’re looking for in a role and employers are free to browse the talent pool.

When an employer wishes to contact a candidate, they pay to contact as many candidates as they like in a month. Employers can actively advertise jobs for a small fee. Recruiters are also welcome to use the site to find suitable candidates and advertise positions.

Offering part-time work gives businesses access to those employees who may otherwise remove themselves completely from the workforce, such as parents or retirees. Capturing this pool of talent means the business has to be flexible, but the rewards include happier staff, experienced employees who won’t cost you the earth, and employment longevity.

Founders Rhonda Sermon and Shereen Jolly saw that other employment resources were either too expensive or not targeted enough to find good part-time staff. A part-timer herself, Sermon saw the clear benefits of part-time work and says they designed the site to focus on matching part-time work with employees seeking stable employment without the long hours.

“When you have part-time workers, they’re much happier to work on a broader role and they give you so much more added value,” she believes. “If you’re giving them an opportunity to work and still balance the rest of their life, it enhances their life. A lot of people really enjoy going to work for those few days a week and if you have people enjoying their work, they stay longer.”

Looking for jobs to outsource
Service Seeking (www.serviceseeking.com.au)
The best way to describe Service Seeking is ‘an eBay for services’. If you’re a business looking for a job to outsource—whether it’s a project or an ongoing contract—you post up the particulars of the job and wait for bids to come in. Where it differs from eBay is in the closing: the seeker has the autonomy to choose which bid to accept, rather than accepting tenders by price.

To get the most from the service, co-founder Oliver Pennington suggests that seekers give as much detail as possible: “The customer who puts in a good quality brief for what they want done will get a better quality response from the bidders; if they place an ambiguous job brief they tend to get a really poor response.”

Bidders that quote a price, specify what’s included for that price and appeal to the seeker’s value perception usually fare best, he adds. Pennington’s cleaner clinched the job when she offered to cook one meal a week on top of cleaning duties.
For the wary seeker or bidder, the transparency of the feedback system will assuage doubts about parties in the transaction.

Casual labour market
PloyMe (www.Ployme.com.au)
The increased casualisation of the labour market is a trend PloyMe is keen to capitalise on. The site calls itself the ‘online dating version of the temporary/casual job market’ and basically matches shifts with available workers. include childcare, hospitality, labouring and administration.

“We allow anyone who want Industries to pick up some extra hours of work to log when they’re available to work, how far they’re willing to travel and the types of jobs they want to do. When someone searches through the database they can find those people and offer them shifts or contracts,” says managing director Matt Kesby. “It’s a way of tapping into that latent pool of talent.”

The site features an alert system so when a shift comes up that a suitable worker can fill, the employer receives a shortlist, and can then SMS the worker. The first worker to respond affirmatively attains the shift.

Kesby says 90 percent of workers already have a job and are just looking to pick up more, which works well for employers struggling with the skills shortage or those who need to fill shifts because of sick employees.

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