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Suggested reform of contractor engagement model

6 May, 2010

After having to pass up yet another job opportunity yesterday I ranted on Twitter about organisations that don’t recognise they need staff until the last minute and then need them ASAP. It’s not like I’m sitting on the bench and if you are on the bench unemployed and thus available for such roles then the question needs to be ask – why are you out of work?

As Steven responded it’s not that simple and clients are to blame.

However I think organisations aren’t being creative enough when it comes to resource management and talent acquisition. Organisations want the right skills at the right time. Contractors want the right roles at the right time. Take the common denominator time out of the equation and you’re left with matching the competent contractors with the perfect-fitting roles. That alone is hard enough. Bring time back in and getting the right people is almost impossible. All the good ones are taken and can’t or won’t drop everything to respond to an “immediate start” job ad.

So how can we work around this problematic time element?

Going freelance is an option so I can juggle multiple roles simultaneously, but that restricts the sorts of roles I can go for and I haven’t yet figured out how to offer a user experience design consultancy service in an off-site part-time capacity.

Another option is for organisations to plan ahead better so they can predict when they need additional resources and advertise roles with “Start in 3 months”. That would make my planning easier; however it’s still a very simple solution.

What I would like to see more of is retainers and pre-contract offers. If you don’t know for sure if or when you’ll need someone then you can reserve the talent that you choose (as opposed to taking whatever is available at the time) and put them on a retainer or a reservation contract so they’ll agree to be available for work if you need them.

For example, say you think you might need to employ a contractor in 4 weeks. Find the person you want and put them on a reservation contract so they’ll make themselves available in 4 weeks should you need them. They can still work up until then and then if it turns out you don’t need them then all you lose is say $1k. That’s enough to tide them over to find other work, but if you do go ahead with engaging them then you have the right talent at the right time. It’s an acceptable fee to guarantee that outcome, surely?

As if the contracting market wasn’t tight enough already (especially in Canberra), increasing adoption of social networking means employers who mistreat contractors are not going to go unnoticed. There are already one or more Federal Government agencies I would be reluctant to work for because I know they’re trigger happy when it comes to disposing of surplus contractors due to poor planning. Implementing creative capability retention and reservation measures is a win-win for everyone, both contractors and employers and I think it’s about time we did something about it.

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One comment

  1. Well, Nathanael, in the dim and distant past (the 80s!) there used to be a thing called “a consultancy retainer”, and most people who worked freelance had them in some shape of form.

    Basically you where hired for a set number of hours a month, quarter or even year and you were basically on-call to the customer within a few day’s notice. It was cheaper than the sort of fees we would charge for specific jobs with set hours – often half the price per hour as opposed to a fixed rate for a specific job.

    It allowed freelancers to get a basic wage with guaranteed work and it allowed customers to have access to experts that they _may_ need from time to time.

    I had a consultancy retainer from one company for nearly seven years and produced some very interesting and fulfilling work – work often invented by the customer to use the time allocation, but work that also was successful in improving the customers business.

    Try and fit THAT model into today’s economic rationalism and you’ll know why the time of the technical artisan is gone.



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