By Domini Clark, Founder & CEO Blackmere Consulting
It seems that all the staffing news in the COVID-19 economy is negative, including closures, layoffs and furloughs. However, let's look at the potential positives here. Most states, including hyper-cautious ones like New York and California, are beginning to reopen, albeit with strong restrictions. You need a plan for re-staffing your organization, but you need strategies that are both cautious and flexible. Contract staffing is both -- and there are other advantages, too.
To ensure we are all on the same page, here I use "contract staffing" or "contracting" to mean working with a consultant or staffing firm to engage talent. As a veteran of cybersecurity and IT recruiting, I'll focus on those areas.
Here are the top five reasons contract staffing is a great option right now. And, as we'll see, it is a great alternative in any economy.
1. You Can Easily Flex Your Team as Market Needs Change
Unlike other staffing approaches, with contract staffing you don't have to recruit the talent and you pay a consultant/provider, who, in turn, pays the talent. Once you have found a good staffing consultant, you have greater flexibility, which is a strong competitive advantage in today's market. It enables you to ramp up and down quickly in response to business needs, even over the course of a project.
Looking at the talent side, professionals who have been laid off (or even furloughed) are flocking to staffing firms. A competent staffing consultant has a robust network that has growing in the past few months. That makes them an incredible resource, particularly in professions like cybersecurity and IT, where the competition for talent is fierce.
Here are some of the scenarios in which contract staffing offers you flexibility:
You land a project that is larger than your internal staff can handle.
Your project deadlines are tighter than in-house resources can meet.
The project calls for specialized skills that your team doesn't have.
The work needs to be closely integrated with internal processes, particularly if the processes are complex.
Your IT staffing needs change frequently.
2. Cyber Threats are Increasing, not Decreasing
Even if you are downsizing in other areas, this is NOT the time to lay off cybersecurity talent. In fact, you may need to increase your cybersec team. Why?
Cybercriminals are always looking for points of weakness, not only in systems and networks, but also in user practices. For example, many more people are working from home, and in most cases their networking and log-in protocols were put together hastily. ZDNet.com reports that the use of remote access technologies (like virtual private networks, or VPNs) has increased by at least 33 percent since the outbreak. That's good news, but how many newly remote workers are NOT using them? Hackers are counting on the answer being "plenty."
3. "Try Before You Buy" for Longer Term Needs
While some professionals like the contract lifestyle, many others are interested in finding a more permanent home, particularly those who have been laid off recently. Contract staffing not only allows you to bypass the time and costs associated with recruiting for a direct hire, but is also creates a "probationary" situation in which both employers and contractors can evaluate the goodness of fit.
If it is a good fit, it's a fast transition from contractor to direct hire, as the onboarding and training is done. On the other hand, if you find that a contract staffer is not performing up to snuff, it is MUCH easier and faster to replace that person than it is to replace a direct hire.
4. Economic Troubles Allow Employers to Negotiate Rates and Pick Up Great Talent
This is true in any down economy. For example, writing in 2016, Hailey Canon argued that external recruiters have to be experts who understand market dynamics and maintain strong industry connections. During a downturn, that expertise becomes even more valuable: To maintain standards while running lean, your company must have the right talent.
In 2018, Daniel Moore echoed our belief that those who are laid off in any down economy are likely to seek out staffing firms. He also pointed out that, in negotiating with staffing firms, employers have an edge. Not to put too fine a point on it, but now is the time to get great bargains on get some very strong talent.
In any market, contract staffing saver employers infrastructure costs -- the staffing firm bears the cost of salary, benefits, HR, and payroll, and sometimes the cost of office space and equipment. It's an excellent choice when there is uncertainty about your budget, such as at the end or beginning of the year.
5. Unusual Times Call for Unusual Expertise
A lot has changed, and it will continue to change for some time. You may have projects now that you didn’t see coming a few weeks ago. You may even have clients or new market segments that weren't on your radar before COVID-19. Expert consultants can help. Make sure they either have or can quickly engage the talent with expertise in the technologies and processes you need. Short-term needs seem to be the norm these days, but think in terms of finding a consultant that can help you over the longer term, too.
This Too Shall Pass
"Recessions are part and parcel of our economic system, but they are not the financial omega they are often made out to be." Anna Adams' 2019 article, "Preparing Your Firm for a Recession," seems to be prescient, but it's really just common sense. In most cases, contract staffing is a fast, flexible and cost effective solution to staffing in a down economy, particularly with hard-to-fill positions like those in cybersecurity and IT.
For some best practices in cybersecurity in the COVID-19 environment, see our blog, "Cybersecurity: Stay Calm and Keep Hiring."