Harrison McMillan managing director Dani Cuff says the last two years have produced a noticeable shift in how employers hire and build their teams, with many moving from a ‘just in time’ to ‘just in case’ mindset.
Cuff says it is in part due to the Great Resignation impacting workplaces across Australia and, obviously, also due to the high level of COVID cases at large.
She says the specialist recruitment agency’s clients, especially the larger ones, are experiencing a twenty to twenty-five per cent turnover rate of staff. She adds that industry best practice is to keep it below ten per cent.
“A lot of organisations were using temps and contractors for just in time work… now we’re having more clients call us to bring in contractors just in case,” Cuff says.
“They’re saying, we’ve got a workforce of 10 administrators. If we’re one down, we can’t do this. So, can we have a contractor for an eight-week period?
“We’ll pay them just in case somebody goes down with COVID or resigns.”
With resignations high, those left to shoulder the work have been under increased pressure. Cuff says some employers are moving proactively before anyone resigns.
“I think the Great Resignation has made a lot of employers more aware of employee burnout and the stress that their current employees might be under,” she says.
“Employers might bring a contractor in to help relieve that workload and burden, so that they don’t have a high employee turnover themselves.”
In the professional sector, the increase in resignations was first felt in permanent positions. Now, Harrison McMillan is also responding to more and more requests for contract staff.
Across Australia, the Great Resignation is being accompanied by a great jobs boom. Companies are having to pay more to attract talent, whether it is a permanent or contract position.
“With contracting, you always add on a twenty-five per cent loading to their base hourly rate as they don’t get annual leave or sick leave,” Cuff says.
“We’ve seen that increase to around fifty per cent. Just because there are no resources available.”
Cuff has noticed a trend in workers taking part-time contract work while also consulting or running their own business on the side.
Justine Trelease is one such person and her perspective on the current human resources situation is relatively unique.
An organisational development professional with a background in organisational psychology, she was recently let go. Hers was one of several roles made redundant by her employer in a post-COVID restructure.
“Whilst it was a shock at the time, it’s actually been a positive experience,” Trelease says.
“There’s a lot of work around in the HR and organisational development areas, so while contracting was something I never fully considered previously, I was able to enter into it quite easily,” she explains.
Currently, Trelease has a six-month contract with a not-for-profit, working three days a week. The other two days, she consults to leading Adelaide companies.
“I’ve never worked in not for profit. So, I’m testing out a new industry. Contracting allows me to do that.”
She believes she is typical of many others at this time, saying they are all considering “what’s important” and are seeking to align future roles with their individual values and sense of purpose.
Cuff says Harrison McMillan has been taking calls from candidates who want to move to a new organisation, who were “burned by the last one during COVID and now they want to test the waters with a contract role before committing elsewhere.”
“There are a lot of organisations that sell the dream, but you don’t know what you’ve got until you get in there,” she says.
“People don’t want to just jump back into another permanent role. They want to try a couple of different places before they find their next permanent opportunity.”
Contract roles also make for a faster breakup. Cuff says notice is usually one day or one week, enabling people to “resign and try something else” when things are not working out.
This may sound like reverse ‘churn and burn’, leaving workers, rather than employers, holding all the cards. However, Harrison McMillan’s contracting lead Stephanie Pollard says good workplace culture can entice a contractor to take a permanent role.
“We try to work with organisations that do embrace their contractors as part of their own team and treat them really well,” Pollard says.
“We’re also seeing entire teams that are purely contractors – it could be an entire section of the business where even the managers are contractors.”
According to Pollard, this ‘drop in team’ works well for short-term project work or when the business itself is delivering a contract that will only last a year or two.
Since late last year, the Local Government Information Technology South Australia has been working with Harrison McMillan.
The group advocates for people working in the sector, running conferences and sharing resources, including IT job opportunities across South Australia’s local councils.
LGITSA board member Nathaniel Mason says that, like everyone else, the organisation often has difficulty in finding good talent.
“Often, when we’re bringing people into government, there’s quite a lot of specific things to learn,” Mason says.
“So, we’ve had really good success with people who have worked in the industry before. And the opportunity that we saw was to be able to try and retain that talent.”
This has resulted in LGITSA working with Harrison McMillan to deliver contract recruiting within this particular niche – an initiative that works extremely well for both employees and the councils.
“If they’re working on a capital project and that finishes, we can make it easy to connect them with the next opportunity in a different council,” Mason explains.
Harrison McMillan provide recruitment services, payroll and contracting on behalf of the councils.
He says for councils, there is also the opportunity for resource sharing, particularly in specialist roles such as cybersecurity or data science that he says can be difficult to fill and expensive to fund as a full-time resource.
“A specialist might go, I need five days, or I need full time work. But one council could provide two of those days and a different council could provide three of those days,” he says.
“Then we’re getting the benefit of that talent and that person across still across the sector in a way that’s more achievable.”
Mason says while he does not think the Great Resignation is impacting the IT sector or LGITSA, the organisation has plenty of jobs to fill while offering flexibility.
“The current circumstances certainly prompted us to take a bit more action to try and make sure that we could find and retain people with the right skills that we need,” he says.
“Recruiting in the public sector, there is limited funding for what you can do and you are accountable to the ratepayers and the communities for how we spend.
“Often [employees] are looking for an opportunity to maybe sidestep and experience a different role or a different workplace… contracting gives them that.
“Some have taken leave without pay or been able to have work arrangements that let them get some variety still with job security.”
That is not to say that everyone wants variety.
Balanced Home Service is another of Harrison McMillan’s clients and provides services under the NDIS.
Managing director Sophie McGuinley says that beginning about three years ago the company began using contract recruitment for office staff.
“We started using that model, because you can get people in quickly.
“We could then see if the organisation works for them, and if they [are a good fit] for the organisation, before offering them a permanent position.”
However, faced with increasingly stiff competition for staff, they recently switched to recruiting for permanent positions.
“When we’re using the contractor model, it’s less appealing to staff,” McGuinley says.
“So, we might lose someone that we’re interested in, because they get offered a permanent position elsewhere.”
She also has a different take on the Great Resignation.
“It’s hard to know if it’s a result of COVID, or if it’s just a result of the huge demand in the disability industry,” she says.
“It’s definitely been compounded by the fact that there are less staff looking. I think people are wanting to be a bit more secure.
“And people are more competitive in offering packages to potential staff… over time, we have definitely increased our pay rates to try to keep up with the market.”
Unsurprisingly, Australia’s current shortage in skilled talent has crossed most sectors – including human resources.
Cuff says due to a shortage of contract talent currently available in Adelaide, Harrison McMillan has created a hybrid solution that fits in-between contracting and the consulting world under their Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) model.
“When the client calls us and wants a recruiter for a couple of weeks, it’s going to be very hard for us to find a temp in that space. So, we use our RPO staff augmentation that is tailored to the Adelaide market,” Cuff says.
“RPO staff augmentation is becoming more and more valid in this market, where you can’t actually get short term resources via contract model.
“While it’s more expensive than a temp or contractor, it is more reliable, lower risk, higher quality and clients are able to grab HR And recruitment professionals on demand.
“So far, it’s providing a very successful model in the Adelaide marketplace.”