Adapting to a changing work environment: Flexible staffing strategies – Anne Rutledge

The employment landscape is evolving beyond the conventional 9-5 jobs, offering different models of work that include flexible working arrangements and staffing. These arrangements allow employees to work remotely for certain periods, while flexible staffing involves filling job vacancies or addressing increased company activity with part-time, temporary, or independent workers. In an interview with Biznews, Anne Rutledge of Resourgenix discusses how changing expectations from both workers and companies are catalysing the shift towards flexible staffing. Rutledge identifies the primary factors influencing this trend for workers and employers, including the impact of AI and technology on employment practices. She also points out which sectors have successfully implemented flexible staffing and discusses the varying degrees of its implementation across different countries. Rutledge provides best practices for organisations considering the adoption of flexible staffing in today’s workforce. South Africa, she says, is losing skilled workers who are attracted to overseas destinations offering more flexible work options. – Linda van Tilburg

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Excerpts from the Interview

Companies and individuals seek greater flexibility in employment

Flexible staffing has been around for ages. I think it’s just gained more attention after the pandemic, with many individuals wanting more flexibility and organisations trying to find ways to re-augment their staff and provide flexibility to their staff as well. The concept of being in a stable full-time job has evolved, and people are more open now to having these flexible, shorter-term assignments or contracts as it helps them gain different experiences and exposure to different industries. It has taken off differently, driven by the workforce as well as business needs, and the ability to adapt to changing business needs and requirements quickly and agilely in response to the markets.

The gig economy is a part of it, but there are also individuals who have contracts for six months or 12 months or can have multiple contracts, which gives them a work-life balance. For organisations, it helps because sometimes they have projects that they need to run, critical deadlines to meet, and they need to bring in additional skills to finish those deadlines, but they don’t necessarily need full-time employees like they had in the past. So, it helps them to plan better and be more equipped in terms of meeting those critical deadlines and objectives.

The key drivers behind the growth of flexible staffing

The drivers behind flexible staffing are multi-faceted. Businesses have been driving it as they want access to very scarce skills; they need to find those professionals. They need access to those skills and by being able to be more flexible and being able to provide opportunities for people to work either remotely or across geographies. With flexible staffing they are able to expand their talent pool. 

From an individual perspective, I think many individuals have realised the benefits of being able to work in multiple industries and multiple projects. They’re able to get their skills and knowledge base increased and be able to understand what their strengths are. When you look at the younger generation coming into the workforce, they often don’t have that expertise or knowledge that is required but being able to move around and do all of these shorter-term contracts, they’re able to gain those skills. They get exposure to different industries and teams, and different ways of work and through that, they’re able to develop their careers as well. So, it’s been a combination of the needs of the workforce as well as businesses who are driving this as they are  looking at ways of how to drive their workforce forward, meet the objectives of the business needs, and still have access to talent.

Organisations should be mindful of labour laws before embarking on flexible workforces

Labour laws definitely play a very big part in flexible staffing. Every region has its own rules, regulations, and legislation that organisations need to adhere to. When embarking on large workforces that are flexible and contingent, organisations need to be conscious of the specific rules in different regions. For example, South Africa has very stringent labour laws, so it is important to be compliant and mitigate all the risks around that. On the same note, flexible staffing also helps organisations in terms of their labour costs. To run a big workforce, there are additional costs that come with it. With flexible working and partnering with different companies like ourselves, for example, you’re able to pass some of those costs across to us as well. So, it is a balance. You’ve got to find what works and make sure that you’re mitigating those risks as well. But large organisations are seeing the benefits of it and are putting in practices and controls to manage it as well.

The industries that have successfully adopted flexible staffing

We’ve seen an uptake. It’s always been there from the IT sector who have always made use of contract workers and we’ve seen an increase in the IT sector as well. Definitely, in financial institutions, we’ve seen a lot of that coming through. Many of them are looking at the staff and how they can get a balance between permanent staff and flexible staffing as well. We’ve seen that in the telecoms industries, in engineering, and in finance.

Finance has had a very big uptake on that. There have been a lot of professionals who have really embraced this whole flexible staffing concept as well. You see financial chartered accountants, auditors and risk mitigation consultants adopting flexible staffing and organisations have seen the benefit of doing that. A professional may be expensive, but bringing in a contract workforce when you need it helps you to manage your costs. They’re not incurring the full-time expense. 

The impact of  technology and AI on flexible staffing 

AI and technology have truly accelerated flexible staffing. It’s evident that through technology, work can be accomplished from anywhere. The process of onboarding resources has become significantly faster, whereas previously, it could have taken a considerable amount of time to find the talent, onboard them, integrate them into your organisation, and get them up and running. So, it has sped things up.

Organisations that have embraced AI and technology have certainly reaped the benefits. It’s clear that they have a diverse workforce and are evaluating their capacity. They’re considering how their workforce capacity can be augmented, determining which roles should be filled by permanent staff members and which should be contracted out. When it comes to critical projects, they’re able to supplement their teams with a contract workforce as needed.

Workers are developing a more diverse skill set 

For many individuals, the desire and need for full-time work still exists. This can sometimes add pressure, as there’s uncertainty about when the next contract work will come through. However, this has also fostered a different mindset among the workforce. They explore various opportunities and grow their skills across different industries and projects and they enhance their CVs and become more marketable. Some people have embraced this and don’t want to return to full-time work. They enjoy the variety of working on different projects, but they also want to feel connected to their workplace.

We’ve seen a significant shift where contingent or flexible workers, who were not traditionally part of the workforce or felt included in organisations, are now being embraced. Organisations that support flexible working understand the need to create mechanisms and communication channels to include these workers as part of their workforce, recognising their contribution to the bottom line. It’s a balance that both individuals and companies need to strike. They must come together to find a solution that works for both parties.

How flexible staff can approach taxes, pensions and other benefits 

Typically, certain benefits are not offered to contract workers. Many individuals manage their own pension funds, medical aid, and other benefits. It’s important to budget accordingly and ensure these aspects are covered. There are numerous programs and companies offering flexible benefit schemes that contract workers can access.

Taxes are a certainty in life that we all must pay. Ensuring your taxes are in order is crucial. Many organisations, from a compliance perspective, also check these aspects to ensure you’re compliant, especially if you’re an independent contractor. They want to ensure tax compliance to avoid any potential issues.

Flexible workers include a wide range of age groups

There’s definitely a mixture. The younger generation has embraced this model because they understand the potential for gaining expertise. However, retirees are also returning to help organisations with specific projects, often in a consulting capacity. People with families appreciate the flexibility as well, as it allows them to balance their work, personal lives and child care. 

The younger generation probably embraces this model more readily. As people get older and gain a clearer understanding of their career goals and preferred industry, they may opt for full-time employment. However, there will always be individuals who prefer contract work. We have many contractors who have no desire to transition to permanent roles. They enjoy the flexibility too much. Even in their 40s and 50s, they prefer contracting because it provides the flexibility they need in their work and personal life.

Best practices for workers and organisations in the adoption of flexible staffing 

Adopting flexible staffing requires understanding who you have on your team, how you’re engaging them, and what kind of contracts are in place. There’s a significant amount of control and compliance to consider to ensure you’re not putting your organisation at risk. Companies need to have their processes and policies in place to support this and implement controls that make sense.

For instance, it doesn’t make sense to have someone in a contract role for many years when it should be a full-time role. So, what are your HR strategies around this? What opportunities are you providing for your workforce to move internally if possible? Retention of skills is another consideration. If you have a contingent workforce or contract workers who are constantly moving around, you risk losing those skills. How do you create an internal mobility solution that retains those skills, engages the workforce, and provides opportunities for movement?

At the end of the day, people are also looking for training opportunities and career development. How are you engaging your workforce to provide these opportunities, whether they are flexible, contract, or permanent staff?

 Flexible staffing is likely to increase in the future

Depending on legislation and how different countries adapt, we’re likely to see an increase in flexible work arrangements. However, this is highly dependent on the market and the direction in which technology is heading. Given the current digital age, many individuals entering the job market are seeking flexibility and work-life balance. They’re likely to embrace this model more readily. It’s up to organisations to create platforms and foster a culture that promotes inclusivity for all members of the workforce, whether they’re permanent or contract workers. It’s about bringing everyone together to drive towards a common vision and goal. Organisations need to consider their onboarding and talent sourcing strategies to determine where they can find the necessary skills and incorporate them into their strategies.

Flexible staffing can create opportunities for young people in South Africa

We need to create jobs and opportunities for our youth, and the flexible staffing model can help with that. However, the youth also need guidance and mentorship, which can be provided by bringing in alumni and retirees. As an individual entering the job market or considering flexible work, you need to think about how you’re going to handle it. How will you look for your next contract role? There’s a level of personal responsibility involved in ensuring you stay engaged with contracts and flexible work models. It’s a challenging situation, especially in places like South Africa with high unemployment rates. Many people want full-time work for stability. Creating meaningful work opportunities is important, and companies have a responsibility to do that.

South Africa is losing skilled professionals to other countries that offer flexible options

There is a difference in the adoption of flexible work in developing countries, like South Africa. Flexible work is more widely adopted in global markets like Europe and the US. This is largely due to the high unemployment rates in South Africa. It’s challenging to be a flexible worker who works remotely when you’re uncertain about when your next contract assignment or engagement will come. We’ve observed that flexible work is more readily adopted in Europe. This has led many of our professionals to leave South Africa because they can have flexible work arrangements in other countries and become digital nomads, working from anywhere. In South Africa, this tends to happen more across different provinces than across borders. So, flexible work is definitely more adopted internationally than it is in South Africa. However, I believe that over time, as individuals start understanding more of the benefits of contract work or flexible working, it will increase in South Africa as well.

Many factors contribute to why people emigrate. However, we are losing a lot of professionals in South Africa who are moving overseas to find opportunities in the UK and Europe. We have seen a talent exodus happening, which has forced companies to re-evaluate their strategies.

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