December 19, 2018, 12:45 pm

Skills for Your Position: Build vs. Buy vs. Hire

Most Australian companies need the skills of Maintenance Team Leaders, Reliability Engineers, Project Managers and/or Maintenance Planners.  In our current candidate constrained environment - particularly in the Mining, Oil & Gas and Power Industries - the challenge is where to find them.

Is it better to:

  • develop the skills in an individual already in your organisation,
  • take on individuals who can in a few years time step up to these roles,
  • acquire already skilled and experienced individuals from outside, or
  • use an external consultant to fill your requirement?

Building from within

You can take the long term approach and identify someone within your organisation that you already know is a good cultural fit, with the interpersonal skills, ability to take on leadership roles, ability to withstand pressure, etc. using the assumption that they can pick up knowledge once core skills are present. This individual needs to then be assessed for their potential and flexibility to be able to be morphed into the position you require. They can then be given the required technical training to build the required skills.

The risk with this approach is in the time and resources it takes to develop each individual. If you need the position filled ‘right now’ with the necessary skill set you won’t get it, and the resources (both in time and money) may be significant. You will also run the risk of developing an individual to be a perfect fit, only to have them snatched away by someone with a bigger cheque book. Let’s face it; we all know there are organisations out there that are happy to head hunt and place a $20k to $30k (or in some cases $100k) salary differential on those acquired skills.

However, if the employee values their position in your company and feels a valued and respected part of your team with the opportunity to make a difference, have a good work-life balance and have career advancement prospects and opportunities; this risk can be mitigated to a large extent.

This situation also exists if you recruit an external candidate that is not already at the skill level you require. You get them, you train them, and they can also be bought out from under your nose.  It is in all probability a higher risk; you got them from somewhere else….. Why would you expect them to stay?

Buying as the need arises

You can take a much more clinical approach and pay what it takes when the need arises. But if you use this logic you may find yourself in a bidding war with other players who are equally as (or more) desperate for the limited resources. You will undoubtedly end up paying more that you initially planned. With the emphasis on buying required skills you must also be careful not to fall into the trap of not seeing any sense in building talent streams.

There are however many valid reasons for this approach. It might be that perhaps the employee pool in your organisation is non-existent or the individual with the pre-requisites does not exist. You might not have the time to develop an individual as there is a genuine need for the particular skill set “right this minute”. Your company’s commercial view of life may be short termed. Or you have been at the raw end of staff poaching for too long and have come to the conclusion – enough is enough.

In addition, the question must be asked – if everyone adopts this hard-nosed clinical approach, how does the total skill pool ever increase?  We are doomed to a cycle of ever-increasing skills shortages and salaries that continue to spiral upwards out of control for those few people who do have the skills that are needed.

Engaging a Consultant

What’s the difference between a Contractor and a Consultant?

In our opinion, the short answer is;

A Consultant’s role is to:

  • evaluate a client's needs
  • provide expert advice on what needs to be done using a skill-set not readily available within the client’s organisation, and
  • assist the client to deliver prescribed outcomes while transferring knowledge and skill to the client’s staff, so that the client can sustain and further improve on these outcomes.

A Contractor’s role is generally to:

  • perform the work given to them, under the direct supervision and control of the client.

If your need is urgent or short-term, and your internal ability to fill that need is non-existent, you may find your best option is to engage a consultant.

This approach needs to be considered carefully as there is usually a significant dollar value investment required, but if you do your homework, find the right consultant with the right skills, and the right attitude and cultural fit, you have the possibility of building a long term successful mutually beneficial arrangement.

First, before even thinking about hiring a consultant from the outside, explore the skills, resources, and knowledge of your own staff. Your employees may be able to contribute ideas and information that make a consultant unnecessary for the moment. You may also be able to use a consultant only for the most ‘value-added’ services. The best consultants have a large toolbox of techniques, and will refer you to other people if they cannot help. Those who are less capable will sell what they have to sell.

It is essential to hire the best consultant possible, regardless of their cost, sales ability or the name and fame of their company. Try to look behind the sales spiel and ‘schmoozing’ to see how skilled and honest the consultant is. Watch out for ‘one size fits all’ products, and people who try to sell services you don't need. Often, your organisation can handle many parts of a project and work with the consultants by tapping their skills where necessary.

Don’t view your consultant as ‘labour hire’, but rather as a highly skilled resource that you can use to specifically target your areas of need. Choose consultants that are happy and able to work with your own people, and therefore assist you by up-skilling your internal resources by passing on their skills and techniques.

Look for a consultancy with a broad range of skills and abilities where the individual consultants within their team have the ability and desire to share information, skills and abilities between themselves. Not only will this give you access to a huge knowledge and skills base, but will give you confidence in their ability to share that information with your organisation.

Engaging a consultant may be the most cost-effective method, and can help you to use and train your resources more effectively to make other consultants (and future consulting projects) unnecessary. That should be the goal of any consultant; most importantly, it should be the goal of yours.

So what is the best answer for your needs? Is it better to build, buy or hire?

By Shane Daniel, Senior Consultant

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