The challenges of filling the skills gap

 
Dr. Muddassir Ahmed is a blogger, researcher, strategist and speaker in supply chain management, procurement and operations management. His prime focus is to assist readers in “gaining knowledge” in the operations world and help them to make decisions, and assist them to drive for “continuous improvement” in the jobs and businesses they are in.
 
Debbie Kanavagh, Associate Director at Michael Page Procurement and Supply Chain, spoke to Dr Ahmed to find out how best to meet the changing demands of a business.
 

Dr. Ahmed, please tell us a bit about your career to date

 
I have spent most of my career involved with supply chain management, research in management science and in senior leadership positions in manufacturing (electrical, hydraulics and textile) and ecommerce industries in Europe, Middle East and Pakistan.
 

What do you think could be a major obstacle to the efficient running of a business?

 
You may have seen from the experience of interviewing potential candidates, that whilst on paper they fit the bill in terms of their qualifications, in reality they may not have any work experience of the practical application of their knowledge. This could be a hindrance in the smooth running of your business as a lot more time and resources are being invested in their training to bridge the gap in working knowledge, before seeing a return in profit for your investment in their recruitment.
 
By hiring interim staff, you can see how they work, their commitment, what they can offer the organisation as well as whether they work well with your permanent staff. All this without either party being tied down to a permanent contract, and you can potentially gain an insight of how they can fit into the organisation on a permanent level without the making that all-important commitment.
 

How can businesses meet the challenge of filling a skills gap?

 
Rather than rush into hiring the second best candidate it may be better to hire a specialist – a qualified interim staff member. Not only will it provide an immediate solution of filling in the required skills gap but it can bring a wealth of knowledge and experience from their previous contracting jobs. Thus, potentially adding unexpected value to the business and work which can carry on benefitting your business long after they have left.
 
Furthermore, if hiring via a specific recruitment agency such as Michael Page, candidates would already be vetted by the agency to fit the requirements you are looking for, therefore eliminating the need for your own vetting process.
 

Why must interim staff members approach their work differently to permanent staff?

 
Permanent staff are paid a salary regardless of whether there is a lot of work or not, interim staff really will be paid for what they do and once their work/project/assignment is complete they can be let go. You do not incur unnecessary further costs.
 
Interim workers are effectively business people in their own right – their profit and future work depends on their competency of completing the work you have hired them for. What they do or do not do will directly affect their future work and reputation as reliable independent workers.
 
If they complete the work to a high standard and to the deadline, they are likely to be hired again, be provided with good recommendations and references that builds and expands their portfolios, and therefore increase their demand within the market.
 
They need you as much as you need them!
 

Please explain the importance of interim staff members to a business?

 
By hiring interim staff for specific projects you can re-direct and focus on ensuring your permanent staff build their skills and training in the areas that are required long-term.
 
Not only will this build confidence in your staff, in terms of not spreading their skills out thinly whereby they cannot fully focus on any particular job as they are continually covering additional work, but it can also create the time to develop specialist skills that can be called upon when required. This solution will also allow you to keep your internal resources focused on your business and your need to have a knowledgeable supply chain planner working with you to deliver supply chain results.
 
Additionally, hiring an interim planner or buyer can benefit the team as a whole as they can work with the permanent team on supply chain strategy, creating business and supply chain plans, manage suppliers, create supply chain analysis and expedite parts to maintain delivery and inventory targets.
 

Can short-term hiring reduce the pressure on permanent staff?

 
Aside from staff absences, there are genuine times of the year such as, end-of-year auditing or physical stock taking, where there is a need for instant short-term hire of additional staff due to a peak in work demands.
 
In these times, hiring interim staff offers the relief that ensures the welfare and happiness of your permanent staff as well as the long-term smooth running of your business.
 
This reduction of pressure and stress on permanent staff can help keep absenteeism at bay and maintain morale during the tough times.
 
All in all, there are many great benefits of hiring interim staff and it is a unique working relationship due to both parties benefiting one another beyond the obvious financial aspects.
 
With businesses becoming more and more global the pressure to deliver on time and within budget is so great that the interim solution is becoming an attractive option to ensure the business operations run as smoothly, and as consistently as possible.
 
Its popularity is resulting in more and more specialist professionals signing up to provide quick solutions whilst having the freedom to work on their terms. It’s a win-win for all!
 
Debbie Kavanagh
T: +44 121 230 9362