|In this article:|
|AT A GLANCE: Williams Controls, Inc.|
|Who are they?|
|Stemming the sprawl|
|Hire and hire|
|Lessons learned about using contract workers|
|The price of independence|
Williams Controls Inc.'s Dayna Aronson
But this is the real world. With urgent projects on the table and an immediate need for qualified people, Aronson couldn't afford to spend months sifting through resumes, posting queries on the Internet, interviewing, testing, and conducting background checks on potential employees. Instead, he turned to local IT staffing agencies to find talent-for-hire on a temporary basis.
To supplement his 10 full-time IT workers and his specialized, high-end ERP consultants, Aronson contacted five agencies. These firms--including Automated Technical Services Group Inc. (ATSI GROUP), of Portland, Ore., which furnished the majority of the contractors--provided him with two Y2K experts, a general IT staffer (to fill in for a full-timer re-deployed on another key project), and two programmers for add-on ERP projects.
These days, more than a third of his staff works on a contract basis. The results, so far, are promising: Aronson expects the WAN and ERP system--JBA System 21 from JBA International Inc., of Rolling Meadows, Ill.--to be in place by August, right on schedule.
Hire and hire
The much-vaunted nationwide IT personnel shortage has given an enormous boost to the contract IT staffing industry. According to the National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses (NACCB), a trade organization based in Greensboro, N.C., this $33 billion market is expected to continue its rapid expansion as IT managers struggle to meet time-to-market demands, shorter cycle times, high employee turnover, and rapidly changing IT skill sets. Computer Sciences Corp., a consulting firm in El Segundo, Calif., notes that finding and retaining IT staff is now one of the most pressing issues on the minds of CIOs, second only to the task of aligning IS and business goals.
"Ten years ago, using temporary consultants was considered a necessary evil," notes Peggy Smith, executive director of the NACCB. "Today it's a viable alternative for companies that need to maintain lean, permanent staffs and still undertake key projects."
Done right, buying tech talent through IT staffing agencies (also called brokers, suppliers, or vendors, depending on where you are in the country) can be the perfect middle way. Hiring short-term workers through a broker minimizes the legal and financial risks associated with self-employed independent contractors, on the one hand, and the expense of full-blown, Big-Five-style consultants, on the other.
Brokers provide companies with workers who have skill sets that are up to date and hard to find in full-time employees. These "just-in-time" workers can be used to address a short-term increase in workload or to fill a void while the search for a permanent employee is conducted. They can free up permanent employees to work on more strategic, critical, or desirable projects. Newer and smaller companies often use contract workers to quickly ramp up their capabilities during temporary demand surges. The flexibility of short-term hires is a boon to the bottom line, too; unlike full-timers, they aren't a drain on resources once a project is finished.
"Over the last two or three years we've started seeing contract resources showing up as a big-ticket item on the IT budget," says Kari Krengel, president of TeCS Management Inc., an IT staffing consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. "It's not unheard of for 50% of a company's IT resources to be spent on contractors."