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It's next to impossible for IT employees to be experts in every skill needed to complete any project that comes up. To make up for this lack of expertise, many organizations hire outside temporary help. About 10% to 20% of workers on IT projects are contingent employees, according to David Van De Voort, a principal consultant with Mercer, a human resources and consulting firm in Chicago.
The task of staffing is typically an HR function, but the CIO oversees allocation of resources in the IT department, where it is often prudent to recruit specialized workers for specific projects. Establishing an efficient process for hiring and managing temporary workers is essential to the success of those projects.
One of the challenges in hiring temp workers involves finding the best contract workers and getting them up and running quickly and efficiently. Temporary workers aren't cheap. According to Van De Voort, organizations fork over $3 for every $1 they pay a regular employee. Find the wrong people -- or supervise them inadequately -- and an organization is likely to waste a great deal of money in the process.
The upshot: It's essential for CIOs to have an effective freelance-management system. According to staffing experts, a few key steps in the hiring and managing processes can ensure smooth sailing.
The first stage involves finding and hiring the right people. The more systematic the process, the easier it will be to locate the right freelancers quickly.
- Designate regular sources Organizations often find freelancers from a few sources. Contingent staffing firms offer temps who specialize in IT skills. Some focus on specific areas of expertise, such as ERP applications or Java development. Because those firms are able to devote considerable effort to finding specific candidates with specific skills, they're especially useful when the project needs only a few freelancers at a time.
- Create a database of expertise An ongoing database of freelancers can list specific areas of expertise. "When you actually need the freelancer, you're ahead of the game," says Dora Vell, managing partner of Vell & Associates, an executive search firm in Waltham, Mass.
- Clarify the job description While this step may seem obvious, doing it right can make a difference. Articulate specifically which skills are needed and the day-to-day duties will be performed, as well as the size and scope of the project, specific benchmarks, timelines, and other expectations for performance. Failure to do so often leads to hiring the wrong person. "We have to make sure we have every detail nailed down so we provide the right candidate," says Kevin Knau, executive vice president of Hudson, a Chicago staffing firm.
Once the right freelancers are on board, they have to be supervised. While management of contract workers requires some of the same steps used when overseeing any employee, there are additional issues to consider, as well.
- Refer to the job description A thorough description of the freelancer's duties and expectations for their performance makes the process of managing them easier and more effective, since project managers who are most likely to act as supervisors have a blueprint to follow. In addition, if the project takes longer than anticipated to complete, or if needs change as work progresses, project managers can discuss with freelancers specifically how those changes will affect their part of the project.
- Practice inclusion As with any employee, it's important for project managers to provide freelancers with an initial orientation addressing information about policies, procedures, and expectations. As the project progresses, contractors also should be included in all meetings, strategy sessions, and communications, as well as social events. "Consultants should be considered an integral part of the planning," says Charlie Jones, vice president operations and process for Yoh, a contract staffing firm in Philadelphia.
- Document the work It is essential to keep a record of freelancers' work in order to ensure they are meeting the goals of the project. This step falls to the freelancer, who should be familiarized with the organization's process for capturing this information. "When the task is completed, the individual walks out the door," says Jones. "You have to capture their knowledge."
Once a viable system is in place, successfully hiring and managing freelancers should become a straightforward task -- and one that, potentially, can give the organization a considerable competitive advantage.
Anne Field is a freelance business writer based in New York.
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