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Planning Tips for Staffing a Contingent Workforce

Posted by Aaron Green  September 19, 2011 09:00 AM

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Reports on contingent staffing show that up to a quarter of jobs in many organizations are filled with contingent staff, and that nearly 90 percent of employers have either maintained or increased the size of their contingent workforce since September 2008, the beginning of the economic crisis. 

Contingent staff includes a wide range of employee types, including: temporary employees hired through an agency or directly by the employer, part-time employees, outsourced jobs and job functions, retirees who return to work, consultants, freelancers, independent contractors and on-call workers.

Why is contingent staffing an attractive workforce option right now? In times of economic uncertainty many employers are wary of investing in full-time hires but see contingent staff as a way to mitigate risk. As I wrote in a previous column, contingent staffing is also attractive because it offers employers flexibility (for bringing in skills only when needed), cost savings (by not carrying a worker's salary during slow periods) and the opportunity to "try before you buy"with a new employee.

Whether you're considering contingent staffing or already employing flexible staff, here are some tips for incorporating it effectively and determining the right mix for your organization:

Consider factors that impact contingent staffing -- most often this means considering financial factors, such as salary, benefits, cost of training, and determining if it's beneficial to have the same work done by contingent staff. Your ability to predict staffing needs 6 months or more into the future is also an indicator -- if you don't have certainty around your medium-term staffing needs, short-term contingent staff could be a good option. Other factors include the type of work involved and whether the talent pool for that type of work job is deep.

Ask yourself if this is the right time to bring on contingent staff -- Are you gearing up for a big project, production cycle or seasonal demand? Do you need certain skills, but only for a finite time period? Do you want to make long-term staff increases, but prefer to take baby steps first? 

Determine the right mix of contingent staffing for your firm -- The "right"mix varies by industry, it varies by company, and it even varies over time for individual companies. You should look at your particular circumstances and assess the right mix for your organization.

Consider the impact of contingent staffing on permanent hiring -- Contingent staffing provides a great opportunity to try out people before you hire them permanently. You may want to consider some level of contingent staffing as a recruiting source.

Ask a professional -- it may make sense to bring in a workforce planning expert to help you determine the right staffing strategy, particularly if you don't have many in-house HR resources or if you find there a great number of variables to consider in your planning process.

Employers have numerous options when it comes to contingent staffing and how to fit those options into their workforces. With smart utilization of contingent staffing, employers can better meet their product and service demands while mitigating certain financial risks relating to hiring permanent staff.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the Treasurer of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at or (617) 250-1000.

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About HR Columns

Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.