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Staffing in difficult times. It's all about "shift" and "demand".

Having been through many downturns over the last 25-30 years and observed from a recruitment perspective, all I can say is that this time the market is quite different. What precursed the previous situations or indeed followed the "crash", was the job market tumbling and unemployment climbing rapidly. The experts predict rising unemployment, but from a base of around 3%, we have a lot of "slop" to take up. I don't believe it will be the same this time and unemployment in general will be the preserve of the blue-collar and unskilled labour markets more so than the professional levels.

Engagement of resource is going to be the key. What we seem to be experiencing is a shift in the way that companies are engaging resource. In the last two months, we have never been busier, but quite specifically in the contracting area. And if not in contracting, roles that require quite defined skills around recovery, restructure, backfill, change management, profit enhancement - you probably get the picture! The advantage for a company is that you can bring in the resource, utilise it for whatever you need it for, and then move the resource on when it's not needed. Again, I recall many years ago "selling" the concept of professional contractors and the flexibility they provided.

In recent years the contracting concept almost merged with traditional recruitment because with the talent shortage, the process of recruitment was often done at break-neck speed and this speed confused the market as to the basis someone was recruited on. The difference between engaging contract resource isn't about the speed with which you engage the resource, it's the type of resource and the reason why.

Many years ago I coined a phrase for this - smart sourcing. And it's probably only going to be the smart companies who get through this unusual market situation relatively unscathed. The public sector has practised smart sourcing for many years and are probably best poised to successfully get through the next year or two because they quickly bring the right resource on when they need it. Don't confuse the right resource with wasted resource!

With the new National Government focusing on the likes of infrastructure projects, streamlining bureacracy, and enhancing essential services, we will see a shift in demand for resource and new projects and roles around this new direction. Those companies supplying this demand will have a new-found market and will do well. So no different to any change or shift in demand, those who adjust or have the skills will be in demand.

It reminds me of the electronic revolution and how those who hung on to manual processes faded quite quickly. I recall in the early days of contracting coaching some senior Accountants to learn spreadsheeting skills. Imagine now practising as an Accountant without being able to drive Excel! Those who didn't shift moved out of the profession, and those who shifted, created a strong demand for their services.

So "shift" and "demand" are the keys. Shifting roles, shifting skills, to allow organisations to cope with constantly shifting times. And demand for the skills to cope and help with these shifting times.

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