Rise of the part-time professional

Published on: 1 Feb 2012

Talent is expensive. However, in these difficult times it is vital for businesses to employ experienced people who can add value and make a real difference.

So how can they make senior staff more affordable? The solution is to pay them for two or three days a week, instead of the full five.

There is no shortage of willing professionals - including 500,000 women who are out of work because they cannot find jobs that fit with their family - eager to take on senior roles on a part-time basis.

The challenge is finding a flexible role as most senior jobs are advertised on a full-time basis.

"This is because recruitment firms have an incentive to make roles full-time," says Karen Mattison of Women Like Us, which she set up with business partner Emma Stewart to meet the gap in the market for a specialist part-time recruitment agency.

"I was looking for a three or four-day-a-week role for a year before we set up the business. The problem is that recruitment firms only get a part-time fee for a part-time job. So if an employer needs a new marketing specialist but for only three days a week, the consultant may claim it will be hard to find a senior person to work on that basis. They may advise combining two roles - for example, marketing and PR - to turn it into a full-time position. We feel that businesses would be better off hiring specialists to do both roles and making two part-time jobs instead."

Employers can also find it a challenge to design a part-time or flexible role.

"If an employer does not want to lose a key member of staff, they may offer that person a nine-day fortnight or the option of leaving early two days a week in order to retain them," adds Mattison.

"However, they may have never used flexibility as a recruitment tool - as a means of attracting senior staff - so they may not know how to design a part-time job."

To help businesses overcome this barrier, Women Like Us has launched a free and impartial over-the-phone advice line (0800 781 1604) for employers in the capital, Thames Valley, Surrey, Kent, Hertfordshire and Essex, which is supported by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. In addition to 30 minutes of free advice, employers can also request free e-packs (womenlikeus.org.uk).

"The first challenge is to design the job well," says Mattison. "If you are trying to squeeze a full-time job into 15 hours, it may not work."

Employers can also get help with questions such as "Are part-time employees entitled to bank holidays?" and "Should part-time workers access all or part of the benefits package?".

The other barrier to more flexible work at a senior level is the poor perception of part-timers. Mattison says that she is proof that you can be committed and build up a successful business working flexibly.

"Often, someone with 15 years' experience will end up doing a job they are way overqualified for, just because nobody will offer them a nine-day fortnight, four long days or a late start twice a week," she says. "The view is that if you are only part-time, you are less important. So the brand of part-time has been very negative.

"That is now changing, particularly in the small and medium-sized business market where employers see that it makes business sense."

Mattison, 43, and her partner, Stewart, 40, who have both been awarded MBEs, have come a long way from the days at the school gates when they realised there was an incredible pool of potential candidates, with skill and experience in spades, who could not find flexible roles. They now have 30,000 candidates registered on their books and employ 36 members of staff, many of them on a flexible basis.

Less is more

One firm that has realised the benefits of part-time professionals is Colliers International, a commercial brokerage firm based in the West End. The firm needed to fill an accounting role
which it assessed could be done in
15 hours a week.

Martin Lubieniecki, chief operating officer for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Colliers, says: "There would have been no point simply making this role full-time purely out of convention. The main concern was finding the right candidate to work part time. The role had responsibility for the accounting for two companies, and for the employee to work only 15 hours meant they had to be autonomous as well as highly experienced.

"By accessing a pool of part-time candidates only, we were able to find the right candidate with the right kind of experience we required."

Dan Berelowitz, director of the charity Tzedek, based in West Hampstead, has eight members of staff, five of whom have been sourced and appointed through Women Like Us.

"We are always looking to hire the best talent possible on a small budget, so part-time recruitment suits us perfectly and has enabled us to attract high-level candidates with very specific skillsets, who can get the work done in shorter, smarter hours," he says.

However, not all part-timers are working mothers. While many of those looking to work flexibly are parents, others are professionals who want portfolio careers, mature students looking to balance work with study and even retirees, who want to continue working.

One business with a mix of flexible workers is MarketingQED, which provides software to marketers.

Director John Dawson says: "Nobody sits behind a desk for seven hours a day. We all work flexibly or part time in some way, and all for different reasons.

"I'm a dad to two young kids, one of our coders works at home for two days a week because he finds he's more productive that way, one of our staff member works flexibly, on and off from South Africa. I find that what I give in terms of flexibility, I get back tenfold.

"I think part-time recruitment is most valuable when it comes to senior level roles - it allows a small or growing business to access the talents and skills of someone, one or two days a week, who it probably couldn't otherwise afford."

People power the secret weapon for businesses under pressure

With the challenges of the eurozone crisis, the shifting of economic power to Asia and now the prospect of another recession, businesses are in need of a new approach.

And according to research for the accounting bodies AICPA and CIMA, to coincide with the introduction of the new Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation, the solution is people.

At today's simultaneous launch in London and New York, CEOs, CFOs and chairmen of some of the world's largest businesses debated the results of the survey by Oxford Economics.

The overwhelming response is that the human dimensions of business - for example, customer and supplier relationships, talent development as well as intellectual capital - will be the focus in the next 18 to 24 months.

When researchers surveyed 280 CEOs from more than 21 countries to understand what they saw as the priorities in leading their way through the current global challenges, they said that realising the potential of people - their ideas, skills, knowledge and relationships - was vital in creating value long term. However, the challenge was measuring and managing this and CEOs wanted better tools to promote the "value of the human dimension".
CEOs also felt there was too much emphasis on short-term results. Three-quarters said the current reporting system puts too much emphasis on financials and an equal number said they need to put more emphasis on the non-financial value of business.

The CEOs surveyed also believed that the answers to current problems will come from new ways of working and collaboration - in other words, CEOs want people who can pull things together and "connect the dots".

This is why the Chartered Global Management Accountant designation (cgma.com) has been launched. CGMAs will have the skills to turn financial information into insights that can deliver stronger business performance.