Access talent at home

Published on the 01/11/2016 | Written by Donovan Jackson

Skills shortages are a problem in many fast-changing industries…

It is one of those odd paradoxes: unemployment numbers are up, while some industries bemoan the lack of workers to take up crucial positions. The usual explanation for the problem is that the skills required by these industries change so rapidly that the workforce cannot keep pace to deliver the people required in time (hence the unemployment overhang). But there could be other subtleties at play, including the fact that many in ‘non-traditional’ situations are excluded from the workforce.

People like mothers, students, the aged or the semi-retired. Or even just professionals who have opted for a better work-life balance, an increasingly commonplace situation today.

“These people have experience and skills which could be taken advantage of; given the right tools to work from home, there are benefits for the individuals and benefits for the companies which need those skills,” noted Sally Holloway, ANZ director of business solutions at Sitel.

She added that providing flexible working arrangements can deliver benefits such as a happier and more engaged workforce, with lower attrition (“A one percent attrition rate at Sitel costs a million dollars,” she noted).

From a technological perspective, equipping people with those tools is largely a solved problem; even security concerns are allayed, while the ability to extend the enterprise into a home office doesn’t present any particular challenges thanks to the magic of virtual desktop infrastructure, VPNs and other techniques. Holloway added that ‘monitoring’ of workloads is also easily achieved, while tools like presence provide a way to keep track of if any individual is at their workstation ready to execute tasks (or not).

Instead, the greater issues come down to the suitability of individuals for remote working and the readiness of employers to put the model to work. Despite the ready availability of the technology, Holloway said the percentage of remote workers in the contact centre industry – which lends itself particularly well to this approach – is low in ANZ. Single digits, in fact, at around four percent.

That’s despite developments which make it ever easier: “Virtual learning tools which deliver interactive learning and gamification now enable remote recruitment and onboarding; that is a game changer which can quickly extend the workforce,” Holloway said.

The situation is changing slowly, she said, owing to ‘the pull of workforce on one hand and the needs of employers on the other’. “There are still challenges around employers expecting an 8 hour workday rather than a few hours here and there; part of that also comes down to candidate selection and recruitment, though there are screening tools being developed which help to identify the desirable characteristics to look for in a virtual worker which are not the same as those for an onsite employee.”

Holloway said the model is proven and more widely accepted in the United States and Europe – but with that 4 percent number, she added that there is considerably potential for local employers to lift their performance by extending the skills net to those in unusual situations. “With fibre rolling out, many of those people already have just about everything they need to connect, get set up and go to work,” she added.

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