Case study

Using contractors and subcontractors

Using short-term contractors - System Associates Ltd

System Associates is an internet technologies company delivering integrated software services to public and private sector clients. Based in Maidenhead, the company has 25 employees and regularly uses skilled short-term contractors. Managing director David Macken describes the advantages using the example of a recent project.

What I did

Recruit carefully
"Short-term contractors give us both labour flexibility and the ability to bring in specialist skills as we need them.

"For example, we recently won a major contract to build a portal for the new London-wide e-government agency, London Connects. Part of the project was to categorise and set up large chunks of online content. The skills required were highly specialised and our team was already at capacity, so we decided to employ a team of content editors on short-term contracts.

"We sourced a selection of candidates using internet recruitment services that specialise in our sector. Interviews and reference checking were essential to make sure the contractors' skills and experience matched their CVs. We also wanted to ensure a good fit with our existing project team."

Agree things in writing
"We selected four contractors who signed contracts with us before starting work. As with all our written agreements, they covered legal issues like terms and conditions but also included project schedules, deadlines and deliverables, fees payable and so on.

"We couldn't afford to keep on a contractor who didn't meet expectations. We therefore specified a one-day notice period for the first four weeks, a safeguard that we often use in short-term contracts.

"Other points to check upfront before employing contractors are their tax status and whether they're covered by your insurance."

Plan and manage
"We briefed our employees beforehand to reassure them that the contractors would meet their needs and to plan how their skills could be most effectively deployed.

"From the contractors' point of view, we made sure that they felt part of the team. Although we expected them to hit the ground running, we arranged inductions and ensured they were included in company meetings and social events.

"The integration of contractors and our in-house team has worked so well that we've asked two of them to join us permanently."

What I'd do differently

Handle recruitment in-house
"London Connects was such a large project that the use of recruitment agencies was appropriate and worked well. However, in general we find that handling the contracting ourselves works better and we've now built a database of trusted contractors who we can approach direct."

Speed up decision-making
"When we first started employing short-term contractors, we didn't realise that the value is diminished if you apply the same processes and timescales used for recruiting long-term employees. We've had to develop new processes that enable us to make quick decisions."