Temporary staff: the benefits of a helping hand

By Jon Severs, Friday 21 June 2013

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Leaner times mean smaller headcounts and, in many cases, that means hiring in temps to help cope with peak periods, but there are pitfalls to watch out for


The benefits and pitfalls of temporary staff

Thanks to the increasing adoption of lean manufacturing practices, the modern print business is often being run on as small a workforce as possible. This means that ramping up production to meet last-minute orders or larger jobs, or covering staff on sick leave or holiday, proves almost impossible without the help of temporary staff.

This is not necessarily a bad thing; the use of on-demand staff makes sense in an unpredictable market where margins are tight. It enables you to pay only for staff earning you money, whereas in the bloated pressrooms of the past, staff were often kept on in case they were needed – a wasteful and expensive policy.

Nevertheless, some considerstions, such as where to source staff from and an understanding of HR legislation, will be needed if the venture is to be a success.  

That the print industry is increasingly reliant on temporary workers, is undeniable, according to Dani Novick, managing director of Mercury Search & Selection, which supplies armies of temporary staff to the industry.

"The shift toward leaner operations means that companies have to flex manning to cope with peak demand. Typically, their options are either overtime or using temporary workers. When the demand is very time specific, very often overtime is not an option because the staff are already working," she says.

Indeed, the use of temporary staff has become standard practice at many a print service provider. Harrier LLC uses around 300 temps during its peak period in the run-up to Christmas, according to business development consultant Julian Marsh.

Precision Printing production director Andy Skarpellis says his company also uses temporary staff extensively, both to meet production targets and to cover staff absence. However, while Harrier LLC tends to use staff at peak periods only, Precision’s use of temporary staff is more of a permanent part of staff requirements, with temps employed throughout the year.

Workforce forecasts
Both Harrier and Precision use recruitment agencies for their temporary worker requirements. Skarpellis says Precision goes as far as integrating its agency, Bentley Associates, into its OneFlow workflow software, which monitors and stipulates staff requirements. Chris Knighton, chief executive of OneFlow Systems, the independent offshoot of Precision taking the workflow system to the wider market, explains that the system is able to predict staffing needs.

"OneFlow is used to calculate a historical average processing time per station – for example, guillotining or laminating – for a specific SKU [stock-keeping unit] and is based on the last seven to 28 days of production," he says. "This average processing time is then used as a forecast for an operator, processing a specific SKU, at a specific machine. These forecasts are calculated dynamically for all live orders queued for production and the production schedule is constantly updated automatically throughout the day or week.  OneFlow then provides an accurate forecast of the staffing levels required for production on any given day, across all shifts."

If that forecast determines that temporary staff are needed, then Bentley Associates can see as it has real-time access to the workflow, and the agency then automatically fulfils the requirements.

The above is a model not many printers will be in a position to replicate, but Novick says close working relationships with agencies can mean a similarly immediate service. "We find that many employers need to turn on extra capacity at very short notice and so, very often, there simply isn’t time to advertise," she says.

But she does admit, though, that the recruitment process does not necessarily have to go through an agency. "Employers can employ workers on temporary contracts directly, in which case they could advertise. This can be effective where the employer has a good understanding of their future demand," she explains.

The recruitment method used can also depend on how skilled the role happens to be, as well as timing. For basic administrative roles, any high-street recruitment company will suffice. Likewise, printers should be able to fulfil these basic roles themselves, if they have time, through advertising. More tricky is finding skilled workers. While a printer may well have a bank of freelancers they can call on, this list tends to be small and Novick argues that should they be busy, the printer can be caught short. Using an agency with a deep understanding of and contacts within print, can guarantee that skilled workers will be on hand, she says.

"We specialise in these print-specific skilled workers and so know that temporary workers can be provided in roles spanning all the print requirements, from graphic design, through press minders for all processes, to finishing and installation for POS," she reveals.

That said, Skarpellis says that any recruit could be up to speed, or "skilled", "to work on any station with just a five-minute training programme" thanks to OneFlow. Likewise, Marsh says that the skills of his temps have been built up gradually, as many have been used more than once.

So not being able to source workers with the right skills perhaps isn’t proving quite as tricky for most printers as you might expect. If they need them quickly, agencies can get them, and training unskilled staff is also an option for some processes. What might prove more of a headache if printers aren’t careful, is being compliant when it comes to temporary staff rights. These are actually more extensive than some may imagine, according to Anne Copley, head of legal and HR at the BPIF.

"They will have the same rights as permanent employees in regard to claims for discrimination and working time and all other Health and Safety regulations; they also have rights through the Agency Workers Regulations," she says (see boxout). "Really, the only right they don’t have is that they can’t claim unfair dismissal."

Printers, then, have to be sure they are as compliant with temporary workers as they are with permanent employees when it comes to HR legislation, including holiday accrual. And this may surprise some.

Performance personnel
Also important to bear in mind is getting a decent performance out of temps. Marsh warns that for recruitment to be successful, managers have to keep an especially close eye on temps. "Training temps carefully, measuring their output and keeping them engaged and motivated have all proven to be valuable," he explains.

Skarpellis adds that printers also have to be wary of sickness and temp workers "just not turning up"– though he says that using an agency means these issues are less prevalent.  

Then there is the rather important matter of payment. If you are employing directly then there are tax and payroll issues to be ironed out. These include deducting tax and National Insurance contributions from wages, giving payslips, deducting student loan and providing P45 and P60 forms.

While an agency will handle much of the latter – and simplify the process by enabling one transaction for multiple temp staff – Novick warns that printers still have to be mindful on pay if using agencies.  

"While temporary workers are paid in arrears, like anyone else it is usually less than a week in arrears and often as quickly as three days in arrears, so make sure you pay your agency promptly. Making them wait for payment for weeks after they have paid the temporary worker is not conducive to building a close working relationship," she says.

Employing a temporary worker is far from a simple process, then, and for many printers it will be something they’ll be keen to avoid. Marsh says that in some situations there are alternatives.

"Consideration to the Working Time Directive is crucial, but other options include introducing flexible working times to fit production requirements and banking hours so that you can use staff when they are needed," he says.

However, with most print staff already stretched to breaking point, temp staff are a reality most print companies will have to face to meet orders. The good news is that much of the above should be familiar from existing HR policies – it is just a case of ensuring it is applied to temp staff too. Anything unfamiliar, meanwhile, can be navigated with the assistance of recruitment agencies, HR teams (be they in-house or as a paid for service), or organisations like the BPIF.  Admittedly, temp staff can still be an intimidating area, but ignoring it would be to the detriment of almost every business in the industry.


Key features of the Agency Wrokers Directive

The Agency Workers Regulations apply to:
Individuals who work as temporary agency workers
Individuals or companies (private, public and third sector – eg charities, social enterprises) involved in the supply of temporary
agency workers, either directly or indirectly, to work temporarily for and under the direction and supervision of a hirer
And hirers (private, public and third sector)

Agency workers are immediately entitled to statutory rights including Working Time Regulations and National Minimum Wage. In addition, they get the following rights from day one:
Access to the facilities comparable permanent workers have access to, such as crèches, staff rooms and toilets/showers
Access to information regarding vacancies that a comparable permanent staff member would have access to

After 12 weeks with the same hirer, in the same role, agency workers will be entitled to have the same basic terms and conditions of employment as if they had been employed directly by the hirer. These include:
Duration of working time – eg if working is limited to a maximum of 48 hours a week
Night work  
Rest periods  
Annual leave  
Pregnant agency workers will be entitled to paid time off for antenatal appointments



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