(excerpts from "New Ways to Enhance SH&E, Partnering With Outside Resources", The Advisor, by Ronald J. Graves, CSP, June 2010.)
Businesses have used outsourcing for many decades, and its popularity has grown to its current level over the years. At no other time in U.S. history have domestic businesses outsourced more jobs and services than they do today. Using outside resources allows organizations to meet virtually any component of the SH&E process. As noted, no single person can be an expert in every area. The key is to identify the areas where additional expertise is required and then select the right individual or organization to meet specific needs. While outside SH&E resources are effective in meeting specific project needs, their greatest contribution is that they often serve as a catalyst for implementing measurable enhancements to an organization’s safety culture.
Benefits of Using Consultants
One immediate benefit of working with consultants is their ability to provide readily available technical expertise. Since consultants work under contract, an organization pays only for the time they expend. As the demand for SH&E services continues to increase, it often becomes difficult or impossible to attract and retain skilled, knowledgeable and highly motivated personnel. In the midst of many business transitions and safety issues facing an organization, the necessary level or quantity of technical expertise may not even exist in-house to perform all the necessary work.
Consultants often have skills and abilities that may not be available within an organization. This may include focus areas, such as industrial hygiene or employee ergonomics training. Specialized consultants can help fill the gap, providing technical expertise in the specific areas of focus while training regular staff and increasing overall performance.
Additionally, consultants offer assistance in accelerating critical development schedules for the implementation of new systems or processes, often dictated by specific needs. While organizations often have skilled employees in-house, they are typically focused on additional operations and may not have the time or the team needed to meet critical schedules.
Consultants can be brought in quickly to assist in keeping projects on schedule and may be a more cost effective alternative to hiring full-time personnel, particularly if the project is relatively short-lived. Consultants are accustomed to working on aggressive schedules and many have completed similar projects; they have seen what works and what does not. They are able to notice situations that may ordinarily be overlooked by regular staff and they can steer an organization away from known pitfalls. Consultants also provide a fresh point of view as they are looking in from outside the box. Additionally, their experience brings methodologies, procedures and new and interesting ways to approach problems.
Since consultants are most often paid on an hourly basis, they are more visible and accountable, and an organization can easily gauge their productivity without the screen of internal politics and job titles. On the flipside, consultants are aware that this visibility compels them to be productive and to give their client their bill-rate money’s worth of results.
Outsourcing technical needs can free an organization’s management staff to concentrate on its core business. After evaluating the total overhead and management costs associated with completing a project internally, an organization may discover that engaging consultants’ services are often less expensive. The organization pays for only the time expended on a given project without the added cost of payroll taxes, benefits and insurance and unemployment.
Additionally, highly skilled professionals are often more productive than in-house staff. People who freelance their skills usually have many years of solid experience from which to draw. They are not just specialized in their area, but can also offer alternatives to different situations and have the ability to quickly discover weaknesses within an organization as well as strengths. They are typically productive from the start as they are generally adept at adapting to fast-paced environments. They are familiar with getting up-to-speed quickly with minimal direction.
When deadlines are extremely tight, an organization will often apply as many resources as necessary to complete projects on time. Consultants are accustomed to tight deadlines and to the starts and stops and highs and lows of project work and hourly billing. Consultants are also less likely to be distracted by outside concerns and most have developed a healthy work ethic.
Using outside resources offers flexibility since a consultant relationship can be engaged and dismissed easily, making them a perfect short-term asset. This arrangement allows an organization to maintain a core group of employees and to add talent for special projects, seasonal variations, business cycles and so forth. In environments with fluctuating activities, resources can be easily adapted without paying salaries and benefits. When the need subsides, an organization need not go through all the regulatory issues involving employment practices. Consultants are not only available for short-term solutions, they can become a long-term partner focused on meeting future needs and can become a tactical part of an organization’s overall strategy.