Are HR departments useful when hiring IT contractors?

HR Departments
HR Departments

HR Departments?

Are HR Departments Useful when Hiring Contractors?

We had a recent article asking if agencies were useful or detrimental to the contractor hiring process. The conclusion was that agents did add value but mostly at the beginning. At subsequent renewals they took more money than they added value.

Now it is the turn to look at HR departments. That’s especially as more and more are getting involved in the hiring of contractors.

Do They Add Value?

Do, they add any value?

It depends. It is possible for them to add value, but mostly they are detrimental.

If they see themselves as facilitators, i.e. people who can help Project Managers and want to help them in any way that the Project Manager would like, then they can add value (although not a great deal).

However, most HR departments don‘t want to be facilitators. They want to be the bosses of the process. They feel that this is their area of core competence. They feel that they should be able to make decisions on hiring contractors.

They are usually the most obstructionist department at a company. They are mainly concerned at pulling power towards themselves, This causes mayhem and bad decisions to be made.

Helping in the Process

It is possible for them to help in the process, though, providing they see themselves as ‘gofers‘ (which they don‘t).

They can help by:-

1. Managing the advertising process, if an ad is called for.
2. Contacting the agencies to tell them that there is a vacancy or vacancies. They should then butt out leaving any future contact and questions with the Project Manager.
3. They can save interview time by explaining to the contractor what the company does (although contractors are not generally not that interested).

I must admit I had to do a bit of head scratching to come up with that list. All three points add little value and would not be done better by HR than the Project Manager.

Perhaps readers can help me by adding more.

Detrimental to the Process

So how are they detrimental in the process?

1. They are unskilled at finding IT contractors, although they may be skilled at hiring generally. They really don‘t understand the difference between the various skills and disciplines needed, and the relative importance of each. This is far more important when hiring contractors than the more generic skill of knowing how to hire.
2. The insertion of the HR department in the process when hiring contractors has just created another barrier between those that know what they want and those that can supply it. They cannot answer most agency questions, but attempt to anyway.
3. They do silly things like forcing Project Mangers to look for permanent IT workers first before hiring contractors. That’s even if it you wanted contractors in the first place. This places a delay on the hiring process.

Skills Shortage

4. They ably assist the ‘skills shortage‘ myth purveyors by telling those doing surveys that they have vacancies which they can‘t fill. That’s even though contractors are doing the jobs in the first place.
5. They are especially deadly if they are the main contact with the agency and have decision making power over who should be interviewed and who shouldn‘t. What they employ is a straight tick list. They check off the skills on the CV with those required. They then add them up to see who has the most and therefore ‘most fits the requirement‘.
6. They put Preferred Supplier Agreements in place in order to try to get contractors as cheaply as possible. Except for during a major downturn, this just means that they get the poorest contractors. There is a not a huge difference in cost between the best contractors and the worst ones. There is, however, a huge difference in productivity between the best and the worst.

Project Manager

As a Project Manager and CIO, a lot of my time was taken up in how to outwit HR departments when hiring. We had to create permanent job positions before hiring contractors.

We also had to put job ads out for permies before we were allowed to recruit contractors. That’s even though that is what I wanted in the first place.

I presume that those in authority would include those ‘vacancies’ which actually had contractors doing the work in some figure showing that there was a skills shortage.

I bet that if you subtracted the number of working contractors from the number of supposed skills shortages then you would come up with an answer not too far away from zero.

Dedicated HR Departments

Now, if there was such a person as a dedicated IT HR department or person, then that might be different.

If there was someone at the company who both knew how to hire and understood fully the IT skills that the company needed and the relative importance of each, then that person would be quite useful.

However, I never saw this beast any time that they were hiring me or when I hired at any company that I was at.

Even if the person existed they wouldn‘t add much value anyway. So he, or she, would never be a crucial person at the department.

Knowing and understanding the requirement, and who best meets it, is far more crucial when hiring IT contractors than any hiring skills that someone (or a department) might have.

Hiring IT Contractors

Therefore I conclude that the HR department is a great hindrance when hiring IT contractors. That’s even if used in an ideal way only adds a little value.

Just imagine a company where it is the HR department and the agencies who are dealing direct with little input from the Project Manager.

It would be the blind leading the blind. It is just a double barrier between those that know what they want and those that can provide it.

It is a recipe for disaster.

Have I been too hard on HR Departments?

Are there any other advantages of using them that I hadn‘t thought of?

Or, are there even more disadvantages of using them then posted here?