Contingent workforce - management and procurement

Overview

The Department of Industry, Transport for NSW and the Department of Education were not able to demonstrate that the use of contingent labour is the best resourcing strategy to meet their business needs or deliver value for money.

1. Executive Summary

NSW Government agencies use contingent labour to help deliver services to the community. The NSW Public Service Commission (PSC) defines contingent labour as people employed by a recruitment agency and hired by government agencies to provide labour or services. Agencies use contingent labour to fill a gap in skills or capability, for example, to fill a position while a staff member is on leave or where specialist knowledge may be needed on a short-term basis. The PSC estimated that in 2016 the contingent workforce represented 2.3 per cent of the public sector workforce, equivalent to 7,571 full-time employees.

The PSC recommends that contingent labour only be used when it is the most efficient and effective option available to respond to an agency’s business needs. It also recommends that agencies’ use of contingent labour be informed by workforce planning. 

Government spending on contingent labour has increased significantly over the last five years, from $503 million in 2011–12 to $1.1 billion in 2015–16. To reduce spend in this area, the NSW Government has introduced the Contingent Workforce Renewal Strategy, overseen by NSW Procurement. The Strategy aims to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness in the use of contingent labour. It has four pillars:

  • prequalification scheme – a list of approved contingent labour suppliers
  • vendor management system – an information system to manage contingent workers
  • managed service provider – a recruitment agency broker
  • contractor management organisations – organisations that manage a contingent labour database, which agencies can source labour from.

The prequalification scheme is mandatory for public sector agencies. Agencies are progressively rolling out the other pillars. The vendor management system and managed service provider are together called ‘Contractor Central’.

Within the context of sector reform aimed at promoting efficiency and effectiveness, the objective of this audit is to assess whether agencies’ approach to purchasing and managing their contingent workforce meets business needs and delivers value for money. In making this assessment, we reviewed three agencies each at a different stage of the reform:

  • Department of Education (Education) – Contractor Central introduced in August 2015
  • Department of Industry (Industry) – Contractor Central introduced in November 2016, after our review
  • Transport for NSW (Transport) – Contractor Central not in place.
Conclusion

None of the three agencies we reviewed were able to demonstrate that contingent labour is the best resourcing strategy to meet their agencies’ business needs or delivers value for money. There are three reasons for this. First, agencies’ use of contingent labour was not informed by workforce planning at an agency level, with limited work undertaken in this area. Second, two of the three agencies have limited oversight of their contingent workforce. Information is not reliable or accurate, reports are onerous to produce, and there is limited reporting to the agency’s executive. Finally, none of the agencies routinely monitor and centrally document the performance of contingent workers to ensure services are delivered as planned. Together, these factors make it difficult for agencies to ensure contingent labour is engaged only when needed, at reasonable rates, and delivers quality services.

Some of these issues will be addressed by Contractor Central, which had only been introduced at Education at the time of our review. The new software program enables staff to easily obtain real-time reports on its contingent workforce. The recruitment broker also has the potential to improve value through better negotiation and benchmarking of pay rates. However, Contractor Central will only address some of the issues highlighted above. Better workforce planning and performance monitoring are needed to ensure an agencies’ workforce, including contingent workers, meets its business needs and represents value for money.


The use of contingent labour neither informs nor is informed by agency level workforce plans

None of the three agencies we reviewed had an agency level workforce plan in place. Agencies could not demonstrate that they had analysed their use of contingent labour at an agency level, including how it is being used to address any skills gaps. An agency’s executive is responsible for ensuring that an agency level workforce plan is in place. An agency level workforce plan helps hiring managers to make decisions on the best resource strategy to meet their business needs. This is important because contingent labour should only be engaged after considering all other recruitment options and the agency’s workforce plan.

Contingent workforce data is not always reliable or accurate

The accuracy and reliability of contingent workforce data varied significantly across the three agencies we reviewed. In Industry and Transport, information on contingent labour is difficult to obtain because it must be drawn from different data sources, affecting its accuracy, reliability and timeliness. This information is also incomplete, with these agencies not having a full picture of their contingent workforce. Quality data is important because it improves an agency’s capacity to plan and monitor its use of contingent labour to ensure it meets business needs.

At the time of our review, only Education, through Contractor Central, was able to obtain timely and accurate data on its use of contingent labour. Contractor Central has also improved its reporting capability, with the agency’s executive now receiving quarterly reports on its contingent workforce. In contrast, executives in Industry and Transport received ad-hoc reports on the use of contingent labour that only gave them limited oversight of their contingent workforce.

Long tenure of contingent workers is an issue in agencies

We found that the maximum tenure of contingent labour varied across agencies from nine to more than 20 years. In Education and Transport, staff reported that hiring managers assume contingent workers are automatically renewed at the end of their contract, with no formal consideration about whether contingent labour is still needed. Also, contingent labour is used for significant capital projects in the information technology and infrastructure areas where a project may run for several years.

None of the agencies reviewed undertook an analysis to determine how to reduce tenure while ensuring business needs are met. This is particularly important for long-term use of contingent labour for large capital projects. Understanding whether contingent labour represents best value compared to other recruitment options, such as secondments or temporary employment, is essential. Contingent workers are engaged under different working conditions to employees. Long tenure can pose an industrial relations risk to agencies because contingent workers may believe they are entitled to the same working conditions as employees.

On and off-boarding processes could be strengthened

Agencies have processes to engage and release contingent labour, also called on boarding and off-boarding. This includes access to IT systems, building access, and the return of property. However, not all agencies had on boarding or off-boarding checklists with specific requirements for engaging or releasing contingent labour. In addition, agencies’ off boarding guidelines did not always provide for knowledge transfer. This was identified as a key risk by staff because it is important to ensure that critical skills and knowledge are retained.

Risk that agencies are being overcharged when engaging contingent labour

We found that in agencies without Contractor Central, there is limited assurance that recruitment agencies charge in line with the prequalification scheme fees. NSW Procurement estimates that the government was overcharged $1.3 million in 2015–16. In addition, there is a risk that hiring managers do not have sufficient information to benchmark pay rates when negotiating contingent labour engagements. Agencies with Contractor Central may be more likely to get reasonable rates by using a recruitment broker who has specialised market knowledge.

No system in place to monitor the performance of contingent workers

None of the agencies we reviewed had a system in place to monitor the performance of their contingent workforce at an agency level to ensure it delivers value for money. Hiring managers are not required to evaluate whether contingent labour delivers the services for which they are hired. For example, hiring managers do not routinely assess and centrally document the quality of services provided, including whether services are delivered on time and within budget. This means contingent workers who are not performing may be re-hired by other managers or agencies. With the implementation of Contractor Central, there is the means to capture agency-wide information on the performance of contingent workers.

Contractor Central has the potential to improve value for money

Contractor Central has the potential to improve value for money. This is because the recruitment broker has specialised market knowledge and is able to promote competition, and benchmark and negotiate pay rates. In addition, the new software can streamline invoice processing and ensure correct supplier rates are charged. Education reports that it achieved a net saving of $944,600 from August 2015 to May 2016 due to the introduction of Contractor Central. Industry also expects to achieve similar results with Contractor Central, which it advised was implemented in November 2016.

2. Introduction

Background

What is contingent labour?

The Public Service Commission (PSC) has developed guidelines to assist NSW public sector agencies engage and manage contingent labour. The guidelines define contingent labour as ‘people employed by a contingent labour supplier and hired from that supplier by a NSW Government agency to provide labour or services’.

The PSC recommends that agencies only use contingent labour to meet business objectives when:

  • there is an immediate and short-term need to fill a vacancy, pending recruitment action
  • there is a specific capability gap that needs to be filled
  • there is a time-limited need for additional resources or specialised knowledge that will not be required within the ongoing workforce.

In addition, the PSC recommends that agencies avoid using contingent labour for long periods, i.e. more than six months. Contingent labour should also:

  • be the most efficient and effective option available for meeting business needs
  • inform and be informed by whole of organisation workforce planning and development.

Procurement Benefits Roadmap: the contingent workforce initiative

The NSW Government established the ‘Procurement Benefits Roadmap’ in 2014. The Roadmap established a number of procurement initiatives to maximise savings across all major categories of expenditure. Contingent labour was identified as one of 11 whole of government initiatives that could realise a net saving of $52.3 million between 2013–14 and 2017–18.

NSW Procurement is responsible for overseeing the government’s Contingent Workforce Renewal Strategy. The Strategy aims to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness in the use of contingent workers. It was created to address a number of issues in this area, such as data inaccuracies, inconsistencies in pay rates, and a limited number of contracts awarded to small and medium enterprises.

The Strategy has four pillars:

  • prequalification scheme – a list of approved contingent labour suppliers that are engaged based on the scheme rules, including a set supplier fee
  • vendor management system – an information system to engage and manage contingent workers with the ability to automate processes, benchmark pay rates, forecast trends, and produce real-time reports on contingent labour use
  • managed service provider – a broker between hiring managers and recruitment agencies that manages end-to-end processes, including consolidated billing, supplier performance and policy controls
  • contractor management organisations – organisations that manage a database of contingent workers. Agencies can search the database and source labour from these organisations.

The vendor management system and managed service provider are together called ‘Contractor Central’. The prequalification scheme was introduced in 2013 and is mandatory for NSW public sector agencies. The other pillars are being progressively rolled out by agencies. As at November 2016, seven clusters had implemented Contractor Central. Transport for NSW, the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and NSW Treasury are yet to implement Contractor Central.

Contingent workforce: general trends

Government spend on contingent labour has risen sharply from $503 million in 2011–12 to $1.1 billion in 2015–16. In the 2016 Workforce Profile Report, the PSC estimated that the contingent workforce was equivalent to 7,571 full-time employees, representing 2.3 per cent of the public sector workforce (In 2016, the PSC reported that there were 324,477 public sector annual full-time employees). Nearly 60 per cent of contingent workers had contracts that were above the PSC six-month recommended tenure.

In 2015–16, the Transport cluster accounted for 34.2 per cent of contingent labour spend, followed by the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation (11.5 per cent) and the Department of Family and Community Services (10.1 per cent). See Exhibit 1 below.

Transport spent the most on contingent labour per cluster for 2015 to 2016 with $380,816,991 or 34 per cent of all agency spend. The next largest was DFSI with $127,597,384 or 11.47 per cent and FACS with $112,678,469 or 10.13 per cent. Treasury spend the lowest with $11,232,618 or 1.01 per cent. This was still more than that spent by those external to the sector at $3,357,031 or 0.3%.
Exhibit 1: Spend on contingent labour per cluster, 2015–16
Note: Spend data is based on monthly reports submitted by contingent labour suppliers. NSW Procurement estimates this data to be under-reported by up to 15 per cent. Figures may include statutory authorities and state-owned corporations. Clusters have different arrangements for including statutory authorities. The prequalification scheme is not mandatory for state-owned corporations.
Source: NSW Procurement.

In 2016, the largest number of contingent workers was in the administration category. This includes executive assistants, office support, and receptionists. However, as shown in Exhibit 2, the largest contingent labour spend is for specialised ICT skills such as software developers, network engineers, and IT managers.

The highest amount of money spent on contingent labour from 2010 to 2016 was ICT, with more than $300 million difference between this category and the rest of the job categories including finance, administration, specialist, industrial, professional, technical, transport, education or other. The amount spent has continually increased each year to over $500 million in 2015 to 2016.
Exhibit 2: Contingent labour spend by job category, 2010–11 to 2015–16
Note: Job categories are defined within the prequalification scheme rules. Transport and Education job categories comprise, for example, engineers and child care assistants. Data excludes NSW State Emergency Services and Home Care Services categories. ICT includes ICT network and equipment; ICT management, implementation and support; and ICT applications, databases and systems.
Source: Audit Office analysis of NSW Procurement data.

What this audit is about

This audit assessed whether agencies’ approach to purchasing and managing their contingent workforce meets business needs and delivers value for money. To help answer this question we asked whether:

  • agencies have effective oversight of their contingent workforce to ensure that it meets their business needs
  • agencies’ arrangements for purchasing and managing their contingent workforce deliver value for money.

By ‘contingent workforce’, we mean contingent labour hired under the prequalification scheme. As part of this audit, we reviewed key policies, procedures and data relating to contingent labour. We reviewed three agencies as case studies:

  • Department of Education (Education)
  • Transport for NSW (Transport)
  • Department of Industry (Industry).

We interviewed relevant staff from these agencies and also met stakeholders, such as recruitment agencies and a managed service provider. The agencies’ responses to the audit report are at Appendix 1. Further information on the audit scope and criteria is at Appendix 2.

3. Recommendations

The Department of Industry and Transport for NSW should, by December 2017:

    1. improve the accuracy and reliability of their data on contingent labour

      2. routinely report the use of contingent labour to agency executive.

        The Department of Industry, Department of Education, and Transport for NSW should:

        by December 2017:

        3. ensure agency-wide on-boarding and off-boarding guidelines or checklists detail the specific requirements for engaging or releasing contingent labour, including provisions for knowledge transfer.

        by March 2018

        4. ensure that contingent labour informs and is informed by workforce planning, by:

        • analysing agency-wide business needs, staff capability, and skills gaps
        • understanding how gaps are filled by contingent workers or other recruitment options
        • assessing whether long-term contingent worker engagements are the most economical and effective labour option
        • evaluating whether contingent workers meet agency business needs and deliver value for money.

        5. assess and centrally document the performance of their contingent workforce to ensure that services are delivered as contracted

        6. implement processes to ensure that hiring managers consider other recruitment options prior to engaging or re-engaging contingent workers.
            

        Sector-wide learnings

        This audit identified learnings that government agencies across the sector should consider when procuring and managing contingent labour:

        1. Contingent workforce planning should be part of an agency’s broader workforce planning.

        2. Using information systems to manage and procure contingent labour improves the accuracy, reliability and timeliness of contingent labour data. This information enables agencies to consistently assess contingent labour rates and to identify persistent skills gaps in their workforce.

        3. Routine reporting of contingent labour to agency executives provides oversight of an agency’s use of contingent labour.

        4. Hiring managers should consider all recruitment options, with advice from human resources staff, before engaging contingent labour to ensure that it is the most appropriate solution for a specific need.

        5. Regularly assessing long tenure contingent labour engagements helps to ensure that such engagements are still the most economical and effective labour option.

        6. Planning the engagement of contingent workers, including provisions for knowledge transfer, maximises the potential to obtain value for money from the use of contingent labour.

        7. Assessing and centrally documenting the performance of contingent labour against agreed deliverables helps to ensure services are delivered as planned, including in terms of quality, and timeliness.

        4. Key Findings

        4.1 Effective oversight of contingent labour

        Despite having established business rules to engage contingent labour, none of the agencies we reviewed were able to demonstrate that contingent labour is the best resourcing strategy to meet their agency’s business needs. For example, agencies could not demonstrate that they had analysed their use of contingent labour at an agency-level, including how it addresses any skills gap. None of the three agencies had an agency level workforce plan in place that informs or is informed by the use of contingent labour. However, one agency is working towards this. Industry has recently developed a 2016–19 Workforce Planning Strategy which incorporates contingent labour as one of several resourcing options along with temporary and permanent employees.

        Two of the three agencies have limited oversight of their contingent workforce due to poor quality data. Only Education, which had implemented Contractor Central at the time of our review, has timely and accurate data on its contingent workforce. Education is also the only agency that routinely reports its use of contingent labour to the agency’s executive. Improving oversight of contingent labour is essential in understanding business needs.

        Recommendations

        1. We recommend that the Department of Industry and Transport for NSW:

        • improve the accuracy and reliability of their data on contingent labour
        • routinely report the use of contingent labour to agency executive.

        2. We recommend that the Department of Industry, Department of Education, and Transport for NSW:

        • ensure that contingent labour informs and is informed by workforce planning, by: - analysing agency-wide business needs, staff capability, and skills gaps
          • understanding how gaps are filled by contingent workers or other recruitment
              options
          • evaluating whether contingent workers meet agency business needs and
               deliver value for money.

        4.1.1 Accurate and reliable information on contingent labour

        Two of the three agencies reviewed have inadequate data on contingent labour

        At the time of our review, Industry and Transport had limited capacity to obtain information on contingent labour. Compiling data to report on contingent labour is an onerous task, involving different data sources, which can affect accurate and timely reporting. Staff advised that they sometimes use data from NSW Procurement, which is sourced from recruitment agencies, but they consider it unreliable and difficult to analyse.

        Only Education, which has implemented the new software program for managing contingent labour, was able to obtain timely and accurate reports on its contingent workforce. This program is a web-based tool that facilitates the hiring process, timesheet approvals and payment of fees and rates.

        Exhibit 3: The accuracy and reliability of data within agencies
        • Transport is progressively rolling out ‘Equip’, an enterprise resource planning system. Staff reported that Equip will be rolled-out to all cluster agencies in 2017. Prior to Equip, there was limited information on contingent labour, and procurement reports only showed spend by recruitment agency. With Equip, information on a contingent worker’s name, tenure, hiring manager, position description and location is now available. However, a recent internal audit found that it is difficult for Transport to obtain a consolidated and complete picture of its contingent workforce. Oversight of the transport cluster can only occur by collating information from Equip and other agency systems, which may compromise the accuracy and reliability of reports. Transport advised that it is preparing a business case to introduce Contractor Central in 2017.

        • In 2013, Industry created a contingent workforce general ledger code to differentiate between contingent workers and other contractors. However, information on its contingent workforce is not easily accessible. It is drawn from different data sources, affecting the accuracy and timeliness of reports. At the time of our review, Industry was in the process of implementing Contractor Central to improve visibility of its contingent workforce.

        • Prior to Contractor Central, Education advised that it had no oversight of its contingent workforce. With the introduction of Contractor Central, staff are now able to obtain real-time and accurate reports on key data, such as spend, tenure, headcount, invoice accuracy, and pay rates.
        Source: Audit Office fieldwork, September/October 2016.

        Having adequate data to enable agencies to monitor contingent workers is critical. Staff in the two agencies without Contractor Central reported that poor data makes it difficult to check compliance against the prequalification scheme rules. Access to quality data is also important to inform workforce planning decisions. This is discussed further in section 1.2.

        Limited monitoring of contingent labour use by agency executive

        We found no evidence of routine reporting of contingent labour use to agency executives in two agencies we reviewed. Reports on contingent labour are prepared for the agencies’ executive on an ad-hoc basis. At the time of our review, only Education, by using Contractor Central, provided comprehensive quarterly reports on its use of contingent workforce to agency executive. Industry advised that it plans to introduce monthly reports to the agency executive once Contractor Central is implemented.

        Limited executive reporting is influenced by a number of factors, including difficulties obtaining data in a timely way and poor data quality. However, in an environment of increasing use of contingent labour in the public sector, it is important that an agency’s executive monitor the use of contingent labour to ensure it is the best option available to respond to agency business needs.

        Some business units monitor their use of contingent labour

        Although we found limited monitoring at the executive level, some business units, particularly those that often engage contingent labour, monitor their contingent workforce. The Information Technology Directorate and the Learning Management Business Reform unit within Education regularly monitor their use of contingent labour. This includes holding meetings to discuss the future business needs and tenure of their contingent workforce. Monitoring the use of contingent labour helps managers to assess whether it meets their business unit’s needs.

        4.1.2 Use of contingent labour and workforce planning

        Data on contingent labour is not used to inform workforce planning

        None of the agencies reviewed uses contingent labour data to inform workforce planning at an agency level. We found no evidence of agency-wide analysis of staff capability, how gaps are addressed by contingent workers, and the best labour options to meet business needs.

        Our findings are consistent with the PSC’s 2015 ‘State of the Workforce Reform’ report, which found that workforce data and the use of evidence to inform decisions are not well progressed, with few agencies linking workforce data to business data. It also found that staff within agencies were using multiple and unconnected systems to manage workforce information, and that managers were not able to get all the information they would like about their own teams.

        Agency level workforce plans are not in place

        An agency’s executive is responsible for ensuring that an agency level workforce plan is in place. In the absence of such a plan, many staff view the engagement of contingent labour as a procurement function only. Hiring managers in the agencies we reviewed work directly with procurement staff in engaging contingent labour. To help hiring managers make decisions on the best resource strategy for their business needs, managers need to be informed by an agency level workforce plan. While hiring managers are ultimately accountable for hiring decisions, human resources also has a role to play in terms of providing advice and ensuring compliance with relevant policies.

        Industry started implementing a 2016–19 Workforce Planning Strategy which will help inform hiring managers on the best resource strategy for short-term vacancies. In addition, they advised that once Contractor Central is implemented there will be a partnership between procurement and human resources areas.

        Exhibit 4: The 2016–19 Workforce Planning Strategy for the Department of Industry

        The Department of Industry’s Workforce Planning Strategy has three goals to be achieved by June 2019. These goals are to:

        • have an understanding of capability gaps
        • identify strategies to close gaps
        • inform evidence-based management decisions.

        Contingent labour is one of the strategies to resource the business along with the recruitment of casual, temporary and permanent employees.

        In addition, Industry advised that once Contractor Central is implemented, its workforce administration team will work with Contractor Central staff. Both teams will be located close to each other, so that the recruitment unit can review whether other recruitment options should be considered. Contingent labour will be the last option when addressing resource gaps in business units.

        Source: Audit Office research.

        Business units are undertaking workforce resourcing activities

        We found that some business units are improving how they resource and schedule contingent workers within their units. Staff in the Learning Management Business Reform unit in Education advised that they forecast their use of contingent labour based on their forward program. Contractor Central staff then advertise roles as ‘upcoming’ opportunities. The Infrastructure and Services Division in Transport also uses information on the skills and tenure of its existing contingent workforce to fill vacancies in future projects. Workforce resourcing and scheduling allows business units to engage contingent labour more efficiently, ensuring a smooth transition between staff.

        As part of Industry’s efforts to reduce its contingent workforce, Business Technology Services (BTS) staff advised that they regularly review their use of contingent labour. Some strategies BTS staff said they use include:

        • transitioning contingent labour to permanent positions
        • other procurement options, such as the use of consultants
        • outsourcing, for example, application development work.

        These practices show that focusing on resourcing and scheduling contingent workers has the potential to improve project delivery and reduce business costs.

        4.1.3 Requirements for using contingent labour

        Business rules are in place to assist managers to hire contingent labour

        All three agencies have established business rules to assist hiring managers engage contingent labour. Examples of these rules include that:

        • Director or Deputy Secretary approval is required to engage contingent labour
        • contingent workers cannot have financial or human resource delegations
        • hiring managers cannot be contingent workers
        • hiring managers with personal knowledge of contingent labour candidates should declare any potential conflicts of interest
        • timesheets must be approved by the assigned manager
        • contingent labour should not be engaged for more than six months, unless a specific need for it can be established.

        Business rules around tenure varied across the three agencies, with only Industry adopting the PSC’s recommended six-month tenure guideline for hiring contingent labour. The other two agencies have business rules which take effect when contingent workers have been engaged for 12 months, which the PSC considers to be a long-term engagement. Despite these business rules, we found that contingent workers were being engaged for periods longer than 12 months in all three agencies reviewed. We discuss this further in section 2.2.

        Some guidance is in place about when to use contingent labour versus other options

        All three agencies reviewed have some guidance in place to help hiring managers make decisions about when to hire contingent labour compared to other options. For example, Transport has a recruitment checklist which outlines the different options to fill a vacancy based on the duration of the vacancy and required start date. Options include contingent workers, temporary employees, new employees, or staff members on higher duty allowances.

        Education’s procurement manual advises hiring managers to first consider whether or not the skills required are available internally. It also outlines the difference between consultants, contingent workers, and contractors.

        Having these guidelines in place, however, does not guarantee that hiring managers will comply with these when using contingent labour. There must a step in the engagement process to prompt hiring managers to consider other labour options in line with the agency’s workforce planning. We discuss this further in section 2.1.

        4.2 Delivering value for money from contingent labour

        Although the three agencies we reviewed have processes in place to engage and manage contingent labour, they were not able to demonstrate they obtain value for money from their contingent workforce. None of the agencies have an agency level workforce plan in place or formally require the advice of human resources staff when engaging contingent labour. This limits assessment of whether contingent labour is the most appropriate solution for a specific business need. In addition, in agencies without Contractor Central, once a decision has been made to engage contingent labour, there is limited assurance that recruitment agencies charge in line with the prequalification scheme fees. NSW Procurement estimates that the government was overcharged $1.3 million in 2015–16.

        In Education and Transport, staff also reported that hiring managers assume contingent workers are automatically renewed at the end of their contract. This can lead to long tenure with no formal consideration about whether contingent labour is still needed. We found that the maximum tenure of contingent workers across the three agencies varied from nine to more than 20 years.

        None of the agencies we reviewed had a formal system in place to monitor the performance of their contingent workforce at an agency level to ensure it delivers value for money. Hiring managers are not required to routinely evaluate and centrally document whether contingent labour delivers the services for which they were hired. In addition, agencies’ off-boarding procedures did not always provide for knowledge transfer.

        Contractor Central, which was in place in Education at the time of our review, has the potential to improve value for money. This is because the recruitment broker has specialised market knowledge and is able to promote competition, and negotiate pay rates. Contractor Central can also streamline hiring processes and timesheet approval.

        Recommendations

        We recommend that the Department of Industry, Department of Education, and Transport for NSW:

        • ensure agency-wide on-boarding and off-boarding guidelines or checklists detail the specific requirements for engaging or releasing contingent labour, including provisions for knowledge transfer
        • assess and centrally document the performance of their contingent workforce to ensure that services are delivered as contracted
        • implement processes to ensure that hiring managers consider other recruitment options prior to engaging or re-engaging contingent workers
        • assess whether long-term contingent worker engagements are the most economical and effective labour option.

        4.2.1 Processes to assist hiring managers engage contingent labour

        Limited processes to ensure hiring managers consider all recruitment options with advice from human resources staff

        The processes in place to engage contingent labour do not ensure hiring managers obtain the advice of human resources staff when engaging contingent labour. This is important because contingent labour should only be engaged after considering all other recruitment options and the agency level workforce plan. At the time of our review, none of the agencies had an agency level workforce plan in place.

        Industry advised that it plans to improve its processes. After Contractor Central is implemented, requests to engage contingent labour for more than the PSC recommended six-month period will be automatically sent to the workforce planning section. Workforce planning staff will then assist hiring managers to evaluate whether contingent labour is the most suitable option. This approach aims to ensure hiring managers engage contingent labour as a last resort.

        Staff believe current recruitment processes increase the use of contingent labour

        Staff within the agencies we reviewed advised that some hiring managers have been using contingent labour to avoid the recruitment requirements under the NSW Government Sector Employment Act 2013 (GSE Act). This is because staff considered the processes for recruiting temporary employees under the GSE Act, and related instruments, onerous for short-term engagements, particularly for a 12-month appointment. The Government Sector Employment (General) Rules 2014 required that a suitability assessment, comprising an interview and another capability-based assessment, be carried out for temporary employment for less than six months. For a 12-month appointment, managers must carry out an additional capability-based assessment and seek multiple applicants.

        The Government Sector Employment (General) Rules 2014 were amended on 1 January 2017 to allow suitability assessments to be carried out for temporary employment up to 12 months without the need to have comparative assessments. This allows hiring managers to first search the market to recruit temporary employees, leaving contingent workers as a last business resourcing option.

        ‘On-boarding’ process could be strengthened

        All agencies reviewed have processes in place to ensure contingent labour can access key systems and resources when they are first hired, also called ‘on-boarding’. This includes:

        • IT systems
        • building and work areas (e.g. building access, security passes)
        • records management and other business software 
        • other resources such as computers, workstations, and telephones.

        However, these processes could be strengthened. In two of the agencies, their checklists did not identify the specific requirements for engaging contingent labour, citing non-applicable items like probation and staff development. In addition, processes did not always cover important matters like policies on work health and safety, or an agency’s code of conduct. Only Education has put in place some of these requirements specific to contingent workers, such as:

        • on-line mandatory induction (e.g. building emergency procedure)
        • tour of facilities
        • information about key agency policies, rules and regulations
        • information about the contingent worker’s role and responsibilities.

        If guidelines for contingent labour are in place, hiring managers can then certify that contingent workers have the equipment and information needed for an immediate start.

        Risk that agencies are being overcharged when engaging contingent labour

        In agencies without Contractor Central, once the decision to engage contingent labour has been made, hiring managers need to have a good understanding of the market rates for a specific job category in order to negotiate a reasonable pay rate. Agencies that introduced Contractor Central may be more likely to get reasonable rates by using a recruitment broker who has specialised market knowledge and is able to benchmark and negotiate pay rates.

        There is also evidence that some recruitment agencies have been charging above prequalification scheme fees. NSW Procurement estimates that the government was overcharged $1.3 million in 2015–162. With Contractor Central, the vendor management system automatically adjusts the scheme fees according to contract tenure, reducing the risk of errors.

        4.2.2 Processes to 'off-board' contingent labour

        Arrangements for ‘off-boarding’ vary and could be strengthened

        Arrangements to support hiring managers to off-board their contingent workers vary across the agencies reviewed. In Industry, there are no guidelines for off-boarding contingent labour, despite off-boarding being identified a high-risk area in an internal audit. The internal audit found that assets, such as laptops, had been lost, and payments had occurred after contracts had ended.

        In the other two agencies, there are guidelines and procedures in place for off-boarding contingent workers. These documents refer to:

        • removing access to IT systems and buildings
        • returning security passes
        • returning departmental equipment
        • paying any outstanding fees and rates.

        Two agencies’ off-boarding checklists were not specific to contingent labour, but captured all types of employment. This means that hiring managers must know whether or not an item is applicable to a contingent worker. For example, items on procurement authority and flex-time are not applicable to contingent workers.

        Better provisions for knowledge transfer are needed

        None of the agencies’ off-boarding guidelines provide for knowledge transfer, despite this being identified as a key risk by agency staff. Encouragingly, off-boarding checklists for two business units we spoke to referred to knowledge transfer. For example, the IT division in Education has a checklist that prompts hiring managers to confirm whether contingent workers’ knowledge of IT systems have been transferred to staff.

        Ideally, hiring managers should put arrangements in place for knowledge transfer when contingent workers are engaged. This may include, for example, contingent staff and employees working in the same team or ensuring key material is documented. If knowledge is not transferred during the engagement, it is important to ensure that the hiring manager is aware of any potential or outstanding issues when a contingent worker leaves the agency.

        Long tenure of contingent workers is an issue in agencies

        All three agencies we reviewed hire contingent labour in long-term engagements, i.e. more than the PSC recommended six-month guideline. The maximum tenure of contingent labour varied across agencies from nine to more than 20 years.

        Exhibit 5: Contingent labour tenure (2015–16), calendar days
        Tenure data
        (2015–16)
        Department of
        Education
        Department of Industry Transport for NSW
        Average 367 250 396
        Median 183 173 349
        Maximum >7,300 (or >20 years) 3,195 (approx. 9 years) 4,377 (approx.12 years)
        Note: Six months = approx.183 calendar days.
        Source: NSW Procurement, Department of Education and Department of Industry data. 

        Staff advised that contingent workers are engaged for longer than six months in the following circumstances:

        • for large capital projects, which often take many years to complete
        • for long-term IT projects
        • for specialised skills, pending recruitment action
        • for positions that were not able to be created permanently due to restrictions in FTE.

        In Education and Transport, contingent labour is used for significant capital projects in the information technology or infrastructure areas, where tenure can be more than two years. Our analysis of NSW Procurement data is consistent with the use of contingent labour in these areas. See Exhibit 6. 

        Outside of ICT, transport, education, professional and technical job sectors, most people in contingent workforce are not in their role for 6 to 12 months.
        Exhibit 6: NSW Government average tenure by job category, 2015–16
        Source: Audit Office analysis based on NSW Procurement data.

        Agency staff reported that for some highly-skilled roles in IT and infrastructure projects, they engage contingent labour on a long-term basis because:

        • there are no skills in-house
        • the expertise required is in high demand
        • the experience required to manage complex projects is difficult to find in Australia
        • public sector salaries are not attractive to highly-skilled project specialists.

        In addition, agencies advised us that it can take a long time to find contingent workers for these areas. For example, from September to December 2016, the average time for Education to engage an ICT Technical Manager was 43 days. Staff in these technical areas reported that they expect most contracts for major projects to be renewed automatically, resulting in ‘career contractors’. The PSC recommends that agencies evaluate market conditions to verify that there is a shortage of workers with the required expertise and capabilities in these areas before re-engaging contingent labour.

        Where contingent labour is engaged for long periods at more senior levels in an agency, there is a risk that they will have management, financial and human resources delegations. This finding is consistent with an internal audit in Transport that identified 12 employees engaged in leadership roles, e.g. Director level. Continued use of contingent labour in these positions may also result in loss of critical skills and expertise.

        More analysis could be undertaken as part of workforce planning to determine how to reduce tenure while ensuring business needs are still met. This agency-wide analysis could include contingent labour use in large capital projects and whether it represents best value compared to other recruitment options. Contingent workers are engaged under different working conditions to employees. Long tenure can also pose an industrial relations risk to agencies because contingent workers may believe they are entitled to the same working conditions as employees.

        4.2.3 Monitoring the performance of contingent labour

        No system in place to monitor the performance of contingent workers at an agency level

        None of the agencies reviewed could demonstrate that they routinely monitor the performance of their contingent workforce at an agency level. We found no evidence that managers are required to report that services were provided as contracted and within the negotiated timeframe.

        One division within Transport has been reporting on the performance of contingent workers to recruitment agencies since 2013 on engagements valued at over $150,000. This division reports on time management, cooperative relations, and submission of invoices and timesheets. However, the division’s evaluation criteria do not relate to the delivery of contractual outputs on time and within budget.

        Education has implemented ‘exit surveys’ which ask contingent workers about their experience within the agency. However, these surveys are not mandatory, do not analyse performance against key deliverables, and only occur at the end of an engagement.

        We think hiring managers should continually assess contingent workers’ performance by answering questions, such as:

        • are contingent workers providing the service as contracted?
        • are contingent workers delivering quality services?
        • are services being delivered on time and within budget?

        This ensures that staff focus on the quality of service. With the implementation of Contractor Central, there is the means to capture agency-wide information on the performance of contingent workers. Data collected from such assessments could provide the basis of performance reports to an agency’s executive. If there is no system in place to monitor the performance of contingent workers, there is a risk that underperformers could be hired by another manager within the agency.

        Arrangements for dealing with underperforming contingent workers are in place

        We found that arrangements for dealing with underperforming contingent workers are flexible and easy to implement. Managers said they deal with underperforming contingent labour by:

        • asking recruitment agencies to talk to the contingent worker about his/her performance 
        • replacing contingent workers with another from the recruitment agency
        • terminating the contract early.

        These approaches enable hiring managers to effectively manage any significant performance issues should they arise.

        Some staff believe contingent workers do not need to be ‘managed’

        Although arrangements are in place for dealing with underperforming contingent workers, staff reported that hiring managers believe that they do not need to ‘manage’ contingent labour because it is a procurement activity.

        However, just like for employees, it is important that managers set clear expectations for their contingent workers and monitor performance against these to ensure effective and efficient use of public resources. Otherwise, the longer it takes hiring managers to set expectations and monitor results, the more likely it is that contingent labour will not deliver the services required.

        Contractor Central helps staff monitor the performance of recruitment agencies

        With the introduction of Contractor Central, Education is better able to monitor the performance of recruitment agencies. Education receives reports on each recruitment agency which includes indicators, such as the number of candidates submitted for jobs, accepted for shortlisting, or selected for a position.

        If a recruitment agency’s performance is considered ‘unsatisfactory’, Contractor Central staff submit a report to NSW Procurement. The scheme conditions allow NSW Procurement to temporarily suspend suppliers for confirmed poor performance or for breaching scheme conditions. This means that Education is less likely to hire from recruitment agencies with a history of poor performance.

        Contractor Central has the potential to improve value for money

        We found that Contractor Central has the potential to improve value for money from an agency’s contingent workforce. Education reported that it has achieved a net saving of $944,600 from August 2015 to May 2016. This is because Contractor Central has helped to ensure:

        • better oversight of contingent labour use due to more accurate and reliable data
        • better compliance with procurement principles and guidelines
        • benchmarking of rates to ensure agencies do not pay above market rates
        • streamlined hiring process, which reduce time to hire
        • more efficient timesheet approvals.

        This is an encouraging outcome. Other agencies should look for similar ways to increase their oversight of contingent labour to help improve value for money.

        Education also advised that it is planning to use Contractor Central for other procurement categories, such as the use of consultants where a defined scope of work is required for a project, called ‘statements of work’. This aims to improve oversight of Education’s use of consultants and other contractors.