Job sharing portal BenchOn sees spike in SME sign-ups

Job sharing portal BenchOn sees spike in SME sign-ups

With Australian talent sharing platform BenchOn reporting a 275 per cent increase in remote work opportunities, founder and CEO Tim Walmsley believes portals that reallocate jobs will help the economy bounce back faster, especially in regional areas.

After making its name supporting large corporates and government agencies, this month BenchOn's proprietary technology went live in a national first for the Toowoomba Regional Council in Queensland. 

Through an initiative supported by Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise, the platform allows businesses to temporarily 'loan' their excess staff to companies experiencing a temporary increase in demand.

Walmsley hopes the development will be replicated elsewhere, and says he has proposed the model to the Federal Government in a bid to "save as many jobs as possible".

"If we strengthen businesses and provide them more opportunity to keep their people, then it creates a more resilient economy that will bounce back much faster, rather than just moving people wherever the demand is and not having any continuity of employment," he tells Business News Australia.

"Through COVID-19 companies are starting to realise that they can get a lot of work done just through video conferencing and trusting people."

The entrepreneur has observed a large increase in talent sharing for professional services and consultants.

"Companies that are having this unprecedented demand are starting to realise they need these higher-level skill sets to support their work, and they're putting out more contracts to do it," says Walmsley.

"The industries are still nowhere near where they were in terms of demands pre-COVID, but they're starting now to put their feelers out.

"We firmly believe that we should be allocating as much of this work now to small businesses across Australia so that we can keep them going, so that we don't eradicate our entire small business base and are left with a very hollow industry at the end of it."

He notes workers from hospitality and tourism in particular are moving into other industries to improve their stability, and he fears this may make the recovery "that much harder on the other side" for sectors of the economy that have already been badly hit.

"That's why we've got our model which allows the company not only to reallocate that person to a task, potentially in another industry or with another business using a skill they might not have been employed for, but it maintains their employee relationship," he explains.

"The portals are definitely our key driver for growth, because those portals are gateways for large companies to allocate their workload directly to SMEs."

"We've seen massive spikes in signups, particularly in the SME space. We've had days here we've had 50 companies a day signing up."

Can remote work job sharing to boost regional economies?

Walmsley is excited about the new portal in Toowoomba as local companies will be able to sign up and share talent locally first, but the platform will also tap employers in the area into national networks.

"It brings in more work from companies all across the country by linking them through the BenchOn national network," he says.

"We can not only stabilise regional jobs, but we can also bring more work in from the cities in order to grow regional jobs, which is something really important that we're very passionate about."

He says the platform will enable accurate reporting on how many regional jobs can be saved by secondment or sub-contracting.

"My question is how many skilled people are sitting in our regions, and the only reason that they're not being productive in our economy is because they haven't been given the opportunity?

"I think we're now going to see more of a focus on how do we allocate work in a more fair and efficient manner across the whole industry, rather than just allocating it to the larger companies that they've always just gone to."

TSBE CEO Ali Davenport says the economy is facing unprecedented stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in this time of disruption there has never been a greater need for collaboration by sharing staff to manage the unpredictable troughs and spikes in demand.

"BenchOn has the ability to allocate business opportunities swiftly from businesses who are temporarily experiencing increased demand, to businesses who are experiencing a downturn or who have the capacity to support," she said.

"This platform will also benefit local recruitment firms and labour agencies by allowing them to make their talent available for suitable contract roles.

"It will essentially notify them when an opportunity is available that suits their business specialisation, which they can then choose to respond to."

Other partnerships highlighted by Walmsley include a jobs sharing portal with Anywise Consulting to support SME jobs in the defence and professional services sector, as well as for South Korea's Hanwha Defense.

"They [Hanwha] have just entered the Australian market and they're bidding on around $17 billion worth of work over the next five years," he says.

"It's their policy that they want all of their work to go to Australian businesses, so they've created an industry portal with BenchOn so that they can allocate all of the work that they win to Australian companies that have signed up to their portal."

Growth through shifting the business model

BenchOn has only been in existence for just over 3.5 years, and when Business News Australia profiled Walmsley in October 2017 the company had hosted more than $20 million worth of contracts.

Now the group is supporting thousands of businesses and processing more than $100 million worth of contracts.

"In the early days when we built the platform the idea was to create a national network of companies to manage supply and demand. We had a whole bunch of small to medium businesses sign up to try and make that work," said Walmsley.

"But what we realised was that even though every business has peaks and troughs in their workload, if you look at it generally the large enterprises and corporates are where all the demand is at because they have the ability to go and win large programs of work. 

"Small to medium businesses are where all the oversupply is because they don't have that ability to go out and win work whenever they need it."

He says this led to a mismatch, so in 2018 BenchOn pivoted towards enterprise software, working with pilot companies including big four banks and big four consulting companies to better understand their sourcing and pain points.

"We built a number of products that suit large companies to manage sourcing support from large pools of companies, and we launched those at the beginning of 2019 - they included internal employee matching," says Walmsley.

"For large companies that have thousands of staff and multiple divisions, we would hear stories about one division was laying off 25 project managers because a program ended, but then another division would be recruiting for 15 project managers.

"They were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in recruitment fees when they actually had those people there and they were actually firing those people at the same time."

This didn't make any sense in Walmsley's view, so his team created a system whereby if a job is needed within a company, existing employees will be prioritised in order to maximise productivity and job stability while ascertaining where true talent shortages lie before looking externally.

"Once they've done that and looked at their own internal staff, we've then provided another product called supplier panel management," he says.

"Large companies normally have supplier panels of companies maybe 10, 20 or 30 companies - that they normally go to when they need support.

"But those large companies, no matter how much technology and everything they had, they were still managing those supply panels manually with emails and phone calls and Excel spreadsheets. It was just very inefficient."

The solution was to bring in those suppliers on a BenchOn profile, allocate them to a specific supplier panel, and then manage that panel digitally within the one system.

"What we found there was that sped up sourcing time from six to eight weeks, which is what our pilot customers were telling us it takes to fill a position and it dropped it right down to one day," says Walmsley.

This relatively instant matching was well received by companies and government organisations alike, and was the impetus for the kind of branded portals that are now on offer with the Toowoomba Regional Council and Anywise Consulting.

The entrepreneur aims for these platforms to play a key role in the next steps for the economy, which he sees as opening up again slowly.

"But it'll be a longer slower recovery than a lot of people think. Just because they lift the restrictions doesn't mean everything's going to go back to normal," he says.

"Companies are now already looking at new ways of working and how they can be more flexible and agile. We will see a greater proportion of work that's being allocated remotely."

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