India’s market presents special challenges for MSPs: Clients need candidates with in-demand skill sets, but the best candidates are almost always employed and “locked in” with relieving-letter requirements.
“It’s a tough market for hiring people,” Marty Pittman, Staff Management | SMX executive director, says. “Staffing involves high-end technical requirements, professional positions, a lot of sought after skill sets and so forth. People are in demand, and they have choices.”
Through one of its MSP programmes, Staff Management | SMX manages thousands workers in India and possesses a “growing supply base of more than 50 suppliers.” Total workforce solutions, or total talent management, is still in the early stages.
“In every review, we talk about this with our clients,” Pittman says. “It just isn’t a top priority right now. The No. 1, 2, and 3 things that clients care about are filling positions day-in and day-out. That’s the goal and the priority we’re hearing even in the most strategic of accounts.”
With in-demand workers having so many choices, India’s employers have trended toward securing their employee base.
“Workers can’t just give two weeks’ notice,” Pittman explains. “They need to get a relieving letter from their employer, releasing them from the obligations of their employment agreement and allowing them to pursue a new position. Obtaining these often requires negotiation between the worker and their employer. Thirty days notice is the norm.”
That’s a problem in the contingent labour market. Clients may expect a quick start for a temporary worker to fill an immediate need, but relieving letters hinder quick movement.
“It’s a challenge if the candidate has a 30-day requirement in their employment contract and can’t get a relieving letter,” Pittman continues. And in India, candidates may not be employable without one.
Additionally, larger companies, especially technology companies, are extending notice requirements to 45 and 60 days.
“These extended employment terms create a lack of flexibility in the marketplace,” Pittman says. “So, understanding this dynamic is critical to success for MSPs and their clients.”
What the company did
Here are some steps Staff Management | SMX takes to help clients get the candidates they need—if not more quickly, then more effectively:
(1) When possible, the MSP works with contingent labour staffing agencies must be willing to create a “bench” of candidates. The agencies hold top contingent workers between assignments, especially those with in-demand skill sets. This creates a pipeline of candidates who are ready on shorter notice and can move between clients more quickly. It comes with a cost, though. “They carry that worker between jobs if there is any space between assignments. They keep them paid and keep them insured.”
Staff Management | SMX broadens its base of suppliers, too: “Not just using traditional contingent labour suppliers, but sometimes both big consultancies as well as smaller, niche players.”
(2) The MSP manages expectations about time-to-fill. Given the relieving-letter requirements, companies will have to either wait for their preferred candidate or find another way.
“Because of the relieving-letter requirement, at times the candidate pool is not as optimal as we would like,” Pittman says. “We have to level set expectations; if you need to fill a position in two weeks, then your candidate requirements may need to be adjusted accordingly. With tight turnaround positions, we’ll often need to consider a candidate that is unemployed or someone on a supplier bench.”
The MSP partners with clients on strategic forecasting. Some staffing needs are a surprise, but many are not. The company works with staffing agencies, clients, and even hiring managers to help them better anticipate needs and predict what the reasonable time-to-fill will be. That gives the MSP a chance to get a head start (when possible) in finding in-demand candidates. Sometimes, high-end consulting companies will also fill voids for the client companies.
(3) MSP keeps resources warm, just in case. Workers frequently take the offer from one company and use that as leverage to shop around for a better offer. Staff Management | SMX seeks to pay competitively but will avoid bidding wars.
“We make sure we’re paying as competitive as we need to be without overpaying upfront,” Pittman says. “Normally, it doesn’t come down to a bidding contest, which is a good thing.”
The knowledge gleaned from bidding does help the provider set the appropriate competitive wage up front, but it requires an ear to the ground. Pittman recommends reaching out to candidates frequently during any waiting period. If something may be going sideways, other candidates can be brought into the pipeline so that no one has to start from scratch if a candidate doesn’t show up (which happens in the Indian market).
“We have found that if we just followed our standard model and said to a candidate, ‘OK, here is your start date,’ when it comes starting 45 days out, we were losing a higher percentage of them. The solution was to create mechanisms to keep candidates warm while they wait. By ensuring ongoing communication between our MSP, our suppliers, and the candidate we create the necessary line of sight between the offer and the start date. This requires collaboration across all parties including the hiring manager.”
Staff Management | SMX has continued to expand its business in India. Placements are up, no-shows are down, and time-to-fill is moving in positive directions. Perhaps most importantly, hiring managers are benefiting from the strategies the MSP has deployed to help them attract the best talent at a competitive price in this growing marketplace.
“We’ve more than doubled the size of our programme in the past year,” Pittman says. “And there’s still plenty of room for us to drive this programme in a more positive way.”