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Flexible Staffing in the '90s - Using Temporary Purchasing/Materials Personnel


Lee Krotseng, C.P.M.
Lee Krotseng, C.P.M., Area Purchasing Manager, International Purchasing Service, Detroit, MI 48239 313-255-2110.

80th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1995 - Anaheim, California

In the 1990s a variety of forces demand that organizations do more with less people. Due to the passage of the Family Leave Act, a slowly recovering world economy, the ending of the cold war arms race and other economic factors, temporary help of all kinds is being utilized with increasing frequency. All departments including Purchasing and Materials Management are being affected by this trend. Temporary purchasing and materials management personnel can contribute significantly to an organization's bottom line without significantly increasing overhead costs. Purchasing and Materials Managers must learn how and when to contract for and use temporary purchasing and materials staffing services in new and innovative ways that address manpower, skill and/or knowledge shortages while taking advantage of current technology (including temporary and at-home purchasing offices).

Due to corporate "rightsizing," special projects, the Family Leave Act, or other reasons, purchasing and materials management operations can be faced with too much to do in too short a time with the available manpower hours. We can end up in crisis mode with the accompanying disruption of operations. In today's economy, organizations worried about the bottom line want to have the flexibility to increase or decrease production and staff personnel quickly. A temporary Purchasing or Materials professional allows the organization to apply specific expertise only when needed without the bottom line burdens of recruitment and overhead costs such as training and fringe benefits.

The use of temporary Purchasing/Materials professionals is still a relatively new alternative to manpower shortages. The National Association of Temporary Services (NATS) indicates that the use of Temporary Purchasing personnel is in the fastest growing temporary category - Technical Temporaries. In the past, purchasing/materials manpower shortages could be covered by other personnel in the department. With today's top management expecting more with less people, fewer purchasing/materials operations have this ability. This manpower shortage can create an atmosphere of crisis management which can become the norm. This in turn can generate a ripple effect throughout the entire department that leads to significant productivity loss, disruption of materials flow and decreases in the organization's output. In other words, a general decline in operational efficiency and effectiveness that can affect the entire organization. Also, personnel burnout can be just around the corner further aggravating the situation with increased absenteeism and sick leave. A temporary purchasing professional correctly used is a tool to help organizations avoid or minimize these challenges.

Three varieties of purchasing temporary exist today. First and most requested is that of the purchasing or materials temporary. It includes purchasing, materials and production control people with hands-on experience who are looking for shorter periods of employment and willing to work on a variety of assignments. Maternity leave is a good example of this type of temporary assignment. After several months, the permanent employee will be back at work and the temporary will go home or on to another assignment.

The second type of temporary purchaser/materials person focuses on project or contract assignment position. Examples would include specific projects such as building a new facility, starting an offshore procurement program or implementing an MRP system. These types of projects typically last a year or more and the specific skills or additional manpower contracted for is no longer required when the project is completed.

The final type of temporary purchaser is called Third Party Purchasing or TPP. TPPs undertake either the hands-on buying like the purchasing temporary or specific projects usually associated with project or contract assignments with the difference being that the TPP works in the offices of the temporary purchasing agency or with today's increased communications and computer capabilities in his/her own home. Note that the organization must transfer all aspects of the position - including authorization to commit money - to a relative unknown. For this reason it is vital that the TPP personnel be extremely experienced and professional. A good example of TPP is a regional utility that is considering TPPing its MRO operations. This would free up field technician time now spent locating and buying spare parts and allow them to concentrate their time directly on-site repairing or replacing equipment.

Each organization's operating environment and needs are unique and may require different types of temporaries at different times. In some instances a mixture of types may be required.

There are several sources of this talent. One resource is retired or early retired purchasing and materials professionals. These people may not be interested in full-time employment, but for various reasons want to "keep their hands in". Another source is people who have decided that the "large corporate environment" is not for them and are looking to do something different. Finally, there are those people who are between jobs due to corporate right-sizing, consolidations, leveraged buyouts, etc. These people are willing to take short-term assignments in hopes of being offered a permanent position or until they find full-time work elsewhere.

Basically there are two types of temporary help agencies - those that provide specialized temporaries and those that provide all types of skills. Choosing which type to use can be a challenge. However, a good rule of thumb is: Use the specialized agencies for positions that require some degree of knowledge or expertise. Generally they can provide a larger pool of specific talent to choose from and thus increase the probability of having more candidates that closely match the job requirement. For example, almost anyone can be an expediter. However, if the requirement is for a purchasing temporary with experience buying a particular commodity, using a temporary help agency that specializes in purchasing temporaries would be a better approach.

No matter what the source, care should be taken to choose the best person for the temporary job. The temporary help supplier should be viewed like any other supplier of services. Past clients are usually a good source of performance information. Also, find out what quality management tools the temporary supplier has in place to insure that quality people are employed. A good supplier will check with the client and the temporary during and after the assignment as part of a continuous quality improvement program.

The Purchasing or Materials Manager should have an idea of what he/she expects the temporary to do. When a temporary is placed in an existing position, the formal job description for the position can be used to specify the job requirements. If the job description is out of date or unavailable, the permanent employee or his/her supervisor may be able to provide information to create the job requirement. A common approach used when employing purchasing temporaries is to specify responsibility for a commodity or group of commodities that the individual will be buying. The organization's Human Resource Department can be another useful source when developing the Temporary job requirement.

The temporary agency should provide at least three candidates who closely match each job requirement. The organization can reject or accept from the candidate pool(s). A telephone interview between the prospective temporary and his or her supervisor and perhaps a representative of the organization's Human Resource Department is the next step. In some cases, such as long-term projects, face-to-face interviews may be necessary. A formal written contract or purchase order that outlines specific responsibilities is normally required. If travel or other anomalies are expected, then the necessary expense terms should also be included in the contract.

Temporary assignments pay well and give the practitioner exposure in a variety of purchasing jobs. This increase in breadth of experience can only help the person's career path - increasing mobility in selection and timing of career choices. In large population areas some temporaries are able to commute to the assignment. Other temporaries prefer to work for several months out-of-town, returning home on weekends. Telecommuting or Third Party Purchasing is also a growing trend. A temporary assignment can be a solution for two-career couples who want to avoid moving to another area and/or disrupting one spouse's career if the other's company is downsizing, etc. It isn't for everyone, but for those wanting to spend more time outside the "8 to 5" work environment, facing early retirement, wanting to return to college, travel or looking for new experiences, it is well worth considering.

In the 1990s, we can become more efficient and effective or we can burn out as our organizations continue to expect more and more from Purchasing with less manpower to do the job. Temporary Purchasing staffing is one solution to this challenge. We have to work smarter not harder to be competitive in the world marketplace.

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