by Colin Manson, CEO of Xergy, the tech start-up behind the digital platform, Proteus
Using freelancers has been common practice, particularly among the creative industries, for many years. When you can’t find, can’t afford or don’t need specific skills full-time, the freelancer can provide the perfect solution. In fact, even if you can find and afford in-house employees, freelancers still present an attractive option because they can bring certain expertise when you need it most.
The energy industry however has been slow to the party, typically preferring in-house teams comprising employees and contractors who are, to all intents and purposes, treated like employees.
The tendency has been to hang on to talent and expertise, even through previous downturns, driven by the often lengthy and expensive process of getting them in the first place. This was possible when there was more fat in the system, but we’re now in an environment of wafer-thin margins.
The fragile recovery from the deep and prolonged downturn has crumbled as the industry has had to cope with the coronavirus crisis and the collapse in commodity prices. Margins which were already under severe pressure are now almost unsustainably slim. Many companies are now engaged in a race to the bottom to try and secure and deliver enough orders to see them through the next crucial year.
As a result, this reluctance to use freelancers may be about to change. Indeed, we are already seeing a shift in attitudes, even among the large, multi-national and historically freelancer-averse corporations.
In the same way that lockdown forced companies into remote and flexible working, the shift towards using freelancers will be driven by the urgent need to move to a more variable cost resourcing model.
Energy companies are faced with a dichotomy. Teams have been decimated by redundancies and restructuring but, with a freeze on recruitment, they must somehow find the skills needed to deliver the projects they do have on their books. And they must find the required experience and expertise in a new way that doesn’t incur high recruitment agency fees, HR and other administrative costs.
Equally, the business environment and model are evolving rapidly with the race to net-zero and digital transformation. To remain competitive businesses are having to implement digitalisation strategies and demonstrate how their contribution to the energy transition and how they will operate successfully in a low carbon future.
Transforming to a lower cost, lower overhead structure is key to facilitating these transitions and using freelancers is part of that. But you need to know how to find them, appoint them and on-board them as quickly and cost-efficiently as possible.
Essentially, companies need a new way of accessing or finding talent as and when they need it.
This is one of the many reasons we developed our transformational digital platform, Proteus. Initially conceived almost three years ago with the future in mind, Proteus allows companies to reduce costs considerably through facilitating a more flexible workforce. It enables data to be saved and used at the click of a button, skills to be transferred easily between industries and companies to be digitally transformed internally before selling externally. That future is now the present and energy companies must embrace ways in which they can build more flexible teams using freelancers.
A key part of Proteus is the “Marketplace” - a database of rated skilled professionals that companies can use to search for rated talent, to post projects, to engage freelancers, invoice and pay them through a single, simple-to-use interface and wallet system. This makes finding and engaging team members simple, fast, efficient where project onboarding is quick and seamless. Freelancers can invoice automatically and companies can manage payments in line with contracts due to an online payment gateway to facilitate rapid, administratively light payment facility between companies and freelancers.
The shedding of jobs across the sector since the last downturn, coupled with the inevitable raft of redundancies to come as the furlough scheme winds down, are resulting in a deep pool of experience and expertise on the market. Changes to working patterns, not only as a result of lockdown but of shifting attitudes and cultures in recent years, allow skilled professionals to have more choice over where, when and how they work. These factors are fuelling a compelling freelance market which energy companies must learn to tap into.
The rise of the energy freelancer is not only unavoidable, it is fundamental to the sustainability of resourcing in the energy industry.