SMES should target Aus staff supply

Kiwi small businesses should be looking to supply skills to rapidly expanding Australian SME sector where firms are finding it tough-going hiring people with the attributes they need.

A recent Australian survey has found that overseas staffing - where firms contract workers with the skills they need for a certain period or project - is helping Australian SMEs grow faster.

The survey by MicroSourcing Australasia, an Asia-based company which specialises in matching SMEs to skilled staff in the Philippines, found that 45 per cent of Australian SMEs that have engaged overseas staff have seen their local workforce grow.

MicroSourcing Australasia managing director Ash Truscott said the availability of low-cost technology such as cloud computing and video conferencing had made this a cost-effective way of growing a business.

He added however that the weaker New Zealand dollar –and an extra two-hour time difference - meant the same growth benefits were less likely to apply to New Zealand SMEs considering a similar move.

But Business NZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly said rather than using overseas staffing themselves, Kiwi SMEs should be trying to supply Australian businesses with the skills they need.

“What a great way to be a part of the Australian growth story, while keeping your base here. It's a brilliant opportunity for any business to build international capacity.”

Kevin O'Neill, Australasian chief information officer for recruitment company Randstad, said there were already some instances of Australian companies outsourcing certain business tasks to New Zealand and that had potential to grow.

“If New Zealand can maintain a low cost base and invest in skills it could become a very attractive option.”

Skills and services such as payroll functions and credit control could be of particular interest to Australian businesses looking for cost-effective solutions. Similar timezones and cultural similarities may make New Zealand a more attractive option than other traditional outsourcing countries, he said.

MicroSourcing's Truscott said there had been some initial resistance across the Ditch to the idea of Australian companies hiring overseas instead of locals.

“Off-shore staffing sometimes gets a bad name but in the SME sector at least it can provide a real boost to business growth. Offshore staffing is often the only avenue available to resource-constrained small business owners to access affordable talent, freeing up their time for productive uses.”

Those most to gain include regional businesses who often have trouble attracting skilled staff to their neck of the woods.

The use of overseas staffing means a company can target specific skills as they need them, O' Neill said.

“An app design company for example can have a few high skilled staff rather than a huge bank of developers. It makes them very agile. And some of them are growing very quickly.”

O'Reilly said the use of overseas staffing by NZ SMEs tended to be in a specific niche.

“It's really businesses who need specialised and highly-skilled staff which may be in short supply here or unaffordable for small businesses.

“Using skilled staff offshore can also add flexibility. A small business here may need a certain specialised skill set, but may not need them for 40 hours a week. Going offshore means they can pay for just the work they need doing.”

He said overseas staffing had been happening for some time in New Zealand at that niche level, but technological advances had made it easier.

But he added, NZ SMEs were already taking advantage of other technologies such as social media and online advertising to reach a global market.

“There are other ways of using technology to boost your business that are less risky and not as complicated as offshore staffing, which can come with some problems; things like quality control.”