Leveraging Third-Party Technical Resources

Dec. 19, 2006
Who to hire, and how to do it

Joe Campbell Chief Operating Officer, Applied Manufacturing Technologies, Inc.

The decision to contract-out an engineering project is not as critical as the decision that matches the assignment to a contractor.

Hiring temporary resources for virtually any function is now a common practice throughout the United States. From entry-level unskilled labor to virtual executives, companies are fitting temporary resources into positions once exclusive to full time employees.

In the engineering and design fields, the trend to engage temporary resources has been well established in industries such as Automotive and in disciplines such as IT. The practice is growing rapidly across industries and disciplines.

While each situation is unique, there are four common market drivers that are most often cited:

  1. Project Loads Few businesses are linear, with seasonal or project workloads that outstrip the organization s ability to execute. These pressures are compounded when a company is growing. In the past, common practices were to hire and maintain resources sufficient to meet the maximum demand, hire ahead of the growth curve, or stress the organization with extended (and expensive) overtime or forced hours.
  2. Specialization Even the largest businesses have trouble employing full-time specialists in every discipline. And, often those specialists are working on another project, or at another location, when needed elsewhere.
  3. Business Scale Smaller businesses often find their absolute size means they only have demand for a partial resource.
  4. Efficiencies and Overhead Hiring, training, managing, and maintaining a diverse staff of technical specialists is expensive, particularly when the actual numbers are relatively small.

There is also a gray zone between filling a short-term or specialized resource need and contracting a defined project. If the task is well defined, including deliverables and acceptance criteria, consider engaging an engineering company for a fixed fee, or cost plus project.

Who do you call? A temp agency or engineering company? Once the decision has been made to leverage temporary resources, it is critical to match the assignment to the sourcing company. Not all companies are created equal in this field, and the differences are particularly important when engaging automation and manufacturing engineering and design resources. Nontechnical resources such as entry level factory labor, or clerical support, can be quickly trained on basic tasks and integrated into a business.

The consequences of a bad hire are relatively small,, and can be detected and remedied quickly. Not so with technical resources, such as engineering, design, simulation, programming or consulting. The work performed by these specialists has a longer cycle, broader consequences in cost, schedule and project performance, and ultimate success, and is far more difficult to gauge in a short period of time.

Temporary agencies scout and place individuals into positions, and their infrastructure supports that process. They do not add technical value to the individual, the process, the project or the customer. Their function is simply to scour the market, match resumes against key words the client provides, and act as a matchmaker. The client carries full responsibility for the engagement and the project.

Engineering companies deliver engineering, programming, software and design services, from a self-contained business structure. Unlike the temp agency, the engineering company infrastructure is specifically designed to add technical value to the individual, the project, and the client. The organizational structure is focused on technical-value added, quality and project execution, not recruiting and resume processing. Engineers, programmers, and designers report to technical managers, in a formal corporate structure that supports the engineering process.

There are 10 questions that you should ask before engaging a temporary resource:

  1. Are you engaging their direct employees to work on your project, or are they passing through a temporary?
  2. Has the company trained the resource, or are they just passing through a resume with no real process knowledge. Is the training done by a professional trainer, with field experience, with a controlled structured curriculum?
  3. Is the resource supervised and managed by technical professionals in the field, or are they a resume reporting to a clerk or administrator?
  4. Does the company offer continuing training for their engineers and designers, to keep them current on new products, new technologies, new engineering tools? Do they offer multiple disciplines, and enable the cross department synergies?
  5. Does the company provide technical support and backup in the engineering / design discipline? Who does the third-party resource contact for assistance and support if they encounter a problem in the field?
  6. Does the company certify the resource as capable in individual automation or software packages? Is there an active testing and review process?
  7. Does the company own any automation systems? CAD software? Simulation software? Does the company have physical offices? Do they have a lab for training and certification? Can your application be modeled or validated in their lab?
  8. Does the company have an IT department that supports their engineers? Do the resources arrive to the project properly equipped with PC hardware and software?
  9. Is the company ISO certified? Do they have a controlled process to manage your project data? Do their employees operate under an ISO controlled process when working on in-house projects?
  10. Does the company have a project management structure? How are multiple discipline projects coordinated?

Why does it matter? The ultimate goal is to meet every project manager s objectives for cost, schedule, and performance. Engaging an engineering company rather than a temporary agency meets those objectives, by efficiently delivering the highest caliber technical resources, with the back-up of the whole corporation.

Joe Campbell is the chief operating officer of Advanced Technologies Inc., a supplier of consulting, design, and engineering services, specializing in industrial automation and robotics.

Contact him at [email protected], or visit