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Queensland startup BenchOn helps companies sub-contract out idle staff to businesses in need

Many of us have likely had a colleague or two throughout our careers that managed to coast by without doing much of anything in the office. In some industries, however, at various times of the year, idleness can’t be helped; the nature of contract or project-based industries, for example, means that contracts slow down in the Christmas and New Year period and staff don’t have all that much to do.

Of course, staff idleness means money down the drain and small to medium businesses in particular can’t afford the financial hit, meaning they must let go of valuable staff.

Having found a solution to the problem is Queensland-based startup BenchOn. As explained by founder and CEO Tim Walmsley, the BenchOn marketplace helps businesses match idle staff to short term contracts from reputable companies and government agencies in need of talent.

“By connecting businesses to contracts for their idle employees or high quality staff for extra support during surges, BenchOn allows businesses to manage the peaks and troughs of the business cycle.”

The idea came to Walmsley, an Army veteran, during his time in the Defence Industry.

“I saw first-hand the pain that small business owners experience when they have to let go of valuable employees simply because there was a gap in a contract and they could not justify the cost of keeping them on,” he said.

“These are not products that can simply be discarded, they are highly qualified professionals that are the backbone of business capability. When a business loses a valuable employee, they are also losing years of corporate knowledge and large sections of their network, and are undermining the stability of their team.”

An Army veteran with 14 years’ experience at the executive level in both government and commercial sectors, Tim has brought his unique experience, focus and drive to the startup sector to stimulate business growth, generate greater job stability and provide the ecosystem necessary to meet the talent demands of the future.

Researching the problem, Walmsley found that underutilisation of employees and their skills is costing Australian businesses $305 billion a year. Worse still, businesses have come to accept this as common practice; they simply try to absorb the cost into their overheads and hope they can maintain their teams long enough during the lulls to win future strategic contracts, Walmsley explained.

The solution lies in the fact that the problem is two sided.

“Large organisations are frustrated that they do not have a ‘bench’ of high quality staff ready to respond to short notice tasks from their clients. Australia is facing a massive talent and skills shortage and there is currently plenty of debate about how we generate the talent needed to meet the highly complex projects that are being undertaken in Australia in the next 10 to 20 years,” Walmsley said.

Determining that the answer lies in the untapped productivity of our underutilised workforce, Walmsley began work on BenchOn to match the businesses on each side of the fence.

The startup found BlueChilli early on in its development, leading to the launch of a working platform four months after the start of the design phase.

A core part of the development has been customer validation, with Walmsley saying the concept for the platform evolved significantly through the process as each new customer coming on brought with them a different perspective.

“Much of the early validation was done with small to medium businesses, which are quite flexible with their processes. However, when we brought on enterprise level consulting companies, we realised they are quite set in their ways,” Walmsley explained.

Businesses with staff sitting on the bench can sign up to BenchOn and begin creating employee profiles for each of their staff. The platform has created an availability calendar through which employees can pre-emptively activate staff for known gaps over the coming 12 months.

For the businesses searching for talent, BenchOn works by having them fill out a job request form, detailing the qualifications, skill sets, and experience they need, the rate band, and the dates required.

As Walmsley explained, once a request is submitted, BenchOn will provide matches from companies that have the available staff to meet the requirement. Upon agreeing to a match, they simply sub-contract the other company using their current subcontracting policy; the staff member being sub-contracted out remains an employee of their parent company.

“We have intentionally not forced our clients to use a third-party sub-contract template as we recognise that each company in each industry has a different way of doing it. The supplying company will then invoice them on the agreed schedule as they complete the work,” he said.

BenchOn takes a fee only after payment between the two companies has been made, charging 10 percent of the invoiced rate.

The startup’s primary target market is the professional services space, though it is also operating across the defence, IT, mining, oil and gas, construction, and manufacturing industries.

“All of these industries understand the pain point of underutilisation because they are largely contract or project based. In addition, these industries are very complementary in their skills sets. As one industry is in decline, another is booming which creates a perfect opportunity to utilise staff across industry boundaries for the benefit of all involved,” Walmsley explained.

“For example, if a mining company is temporarily closing down a mine to save costs, they now have hundreds of engineers, logisticians, project managers and business support staff that are sitting idle with the skill sets that these other industries are crying out for.”

According to Walmsley, the startup has signed up over 45 companies since launch, including one of the big four consulting companies, hosting over $7 million worth of contracts in its marketplace.

While bringing on the larger organisations can be difficult due to the layers of bureaucracy that must be gone through, Walmsley said BenchOn hasn’t had to spend too much time educating the market as it’s a problem that the market has keenly experienced. Where the education part has come in is in the presentation of a new solution that they haven’t had before.

Though there are a number of startups working in the talent and recruitment space, Walmsley said BenchOn’s difference lies in its B2B model, which looks to treat the problem itself – the fact industries are becoming more contract/project centric, in turn leading to a shift to part time work and high staff turnover – rather than the symptoms.

“At the core of the problem is the fact that businesses don’t want to lose their staff. They want to create strong, niche capability; they want to develop world-class teams that give them a competitive advantage on the world stage; they want to invest in their people through training and mentoring to generate the high quality professionals of the future. All of this requires job stability, which is exactly what we are offering,” Walmsley said.

Having raised a pre-seed funding round, which included investment from BlueChilli, to facilitate the development of the platform earlier this year, Walmsley said further funding will be sought in the first half 2017 to help the startup scale and grow its tech and client relations teams.

Image: Tim Walmsley. Source: Supplied.

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