The term “on the bench” is widely used by consulting houses in South Africa meaning a full-time “consultant” who is not on a client project. Usually sitting back at HQ and waiting on the next client project.

Being on the bench or un-billable are some of the scariest words to “consulting houses” and “consultants” alike. This leads to less revenue for the company and can possibly lead to retrenchment or people loosing theirs jobs.

Being on the bench is an uncomfortable space for business and the consultants, speaking from 6 months experience. Most of the time these designers are usually just being paid to sit around and use the companies resources on time that the company plans to bill a client with them. Not everyone is resourceful or can jump onto other in-house projects quickly.

I used most of my time on the bench building my voice around design sprints in South Africa and finding events to speak at so I could create a platform to grow my brand.

The so called “Contusing houses” in South Africa are usually in the business of selling people, talent, capacity, resources whatever they choose for to title you as. The point is that they do very little consulting or advisory work. If they cannot bill for the hours you are playing in the field then you are “sitting on the bench” and in a very bad and undesirable condition.

This is the typical business model that most so called consulting firms in South Africa running on. It is not even consulting, it’s just recruiting the right designers for the job and most of them are very good at this. This talent outsourcing works great in the age of the gig economy, for freelancers and individuals moving into the remote working and flexible working hours.

On the other hand, full time talent doesn’t need to be wasted on just sitting on the bench waiting for the next client. This not only makes people feel less useful and unappreciated, but also not invested and alienated from the company.

This doesn’t have to be the case. In my eyes, being on the bench is a great opportunity for both the business and designers. This is a great time for career development and exploring burning ideas that the company or people have. The designers you hire in your business are real people, with real ambitions and ideas that may change your business or impact the world.

Leveraging on these opportunities both as businesses and designers gives us a great space to think and do great things that helps businesses open new streams of revenue. Think of it as a work sabbatical, After all there is a budget for a full time resource so why not invest well.

This is something that is starting to happen as companies change their hiring structures to balance in-house and outsourced talent. The current model of communication and recognition of ideas between organizations and in-house talent doesn’t allow the best ideas to come afloat. There are great ideas not being tapped into and most consulting companies do not leverage in-house talent.

The business model of selling talent does not focus on using this talent elsewhere but selling it. Businesses tend to forget that there are a lot of internal problems they have in processes that can be optimized and solved better and faster buy using on the bench talent. After all, you hire the best people to solve real world business problems for your clients so why not yours.

The business is going to invest the money paid to the designers as salary anyway so what don’t businesses utilize that investment. I believe the return on investment will be worth more and may benefit the company even more in the long run even after that human being has left the business.

The Consulting/Agency model of outsourcing talent has not changed over the past 15+years in South Africa and other places in the world. The world is changing with a new breed of start ups and freelance consultants that are building modern day consulting houses/ agency’s, with business models based on building assets, culture and speed of execution. The market is beginning to have the conversation and seeing the value of focused attention and speed to market.

Whole industries have been disrupted by the internet and the growing connectivity/ accessibility to mobile devices and mainly smartphones in South Africa and the rest of Africa. There are big ideas that people have about solving for their day to day frustrations that can impact millions of people. There are opportunities in Education, financial inclusion, energy and other social problems that can be solved by design and the humans who care enough who are close to these everyday situations.

There is so much more that can be done with the talent that is underutilized and not recognized. I think it’s crazy how companies invest all this money in getting the best people to solve problems clients have, yet they have the same problems and do not solve them. Businesses need to start looking at in-house consulting as a way of investing in the business rather than a waste of resources while they let talent sit on the bench.

The concept is simple, you can create a company culture that encourages idea sharing, low investment prototypes, and testing to validate ideas before they can get further investment. Employees that come up with ideas get the recognition and the right compensation on those ideas they bring to the table.

Another option is to tap into this talent by using their expertise to accelerate solving internal problems on processes, systems and improving the employee experience for people that take care of everyone else and keeps things going.

I am not an expert on this topic in any way but I speak from experiences I have seen and what I think could be a solution to change the way consulting houses look at talent sitting on the bench. Changing the perspective of these human beings and what they are capable of bringing to the table and get recognized.

Like I mentioned these are real people with real-life opportunities that they are willing to invest in and make it work there are a lot of ideas consulting houses can benefit from internally or commercially from talent sitting on the bench.