Skills Sharing and Secondment

Sharing skills and knowledge either through a secondment or a more intermittent arrangement benefits both business and community partners, and increases the capacity of the community in which they operate.

A 2003 Western Australian Council of Social Service (WACOSS) survey of more than 800 WA organisations found that 40% of businesses provided time and expertise to another group - including expertise through skill or knowledge sharing.

If one party has skills or knowledge that match the needs of a prospective partner, then sharing those skills makes for a healthy partnership.

This can be done through an occasional or regular skilled volunteering arrangement, or a more substantial secondment, where a business lends a staff member to a community group for a period of time (usually a number of months) to complete a particular task or transfer a body of knowledge. The individual on secondment remains in the employ of their company and continues to be paid by the company.

This is not a one-way flow of knowledge though - staff members on secondment will invariably gain valuable knowledge from the experience.

Some examples of skills sharing or secondment in community business partnerships:

  • A business owner sharing management or operational techniques;
  • A librarian teaching a local historical society how to update their filing system;
  • A Landcare group advising a new nursery on local conditions for growing plants;
  • The secondment of an accountant to help out a community group at tax time.
Benefits to the business partner include:
  • The individual employee tackles new challenges and gains new skills, a new perspective, insights and ideas and gets a boost to his or her confidence and morale;
  • That morale boost can be shared with other staff on the employee's return to the original workplace, and any new knowledge and skills can be applied when they return to their regular role;
  • The business strengthens its links to the broader community;
  • And the business potentially gains publicity and an improved reputation.
When arranging a secondment, remember to:
  • Ensure all parties are clear on what is expected of them and are willing to make the necessary commitment;
  • Get it in writing, and have both partners sign off on it;
  • Include in the agreement a general outline of the initiative as well as the duration, the tasks to be completed, the delegation of responsibilities and the sort of reporting required;
  • Consider confirming how the work will be recognised by the company (perhaps by a bonus or additional days off), how the employee will stay in contact with the company, and payment, contractual and insurance issues;
  • Plan regular communication throughout the duration of the secondment to ensure it is running smoothly and achieving its goals.