As the CEO of the sector’s only dedicated provider of recruitment and agency services you might be forgiven for expecting me to beat our ‘agency drum’ in this article and wax lyrical over how cost efficient an ‘agency hour’ is compared to ‘an employed hourly paid (sessional) hour’ is. Well relax, because on this occasion I won’t!

Notwithstanding, it is a fact that staffing costs are:

  1. Without doubt a college’s largest expense, ranging from c. 55% to c. 75% of a college’s total income (each year that income goes down, the percentage creeps back up and must be adjusted again!)
  2. This large cost centre represents perhaps the one significant, true variable cost (that we can influence, and even manage!) in the Income and Expenditure Account.

Only the lucky few colleges can afford to rely on a workforce entirely contracted on a fulltime or part-time fractional basis. In reality, this approach is too inflexible for today’s FE requirements and most colleges need a ‘tap’ to turn on, up, down and off to cope with the challenges presented by annual funding based on who walked through the door last year or indeed who is walking through the door today! Some colleges opt for Agency use, some opt for their own Sessional Pool and some combine the two.

Setting any bias to agency aside, I firmly believe that it is a fact is that an agency hour is the most efficient hour you can spend. One hour booked is equal to one fully prepared hour of delivery and subsequent marking or assessment – which should be equal to the hour actually invoiced and paid. The conundrum is that until now, the controls in place to manage an in-house sessional staffing pool in the same tight way often vary between degrees of ‘loose’. Ask any HR Director or Finance Director who presides over a sessional pool to talk openly and they will be likely to talk of inefficiency, manual systems and of timesheets for many hours being submitted some months after the timetable but still requiring payment. All this is common place but often absent is the financial provision coupled with a general lack of confidence in the college’s curriculum systems to timetable and to match hourly paid resources in the most efficient way.


Talk to the same frustrated HR Directors and you may hear that the processes required to book, record delivery and to pay only represent half of the story, and half of the work. The hidden element of this approach is the time and effort required to repopulate and sustain this pool (some sessional pools are 400 people strong!) ensuring that at all times relevant HR management information, including essential Compliance and Clearance Procedures, is maintained.

Protocol has developed a solution to this complex set of problems; enter our proprietary system ‘OZOLA’ designed on the back of our incredibly practical and powerful Visibility Online IT platform that underpins our entire Agency business. Following significant investment we have developed ‘Ozola’ as the system of choice to give college managers at every level complete control and visibility over the total management of the sessional pool.


‘Ozola’ is an end-to-end HR and Financial system, cloud based, secure, bespoke to, and wholly driven by, the end user college. Ozola deals seamlessly with Recruitment, CV Parsing, Resource Allocation and Workflow, Bookings, Timesheets, Authorisation and Payroll and Budget Management – it is a system that guarantees to put you back in the driving seat and in complete control of this essential, yet expensive resource.

If that’s grabbed your attention, don’t worry you don’t have to wait long to learn more. Ozola will be hitting the wider market in May 2015.

Viv Cruickshank is the Chief Executive Officer at Protocol and has been instrumental in developing a system that provides a real alternative to the Agency V Hourly Paid model and that allows each end user to genuinely achieve the best of both worlds at an affordable cost.

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