Smart Moves: Part-time experts are in demand

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The Independent Online
'Part-timer" has never been much of a compliment. A part-time job suggests less time, less responsibility, even less commitment. As for "part-time" and "fulfilment" - you rarely hear them uttered in the same breath.

Yet things are changing. An acknowledgement that stress lowers productivity, not to mention the continual reports that childcare in Britain is the most expensive in Europe, emphasises need for more flexible working.

"Flexibility" has an aspirational quality. But "part-time"? Not really one for the professionals. Part-time work has traditionally meant taking a step down, abdicating some of the more strategic aspects of your position to a full-timer. After all, you can't have the best of both worlds - or can you?

Lindsay Swan and Elaine Howe believe that you can. Founders of Working Options, a recruitment consultancy specialising in part-time positions for professionals, their philosophy is simple. There are a lot of parents, particularly mothers, who have taken time out to have children, are keen to return to work, but can't envisage returning to their previous full- time positions, preferring to spend more than snatched "quality time" with their children.

Other people, not necessarily parents, might fancy combining work with studying, or perhaps they just want to achieve a better balance between time spent at work and time spent doing other things. While many people are able to strike a deal with their current employer, when it comes to job hunting from scratch, finding a part-time, fulfilling role often proves difficult. Where do you start? "There is now a place where people can go: we only deal with part-time positions," explains Ms Howe, an accountant and mother who was frustrated by the lack of interesting opportunities for part-time work.

"We feel there is a need for small to medium organisations to have expert knowledge," says Ms Swan, a public relations professional and also a mother, who was struck by the wealth of skills and experience among the parents she was meeting each day when she picked up her children from school.

"There is a certain size of organisation which would like someone who can offer strategic thinking - but that person doesn't necessarily need to be there every day of the week," explains Ms Howe, who believes in helping businesses to focus and get the most from people by allowing them to do what they are good at, rather than paying over the odds for work which could be dealt with more efficiently by full-time, less expensive people.

Working Options has a growing number of people on its books: accountants, lawyers, editors, designers and business analysts. It also has experts in human resources, marketing, advertising and public relations. Businesses are flocking on to the register - at a rate of one a day. There is great potential for matches made in heaven.