Commentary: Scepticism towards contract work hold workers back from finding their perfect job

Commentary: Scepticism towards contract work hold workers back from finding their perfect job

The contracting market is set for impressive growth, but old mindsets may be the biggest impediment to realising its potential, says Hays Singapore’s Lynne Roeder.

People wait in line to enter a job fair in New York
People wait in line to enter a job fair. (Photo: REUTERS)

SINGAPORE: What makes a job desirable and what companies are looking for are rapidly changing.

A commentary on Channel NewsAsia highlighted that while in the past, people desired stable 9-to-5 jobs, young entrants to the workforce today place a premium on learning and information sharing.

The rise of a gig economy is also offering considerable flexibility to companies in outsourcing work on a task or project basis to specialists.

It is no surprise that contracting in Singapore is growing fast and may have even reached the tipping point on its way to becoming the new norm in several sectors.

This is in line with global trends where 72 per cent of companies surveyed say they have employed temporary or contract staff over the past 12 months. In Singapore, this figure is higher at 92 per cent.

PROFILE OF THE CONTRACT WORKER

As Singapore makes strong progress on its Smart Nation Vision to harness new technological advances, there is strong demand for talent in IT and digital communications to fill project management and information technology development roles to help companies revamp their businesses and communities to transform their living spaces.

In the banking industry facing fresh challenges posed by emerging FinTech and new international reforms, many are scrambling to play catch-up, to deliver advanced projects and create new systems to meet regulatory requirements.

Changes to the International Finance Reporting Standards and global banking governance standards known as Basel III have driven demand for a range of contracting and temporary assignments.

Singapore financial district file
File photo of Singapore's central business district. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

While existing staff brush up on their knowledge of these new regulations, contract staff with deep experience could be brought on board to help expedite the changes to ensure the company does not fall behind its competitors.

The specialist skillsets contract workers are sought for should dispel the myth that contracting work is limited only to entry-level office support roles in sectors that are neither glamorous nor attractive to work in.

Contractors are increasingly viewed by employers as an ideal flexible resource to help them deliver projects and add technical skills in areas where a team is falling short.

This is even as some roles that involve the accumulation of institutional knowledge or managing large business administrative unit teams will remain in-house.

In part, this phenomenon is not new. Several big players in the field of management and consultancy have in the past hopped on the contracting bandwagon to offer their services in helping companies deliver large-scale change management projects in a short span of time.

Start-ups with fresh-faced, well-connected and strongly motivated founders in Singapore are also making their mark to aid companies with their choice problems – plugging a skills gap 96 per cent of Singapore businesses say is the key threat that will impact their operations this coming year.

Start-up 2
What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur? (Photo: Jack Board) 

BIGGEST IMPEDIMENT ARE SINGAPORE WORKERS THEMSELVES

While business attitudes are evolving and realising the potential of temporary workers, who have become more than a stop-gap to cover shortfalls in permanent candidates or urgent access to necessary skills, the biggest impediment may be Singapore workers themselves.

Despite millennial workers capitalising on this newfound demand, many older job seekers in Singapore still tend to favour permanent employment over temporary assignments.

Job security is still highly valued by Singaporeans, with workers aged 45 and above indicating a desire for more help to remain employable, in a pre-Budget 2017 survey conducted by REACH. 

Even as millennials appear to be more willing to try their hand at contracting, annual graduate employment surveys still shine the spotlight on their ability to land a permanent full-time job as soon as possible.

Concerns of job security and progression aside, contracting in these quarters is also seen as a less preferred option to permanent employment because many believe contracting does little to help them develop marketable skillsets and will not be able to earn them as much.

FILE PHOTO: A cyclist rides a bicyle as he delivers food for Deliveroo, an example of the emergence
A cyclist rides a bicyle as he delivers food for Deliveroo. (File photo: REUTERS/Charles Platiau)

But the fact is, contracting offers candidates a slate of opportunities.

Candidates are able to undertake contract assignments that will broaden their expertise, expose them to new industries and diversify their skills and experience, which will make them more attractive and employable in the future.

Contracting also allows workers to expand their network, providing an opportunity for them to develop strong professional relationships and make valuable business connections.

If candidates leave on good terms after their contract role has ended, they would have made new contacts who make good references on future employment opportunities and may facilitate a stream of future contracting roles.

From my experience, candidates are also unaware of the higher rates of pay that temporary assignments offer, common in many other markets such as the UK, Australia and the US.

An overall higher rate of pay is given in return for a well-developed and executed project completed on the contract worker’s time, even though they are not offered annual or sick leave.

Perks-wise, the Singapore government also updated its manpower guidelines last year, encouraging employers to give annual leave to contract employees so long as they have been working for three months or more for the same firm.

All this bodes well for the Singapore market – where 45 per cent of Singaporeans say they’re looking to switch jobs to seek out new challenges.

workcentral informal meeting area
The ability to build networks with many key executives and new contacts is a perk a short-term contracting job can offer. (Photo: Work Central Offices)

The even better news is that such positions are often stepping stones to a longer tenure position - if that is what workers seek.

Many companies like to trial candidates in the role they have been contracted to fill with a view to offering them a permanent position at the end of the contract period.

This way, candidates get to experience what contracting is like, and both the candidate and the company have some time to gauge suitability.

If employees are indeed searching for a “perfect job”, never mind whether it exists or not, contracting is the ideal way to do so.

While the rise of contracting as an alternative to permanent hiring in Singapore has been driven by employers’ business needs thus far, there is reason to be optimistic that it will catch on with employees too.

As the availability of contract roles across more sectors including healthcare, engineering and public service agencies increase, a mindset shift among potential workers is likely to follow.

If organisations continue to offer high monetary compensation, this will surely sweeten the deal.

Lynne Roeder is managing director of Hays Singapore.

Source: CNA/sl

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