Rise of the contract worker

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The benefits of employing temporary or contract staff are gaining the attention of business leaders in Singapore. According to Hays, the nation’s contracting population has more than tripled over the past 18 months and the growth is expected to continue, with demand primarily seen in the IT, Finance Technology and Banking sectors.

“With world economies at varying stages of crisis and recovery, employers are now looking for more flexibility when it comes to workforce planning – and the obvious answer is temporary assignments,” says Chris Mead, Regional Director of Hays in Southeast Asia.

Temporary workers do not only offer benefits during times of uncertainty. A flexible workforce is also about a long-term workforce management plan in which such factors as project work, peak demands, annual leave and system updates are considered.

“Given emerging skills shortages, contract workers provide employers with the ability to access specific skills and broaden the pool of talent, rather than restricting their search to only candidates looking for a permanent role,” says Mead.

In certain situations, employers may pay a premium to their employees to compensate for the short-term nature of certain contracts in professions where skills and expertise are in demand, says Dr. Amy Khor, Singapore’s Minister of State for Manpower.

“By taking advantage of the benefits of temporary assignments, an organisation can get ahead of competitors by fully utilising such flexible workforce arrangements,” Mead adds.

Exploring the temp staff option

Employers face a reduced administrative burden as temporary workers are paid by the recruitment agency. They come fully-interviewed and reference-checked, and have undertaken all necessary pre-employment medicals, safety checks and occupational health and safety training, says Mead.

“This is most important for roles that naturally have a high level of attrition – for example, some administrative or secretarial staff,” says Peter Baker, HR Director – Asia-Pacific, Maersk Line.

Employees also benefit. They are able to try out an organisation before agreeing to a permanent role. Employees also have the chance to advance their skills and career on more flexible terms with a variety of tasks and workloads.

“Not everyone wants a permanent job,” says Mead. “Those candidates attracted to temporary assignments see them as a way to gain a better work-life balance.”

Baker concurs and says that the idea that some staff have a desire to move around among different employers is probably a good one and becoming more prevalent among younger workers.

However, he adds that employers still look unfavourably upon people who have job-hopped a lot, so having their CV say “Hays” or “Adecco” as their primary employer (while also identifying the company where they were placed) is likely to be viewed more positively by an employer than someone who has resigned from many permanent roles.

SPRING Singapore and the Workforce Development Agency are also working on a formalised training plan that will develop the skills of the nearly 195,000 part-time workers here.

Employees who enter into such employment arrangements should also be aware of the implications, says Khor.

“Notwithstanding that, companies should consider converting their contract employees into permanent staff if they are found to be suitable for the job and if the job is expected to be available on a permanent basis,” she says. “This will provide greater employment certainty to the employee and enhance employee engagement.”

For instance, Japan’s recently revised labour contract law gives the country’s estimated 12 million contract workers the option of becoming permanent staff after five years’ employment at the same workplace.

The tide hasn’t turned just yet

Maersk uses contractor workers in three circumstances: when there is uncertainty about whether the role will exist in the future; when there is surge capacity needed for specific short-term projects; and as maternity leave replacements.

However, the shipping giant is still seeing that a large majority of candidates prefer the certainty that comes with a permanent role.

“Also, we find higher engagement among permanent staff, who can feel more part of the company culture,” says Baker.

“Regardless of whether employees are on term contracts or permanent contracts, they are similarly covered under Singapore’s employment legislation,” says Khor.

 

Managing contract staff

  • Do the introductions, explaining each team member’s role and their specialities
     
  • Explain when and how people should communicate, and with which tools
     
  • Ensure temporary staff know where to find the information they need on shared drives and web sites give temporary workers the context of the tasks you set out for them

Source: Hays

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