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Why you should embrace that contract (Today)

Why you should embrace that contract
05:55 AM Dec 19, 2009
by Richard Hartung

For many workers the data may be unnerving. Instead of an increase in permanent employment, what’s actually rising is contract employment.

The latest Singapore Workforce report from the Ministry of Manpower showed that nearly 13 per cent of resident employees are on term contracts. On top of this, the percentage of part-timers in the resident workforce rose from 6.8 per cent last year to 8.4 per cent this year. With such a high proportion of employees currently in contract and part-time positions – and with the percentages rising – the very nature of employment has changed substantially.

Comments by staffing firms seem to bear out this trend. With companies looking to employ more flexible workforces, “contracting is fast becoming a popular staffing solution in Singapore”, according to recruitment firm Robert Walters. Similarly, staffing company Kelly Services notes that “demand for temporary and contract workers continues to rise as flexible working becomes a way of life in many companies”.

For many in Singapore, this increase in contract and part-time work may come as a surprise. For years, living the good life has meant a permanent position in a large company. Even though many workers plan to change jobs every couple of years, and even though redundancies increased among supposedly permanent employees this past year, many workers still prefer – and assume they’ll have – what is called a permanent position.

Some see the insurance, vacation and healthcare benefits for permanent employees as the real advantage, while others worry about being the first person to be laid off should hard times hit after they take up a contract position.

Yet the reality is that the job market is changing and more companies are hiring more contract staff. Some companies hire contract workers to increase flexibility; others need specialised staff for fixed periods; and still others hire contract staff to get around headcount freezes. For many it’s part of a longer-term strategy rather than just a result of the economic downturn, and the trend seems likely to continue even as the economy improves.

Many employees view the changes with trepidation. Yet there can be big upsides to contract work, too, and workers who embrace the change can be at the head of the pack.

Even as it sees the shift happening, Kelly Services, for example, says that “temporary staff are becoming an integral part of business and the best can expect rich rewards”. At higher levels there are changes too. Says Robert Walters: “We also anticipate that more professionals will become open to contract roles as the perceived job security of permanent roles lessens.”

While some people may feel less secure if they accept a contract position, workers who take advantage of the shift – especially early in their working life, but sometimes later as well – may actually benefit in the long run. Some contract staff have found that they can get better experience, more flexibility, more control over their career, longer breaks and even higher pay in a contract position.

As one person interviewed by ZDNet said about having done IT-related contract work for several years: “At the end of day, I am better off than others. I know systems better than others. People working in one place for ages don’t know what’s out there.”

R Ravindran of the Singapore Institute of Management found virtually the same thing – that contract work “provides opportunity to experience many different industries and many different corporate cultures” – and said as much in an article as far back as 2005. Further, he said, “contract positions tend to pay better than similar permanent positions”.

And as Andrea Ross from Robert Walters put it: “Professionals on contract can get back into the workplace much more quickly. Candidates are also attracted by the opportunity to broaden their experience by working in different functions across a business.”

While taking a contract position may at first seem risky, the actual results can be better than expected. More experience, more flexibility and higher pay can be quite positive. Very importantly, though, accepting contract work will require a change in how we view jobs.

For those who are open-minded and embrace the change, the upsides of the trend toward contracts can bring great benefits. ¢

The writer is a consultant who has lived in Singapore since 1992.


Copyright 2009 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

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