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The changing landscape of contract employment in Singapore
Last week, I received close to 20 email or phone queries from candidates who wanted to know more about contract employment in Singapore.
Most were mid-career professionals looking to enter the contracting market for various reasons. Some were full-time mothers who wanted to return to the workforce through flexible roles, while others wanted to explore if contracting was a viable way to enter an industry they had little exposure to.
In 2012, when I first started recruiting for contract roles in Singapore, such occurrences, where candidates would proactively reach out to me, were relatively rare and occurred about once every other week. At that time, contract employment was simply seen as a less attractive option compared with permanent positions and couldn’t see how they could benefit from it.
But now, hardly four years later, this situation has changed.
Contract roles are now seen as good entry points into multinational corporations that have few permanent vacancies or a way to achieve a better work-life balance. Professionals are also more open to contract roles due to the tightening of Singapore’s labour market. As a result, the talent pool of skilled contractors has increased.
This change is particularly evident in four sectors: financial services, finance and accounting, information and technology, and office support.
The gravitation towards contract employment is likely to be a win for many employers, who have had to grapple with talent shortages in the contracting pool for the past few years.
While contract workers have typically been hired to address short-term human resource needs, like maternity covers or project-based work, employers are now more particular about their contractors’ expertise and skill sets.
In the 2016 Page Personnel Global Temp Survey, 84% of hiring managers surveyed, including those in Asia Pacific, expected contract workers and interim managers to show greater flexibility by adapting more readily to changing workloads. For example, office managers hired to set up a firm’s processes might have to provide finance and HR support as well.
This increasing reliance on contingent workers perhaps presents a new challenge to employers — how to better engage the contracting workforce. Although a contract employee’s tenure at a company may be transient, companies still need them to perform at their very best. Furthermore, disconnected contractors may share their lacklustre experiences at their next place of employment, potentially damaging their previous employer’s reputation.
Remuneration is one way of showing contract employees that they are valued. Currently, many contract workers receive similar base salaries compared with their permanent counterparts and not all enjoy equal benefits such as medical privileges and bonus. In more mature markets like the UK and Australia, contract employees are paid up to 20% more, or offered completion bonuses, to make up for the lack of benefits.
Another option is a surprisingly simple one — treat contract workers fairly. Show them that their contributions are valued and accord them the same respect received by a permanent employee. This can come in the form of increased training opportunities, access to the same induction or even an invitation to a team lunch. Doing so would not only help boost morale, but also a company’s employer value proposition.