At a glance
The way we view contract work in 2019 is very different from 15 years ago. Today, contracting is both common – according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 8 per cent of Australia’s workforce consists of independent contractors – and a popular pathway to permanent employment.
It’s a shift that has gained momentum in the decade since the global financial crisis, a period marked by dramatic technological change, corporate restructures and efficiency gains.
A contract workforce can reduce wage overheads, enabling employers to bring in specialists on a short-term basis to quickly add value to the organisation. Projects can be completed faster and more efficiently than by upskilling employees, “which could end up costing the company a lot more”, says Andrew Morris, director at recruitment firm Robert Half.
In the current climate, many employers struggle to find ideal candidates for permanent roles. Companies are expanding, which has led to (yet another) “war for talent”, Morris says. As a result, contract roles have emerged as a stopgap measure as employers install interim workers while they hunt for a permanent fit.
No commitments: bringing in contract employees
Bringing in new talent on a contract basis also allows employers to better evaluate candidates without a permanent commitment.
“You get to see how they handle conflict, how they can pick things up, their behavioural traits and the way they work with teams,” he says. “A lot of organisations see that as a great advantage.”
Many contract roles are not temp-to-permanent by design, but become permanent when it’s clear a contractor possesses a valuable set of skills or other attributes.
In a candidate-short market, employers are increasingly open to compromise when they find an exceptional individual who isn’t necessarily the perfect technical fit. The employer might reason, “this person doesn’t have exactly what we’re looking for, but from what we’ve seen over the last three to six months, we feel they could pick up those skills very easily”, Morris says.
Jason Bertalli CPA is a director at BNR Business Accountants, a Melbourne-based practice that uses contract workers for special projects, allowing the firm to scale its workforce up and down according to workload.
In Bertalli’s view, contract-based employment is a win-win for employers who need to manage periods of increased workload and simultaneously scout new talent. If a contractor turns out to be a good worker, he says, they can be offered a full-time position at the end of their contract – but there is no obligation.
Transitioning to a permanent role
A contract role is a candidate’s chance to get their foot in the door of an organisation. If you want to convert a temporary gig into an ongoing position, Bertalli’s advice is straightforward: be a good employee.
“If you want to improve your chances, you’ve got to be one of those people who steps up and embraces the role,” he emphasises. “Make yourself attractive to the employer.”
Also, be strategic about your performance, Morris suggests. “Make sure you’re hitting project goals and specific KPIs on outcomes and report back to your manager where you’ve made a difference, whether it’s efficiencies or reducing costs.”
Do your best to overachieve in the role, he adds. “Show that if they did have you in that organisation, you’d be a huge asset and of such value that they can’t afford for you to leave.”
How to ask for a permanent role
One option is to initiate a conversation with your employer to register interest in a long-term opportunity.
“Let your work do the talking,” Morris advises. “Once you’ve gone in there and felt you’ve made a difference, then bring up the future.”
You will be able to make a more compelling case if you have established a positive track record by demonstrating proficient technical and soft skills.
However, it’s usually employers that approach individuals with new opportunities, Morris says. “Most companies are looking for good people.”
That is the case at BNR, where temporary workers are often offered permanent positions.
“Towards the end of the contract, if we’ve decided that we want to convert them across to permanent, we’ll sit down and have a chat and table that with them,” Bertalli says. He recommends contractors discuss career goals and aspirations with their manager by establishing an open communication channel.
Cultural fit in recruitment
Employers are not just on the lookout for technical skills. Like many organisations, BNR prioritises cultural fit in recruitment.
“We have a very good culture,” Bertalli says. “If people fit into that culture, it gives them a good chance of being offered a full-time position.”
The right cultural fit can compensate for lack of certain technical skills, which can be learned later, Morris notes. Someone may not appear to be an ideal candidate on paper, but turn out to be an excellent cultural fit when employed on a short-term contract.
“If a person has a great attitude and can fit into an organisation, they can actually create and develop permanent opportunities for themselves by going in there and making a really big difference,” he says.