Many people find comfort in the standard five-day, 9-to-5 workweek: knowing what time they need to arrive at work and what time to call it a day.
So when the pandemic set in at the start of the year, the structure and routine of permanent, full-time work were significantly impacted. With no office or workplace to come and go from, lockdowns meant remote working was now the norm.
But evidently, flexibility was not quite for everyone.
Some might call ‘instability’ and ‘inconsistency’. Contractors and specialists refer to ‘flexibility’ and ‘freedom’. If you are a full-time permanent professional who relishes the idea of a more flexible work arrangement, a contracting career might be just the thing for you.
Despite economic uncertainty during this coronavirus pandemic, the contracting business in Malaysia is showing resilience. The unparalled impact caused by the coronavirus pandemic has altered working models, exposed weaknesses in supply chain systems and sped up digital transformations over the last 16 months. At the same time, these seismic shifts have had repercussions on employment trends and workforce scalability, specifically on the contracting landscape.
Contracting has been a popular employment strategy both opted by businesses and working professionals. “While it was predominantly a mainstay hiring solution for low-cost employment previously, we have observed a huge demand for contract staffing solution for different sectors. That demand has also grown across all employment levels,” says Marlinda Zulkifli, Head of Page Contracting Malaysia.
Laura Houlston, Associate Director at Michael Page Australia, says that during COVID-19 so far, the local contracting market has seen substantial growth and proven to be beneficial for both employers and contractors. “Contracting allows both parties to support a business case for longer-term opportunities. As a contractor, you can try out new industries, work on projects and expand your skillset. Be it short or longer-term, building up a strong relationship with a recruiter can also see you move from one contract to another and forge a career as a professional contractor,” she shares.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
A Growing Phenomenon
According to a recent NPR/Marist poll, one in five jobs in the US is held by a worker under contract. Contracting as a career path is relatively common in the Western world — and the trend is growing too. Economists Alan Krueger and Lawrence Katz estimated that the percentage of people engaged in ‘alternative work arrangements’ – freelancers, contractors, on-call workers and temp agency workers – grew from 10.1% in 2005 to 15.8% in 2015. Almost all the net jobs created during this period were these so-called ‘impermanent’ jobs.
The situation, on the other hand, is quite different on this side of the world. Aarti Budhrani is the Associate Director, Technology Contracting at PageGroup Singapore and has been living and working there for the past decade. In her hometown, Chennai, India, contracting is almost unheard of. “Singapore is in a better position, especially when it comes to technology contracting,” Budhrani explains. “It is a very readily available market, and common for banks and insurance companies to hire contractors. Many companies, like Accenture, NCS and Singtel have thousands of contractors working for them.”
Opportunities go beyond the technology industry, too. Daphne Boey has been working as an operations strategist since December 2018. Before embarking on her career as a contractor, she was the Associate Digital Director at Hakuhodo Singapore Group, the local branch of the Japanese advertising and public relations company.
Contrary to popular belief, an economic downturn is high time for contractors to step in
Becoming a contract operations strategist wasn’t always part of the plan. It was during her travels when the idea of contracting came to her. “I realised that a lot of start-ups and small businesses have good ideas, but they don’t necessarily know how to get from ‘I want to start a business’ to actually running a successful business,” she explains. “So my role is to help my clients come up with business strategies, product positionings and corporate identity. It’s a lot like being a project manager, but more strategically inclined.”
She says that while contract opportunities in Singapore are not comparable to the likes of the US or Australia, contracting opportunities in APAC are getting better.
All the tell-tale signs of a contractor
Having matched thousands of professionals to contracting roles over the decade, here are five key reasons why a contracting career could be right for you.
Contracting allows both parties to support a business case for longer-term opportunities. As a contractor, you can try out new industries, work on projects and expand your skills set.
1. If your contract is ending
Compared to their permanent counterparts, contractors are available on short notice. This is why many job candidates who are typically approaching the end of their contracts can take on something new right away.
More and more candidates are now preferring temp assignments over permanent appointments
According to Liam Gates, Manager at Page Personnel Australia, this is one of the clear advantages of contracting. “You can jump from project to project while developing a diverse skills set, and gain exposure and experience working across multiple sectors. Contract workers can typically pick up a role far faster than their permanent counterparts, offering their employer a quick start and immediate relief, without having to sit out a lengthy notice period.”
He says more and more candidates now prefer “temporary assignments” over permanent appointments. Houlston adds that her client base frequently hires contractors who have proven their abilities with other clients: “Loyalty and a good referral really do go a long way.”
2. If you have just relocated
Budhrani reveals that a significant portion of contractors she’s worked with are expatriates from overseas. “We see a lot of these candidates. They want to break into Singapore, so they take up contract jobs in the meantime – it’s one of our biggest markets,” she says. This extends to the partners of these expatriates too, and it is not uncommon for Dependent Pass holders to also take on a contracting career, as many of them are highly qualified professionals.
3. If you have just been retrenched
Retrenchment is often an organisation’s last resort to cut cost, and, unfortunately, they rarely have good timing from the point of view of the retrenched.
However, Houlston shares: “If you’ve just been retrenched, contracting is a good alternative for professionals who have skill sets they can quickly apply to the new job. The hiring process is usually shorter, so you will start work a lot quicker. Also, contract roles are sometimes paid on a weekly cycle. Leaving a long-term permanent role and moving into contracting means you have the opportunity to try out a different industry, learn new skills and expand your network.”
Are you a potential contractor?
- Jumping from project to project appeals to you
- You want to expand your skills and portfolio quickly
- You've been considering a career switch but want to get a feel of different industries and roles
- Periods of disruption motivate you to find other pathways from permanent, full-time work
4. If you want to expand your portfolio quickly
As a permanent employee, the experiences you gain are often limited to the work that comes your way. There’s only so much you can learn within the same company or industry before you hit a plateau in many instances. Contract workers can amass a decent portfolio of clients within a relatively short period of time. Every job presents a different set of challenges, which allows you to skill up within a short span of time, thus expanding your portfolio.
5. If you want to make a career switch
Making a mid-career switch can be intimidating, especially if the industry you are switching to is dramatically different from the one you are coming from. With that said, a contracting career means that you can test the waters before diving in. The typical length of contracts can last from anywhere between a few months to a few years. This means you have more than enough time to assess if this new industry is the right decision for you as a professional.
The here and now
Even if you are suited for a contracting career, is now a good time? As the world continues to reel from the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 and prioritising recovery plans, is it the right time for contracting?
Angela Chan, Director of Page Personnel Hong Kong, believes that it is. For one, periods of uncertainty mean that it is difficult for businesses to make long-term decisions — such as hiring permanent staff and increasing headcounts. Contractors, especially those available on a moment’s notice, fit the bill perfectly.
So contrary to popular belief, an economic downturn is high time for contractors to step in. “A lot of people misunderstand that because there’s a slowdown, they want to be permanent staff because of the stability. However, I always tell my candidates that if you are permanent staff, chances of getting laid off [during a recession] is higher because of the ‘last in, first out’ policy,” Chan explains. “Whereas if you join as a contractor, the cost is minimal.”