With many STEM employers continuing to struggle with workforce shortages, we examine the benefits of hiring contractors.
As employers continue to compete for specialist professionals, conversations about the future of work are increasingly turning to the benefits of blended workforces. While many organisations have traditionally favoured permanent employees over contract workers, times are changing. In a tight labour market, precipitated in large part by the pandemic, more bosses and hiring managers have realised they need to look beyond traditional resourcing models.
According to Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2022 study, six in 10 C-suite executives worldwide expect temporary workers to substantially replace full-time employees at their company in the next three years.
One of the most pressing issues for employers is the shortage of available tech specialists. In the current digital age, the demand for tech products and services is burgeoning. But tech job opportunities have hit a 10-year high and now account for around 14 of the total UK workforce, according Tech Nation’s People and Skills Report. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2022, job vacancies in the UK also outpaced unemployment for the first time.
If you’re finding it hard to recruit permanent staff with suitable skills, is it time to think about how contractors could help your business? On paper, these candidates can initially seem costly, but there is a bigger picture to consider. James Hanbury, Senior Partner at SThree, says: “Some managers are used to working with contractors and it’s their thing, whereas for others it’s new to them. And when they see on paper how much these candidates get paid, they aren’t really weighing up the total cost of employing a permanent member of staff; in terms of employee benefits, it all adds up.” So, what are some of the advantages to bringing in contract staff?
Ramp up projects quickly
Employers often need to supplement teams last-minute to get a project over the finish line or deal with an unexpected change. If you want to hire people quickly, the permanent market is fairly slow and difficult to find suitable skillsets, says Hanbury. But if you're using a contract agency that has a good pool of contractors, they can supply large volumes of people in short spaces of time.
An agile and responsive edge
A good block of contractors enables a business to change tack quite quickly and solve specific problems at a particular point, says Hanbury, who is seeing more companies “staying agile” this way. For tech projects, this solution is especially useful, he notes, where “things are an issue right there and then, until they’re built, and then you don’t need those skillsets. It allows managers to bring in experts who have done multiple similar projects and are used to being parachuted in for specific tasks, so they get stuff done and deliver it on time because they’ve got lots of experience,” Hanbury adds. It means companies can avoid putting their BAU (business as usual) staff onto project work, who may not have experience with the right tech stack.
Away from tech roles, the benefits are often reversed, says Hanbury: “A lot of companies tend to move their normal staff into project teams because they understand the business, in which case they take contractors on to cover their jobs while permanent staff are on a project.”
Access to trained talent
By including contractors in their applicant pool, employers gain access to STEM specialists they might otherwise struggle to hire, but are also getting good people, who don’t need training. “You don’t have to factor in the time it takes to get people up and running. If they’re an experienced contractor, they’re used to being dropped into different scenarios and pick things up quickly.”
More diverse minds
For contract tech specialists, the range of projects they’ll have under their belts can really help a business. “If you've got someone who's done the same project 10 times, they’re going to have more knowledge of where it's gone wrong before and what went well,” says Hanbury. “You’re bringing in expertise and experience that you can't get by putting a permanent member of staff on it for the first time. These specialists also offer a fresh view on strategic issues. If you’ve got a team that's worked together for some time, they’ll probably all have a similar type of thinking, so it does bring a diversity of minds,” he adds.
Seasonal staffing solutions
In some STEM sectors, organisations experience more seasonal peaks and troughs to their work, so using contractors allows managers to “flex their current workforce as and when,” says Hanbury, rather than hiring permanent staff and then realising they don’t need as many people.
As someone with 20 years’ experience in recruitment, Hanbury has a deep understanding of the market. In world where “things are changing quite rapidly in businesses,” he believes that access to a talent pool offering different skills can help to keep your business moving. “If you just wait for the right [permanent] people, it’s difficult to get those candidates in quickly because they often have no experience. Or for more senior staff, notice periods are getting longer and longer (up to three to six months) – companies can't wait this long, especially when they’re business-critical jobs.”
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