Contract jobs offer workers more benefits

Asian IT professionals hired on contracts and willing to forgo job benefits full-time staff typically get, can enjoy higher pay and richer work experience, say recruiters.

Infocomm technology workers who want jobs that potentially pay more while providing greater flexibility, should consider contract-based employment.

Gurmeet Kaur, a test analyst at National Australian Bank in Singapore, has been working for various banks under contracts since 2003.

"I am getting more experience, moving around companies," Kaur said in a phone interview with ZDNet Asia. "I have experience on managing the [various IT] systems of different banks and how they work."

Roger Olofsson, IT associate director at Robert Walters recruitment consultancy, noted that contract jobs not only expose workers to new technologies used by various companies, employees can do so "without being labeled a job hopper".

Yeo Gek Cheng, director for IT and telecommunications at recruitment consultancy Hudson Singapore, said contracts allow workers to evaluate whether a company is good to work for in the long term, and contract staff are often offered permanent jobs after they have proved their value.

In addition, contract employees are paid significantly more than permanent staff in terms of base salary, Yeo said.

Olofsson added: "They are willing to pay premium to contract staff because there are less 'overheads' incurred employing them."

Still, Norman Miranda, principal consultant at executive search company Resource Dynamics, noted one's value is "in the expertise you bring".

Hudson's Yeo said the prevalence of contract jobs in Singapore and Hong Kong is "employer-pushed" in sectors where many ICT professionals are needed, such as banks that are setting up global hubs, but are constrained by corporate-approved headcount.

According to the recent Robert Walters Global Salary Survey, Singapore's contract employment market developed rapidly in 2007. Skills in demand for contract employment were in the areas of project management, solution architecture, application support, software development, SAP expertise and systems administration.

In Malaysia, the demand for IT skills had also encouraged more companies to use contractors and more candidates to take on contract positions in 2007, according to the survey.

"[Contract workers] filled the need for short-term requirements, periods of rapid growth and times of higher demand at critical points in project life-cycles," the Robert Walters report stated.

An IBM spokesperson in Singapore noted that, with contract jobs, companies can better manage resources in terms of headcount, costs and projects deliverables. IBM currently hires contract workers for its regional as well as country-based roles.

"Having the flexibility in terms of managing resources, and at the same time fulfilling project timelines and requirements, is important for IBM as it allows us to maintain a core group of full-time employees and yet have the flexible staffing options with contract workers," the spokesperson said in an e-mail interview.

But, lacks continuity, stability
However, Hudson's Yeo said, there are various reasons why employees in Asia still prefer permanent roles, noting that most companies do not offer permanent employment benefits to contract staff.

She added that employees view contract work as lacking in job stability. "It is viewed that contract work is unstable...[where] continuity depends on various factors," Yeo explained. "Having to hunt for a new assignment each time a contract ends creates anxiety on [the staff's] income source or [job] continuity."

She added that development for contract staff is also often overlooked as these workers are brought in for a specific period, and for a particular project or work scope.

Resource Dynamics' Miranda agreed. "[Contract workers] lose on career progression and work expertise. Each contract is a new challenge."

However, Kaur noted: "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."

Olofsson, whose company recruits IT professionals for both permanent and contract assignments, said: "Contract employment is for those confident of their skills and they're responsible for their [career development]."

"[It is a case of] 'I want a contract job because I'm better at looking at my career development'."

However, before workers embark on contract jobs, they must first consider the length of the contract.

Yeo advised: "The tenure should be at least for six months; anything shorter is disruptive to the employee. A short-term contract could mean the contract staff is hired to do some 'fire-fighting' and can result in a lot of stress, and high expectations that the staff needs to deliver in a short time."

IBM offers contracts that range from six months to two years, and is extendable if the business requires it and the individual is willing. The spokesperson said: "The duration is important for individuals to build key skills and enable them to see through a certain project or campaign. ICT contract workers also bring specific or unique skills required to complete a project."

Robert Walters' Olofsson said age and social issues also affect an employee's decision whether to take on contract work.

"If you are married with two young kids, you need to think a little bit more about contract jobs," he said. "But it also depends on your current situation. If you're very unhappy at your current job, and you're not going anywhere, you can try out contract employment and go back to a permanent job later."