Goodbye job for life, hello temporary worker
The number of staff who are not permanent employees is growing internationally
A “contingent worker” is effectively anyone without a permanent position, including freelancers, contract workers and consultants – some 20-25 per cent of staff in Irish companies are employed in some sort of a contingent fashion. Photograph: iStockphoto
It has been said for years now that the days of the job for life are long gone, but is the future for many people now going to be about the perennial “job for six months or a year” before moving on and working somewhere else?
The rise of the “contingent worker” is an international phenomenon. The US government estimates 40 per cent of its workforce is now made up of these employees, who are effectively anyone without a permanent position, including freelancers, contract workers and consultants.
Director of Sigmar Recruitment’s contract and temporary recruitment section Barry Rudden says 20-25 per cent of staff in Irish companies are employed in some sort of a contingent fashion.
The rise in the number of people taking up such roles inevitably means their profile is changing.
“It was a prevailing thought in the 1990s that if you’re doing contingent work, you’re from a minority grouping – probably likely to be female, low-skilled and lower paid than your permanent equivalent,” says Rudden. “The more contemporary view is very much the opposite.”
Stephen Harrington, the head of contingent staffing solutions in Ireland and the UK with Allen Recruitment, also believes today’s contingent employee is highly- skilled and well educated.
“They are generally well educated with a university background,” he says. “You also have non-Irish nationals who will come over for the experience and live in Ireland for a while who have skills multinationals need.”
Gerard McDonough, a director with the people and organisation department at PricewaterhouseCoopers, says there has been a mindset shift among many workers.
“I’ve just got an email from a colleague in our consultant group saying ‘I’m off’,” he says. “After two years here, he’s leaving. He doesn’t have a next destination decided yet, but says he’s looking forward to that challenge in itself.
“There is a bravery in some respects. Smart graduates who have good CVs with portable experience no longer feel they need to wait around to be offered jobs before making these moves.”
Harrington says some of the big sectors for this type of work are banking, accountancy, pharmacy and engineering. Rudden says nearly every sector you can think of has contingent workers.
So why is this the case when surely the allure of a steady nine-to-five job with benefits and a pension is too hard to resist?
“A lot of the people coming to Ireland don’t necessarily know straight off if they want a permanent job and to settle down here,” says Rudden.
“What suits them perfectly is to take up a role where they can get a world-class company on their CVs without having to commit. The opportunity to get more varied experience is a big plus. People can enhance their worth.”
Temporary employees will also often get better deals.
“The terms can be much more attractive than would be available for a permanent position, simply because employers know they have to offer that to attract people,” says Harrington.
IdentityDr Annette Clancy, a lecturer in Organisational Behaviour at UCD’s College of Business, says people opt for a temporary job for a variety of reasons. “One of them is that we get our sense of identity from work,” she says. “It makes us feel good about ourselves.
“For some, it’s about reminding themselves they are good at what they do. A sense of self-worth and identity is very tied up with work. If they can’t get the job they want, taking on contingent work is one way of reaffirming that aspect of themselves.”
For another cohort, it’s a more calculated choice. “There is a group of people in their 20s or 30s who have seen their parents have full-time permanent jobs, but have seen those opportunities disappear because of the crash,” she says.
“What’s of major importance to them is finding work that can fit in with what’s important in their lives, which is relationships, being able to travel, etc.”
Then there are the people who see contingent work as something to do while waiting for something else to come along.
“We hear people saying they’re actors or artists, but this is paying the bills in the meantime,” she says.
“They don’t see it as a career move. It’s something to keep the show on the road while they develop themselves creatively or artistically.”
Whether this type of work is likely to be good or bad for employees really depends on their attitude and circumstances. It best suits people looking for “long-term employability rather than long-term employment”, says Clancy. “For people who really want to be in permanent employment, the level of stress can be very high and job satisfaction can suffer. But for people who view it as part of the lifestyle or a stepping stone towards something, the sense of freedom they get can be very liberating.
“For older people who bought into the ‘job for life’ idea, the stress, job dissatisfaction, anxiety and depression can be quite high, whereas younger people haven’t grown up with that expectation.”
For both sides, flexibility is the name of the game. “If you look at the downturn globally, a lot of companies – and they will admit this – may have been guilty of overcutting when they were letting people go,” says Rudden.
“They then continued to win business and to have to deliver projects. A lot of things are project-specific nowadays. They need people to service those. The perfect solution for them is to be able to flex up and down as the need presents itself, like when it’s coming up to Christmas or something.”
There are pros and cons for the companies as well as the workers. McDonough says the ability to “tap into talent” that isn’t there for the pension but is “more interested in the experience” is key.
“They don’t necessarily have the same cultural adaptation or understand some of the subtleties in the office – and it mightn’t always work – but if it’s delivery of a project where their technical competence is good enough, you are less concerned.”
There are some companies who go for the “try before you buy” approach and treat contingency work as a long interview process. “Both they and the individual get to see if they like the person, the culture, the level of commitment and so on,” says Rudden.
DisadvantagesDespite the flexibility, there are disadvantages for contingent workers, and Rudden says a lot of people are still pursuing permanent jobs. “They want the security, and if it’s a temporary role with no guarantee of going permanent, they will want to move on.
“These people are out there and it’s very difficult in a lot of cases for them to get mortgage approval. They might be earning more and in high demand, but yet they don’t have a permanent job so are considered more of a credit risk.”
The concept of hiring staff without providing them with adequate security or a long-term future is considered to be unethical by some, but Rudden says there are protections for workers.
“The Protection of Employees Act specifically addresses concerns in relation to this. It guarantees that anybody engaged through an agency in a temporary capacity has to be on the same basic pay and working conditions as their permanent counterpart.
“They can’t be exploited. If I’m a contingent worker, I have to get the same pay. If they have a canteen, I can’t be locked out. If they’re on holiday, I have to get the same as the rest. It’s an extra layer of protection.” Mobile workers: ‘I get offers on an almost weekly basis’ Juraj Bilic is a 32-year- old senior software developer with Bank of America who moved to the Republic from Croatia just over a year ago.
Despite running his own business, he decided that he wanted to work abroad, and has been engaged in contract work ever since.
“I chose Bank of America because it was an opportunity to work with an international team,” he says.
“I wanted to choose something stable rather than a start-up that could be a bit hard on the nerves,” he says. “Two months after I contacted a recruitment agency in Dublin I was on a plane, so the process was very speedy.”
He says the lifestyle is one that suits him, and he has no concerns in relation to job security. “I know that not having a permanent position with a company can be a security risk for some people, but I get offers on an almost weekly basis. As someone with plenty of experience in this field, I don’t see it as a risk.
“I’m aware of what I can offer companies so it’s not a concern at all. I could take a permanent role somewhere but I enjoy being a contractor at this moment in time.
“Maybe at some future time I’ll look for a permanent position but at this time I’m really happy with the situation.”