For this week’s blog post, we take a look at contract work and benefits it can yield.
As with any type of work, there are benefits and drawbacks to contract employment, and only the individual will really be able to decide if this way of working is right for them. An easy way to do this is to draw up a list of pros and cons. If you find the pros of working as a contractor outweigh the cons, you have taken your first step towards an exciting and, some would say, ‘future-proof’ career plan. Begin with a ready-made list and add to it, defining the qualities in a job that are most important to you. Be as specific as possible when drawing up your list, so rather than just putting down ‘flexible hours’, jot down why this would be a benefit to you, such as flexibility to pick up the children from school, or whatever is the key advantage. This way, additional benefits may occur to you as you go, such as “I could work more during the winter” or “I can still keep writing my novel”, making your pros and cons list more relevant.
Why should you contract?
In today’s job market, it is tough going. The days of a ‘job for life’ seem all but gone and accordingly, the whole nature of employment is changing. Companies that once might have been family owned, with a sense of duty to long-serving employees, are disappearing under the wave of faceless multi-nationals, but this not necessarily a bad thing. We no longer expect to work in just the one career for our entire professional lives, and for many people, this sense of freedom to change our horizons and diverge on a completely different tangent is hugely liberating. The frustration at wasting years of study and work at a job you have come to despise can be alleviated relatively swiftly.
Companies are like individuals, with their own personalities and ethos. Think of the old model of employment, when a job was taken and you were expected to stick at it until you retired or died, as an arranged marriage. Neither of you knew a great deal about each other before you joined forces, and by the time you discovered each other’s flaws, it was too late to change your mind. Contract work allows you to do the career equivalent of dating first. At the moment, contract work in South Africa cannot be viewed as an automatic step towards permanent employment, so if this is your ultimate goal, make sure your employer or advisor is aware of this. The lack of job security does have its downsides, of course, but you can make contingency plans for the periods when work is unavailable. Savings, mortgage insurance and planned spending are all necessary attributes when you are contracting.
Why should companies use contractors?
Companies are forced to take big risks these days and the penalties for getting it wrong can be huge. A quick look at the South African Labour Law Guide gives you an indication of the minefield employers have to tiptoe through. Human resources are usually the biggest expense for companies, not only in terms of wages, but in the time taken to recruit, interview and train new employees, and that is before factors like PAYE and insurance are considered.
A recent survey by MIE claims that up to one in five South African employees has a serious issue in their background checks, including criminal records, bad debt and falsified qualifications, to name but three. Even if the background check comes through clean, it is possible that a negative event, such as losing a driving licence through a drink-driving ban, may occur after the employee is hired. By using contractors, the employer is able to ensure continual monitoring of employees, making your working environment a safer and more productive place to be.
Network, network, network
Don’t wait until your contract ends to start looking for the next job. The proliferation of networking sites makes keeping up with business contacts really easy. LinkedIn is one of the best known, and you can find plenty of discussion groups there to keep up with what is happening in your career world. Ask your current hirer if you can keep in touch through LinkedIn; that way, you are easy to find if another opportunity comes by.
If you do find yourself with unwanted time between jobs, this is when to get some extra training to make sure your skills are super-sharp and up to date. Both SAICA and ACCA offer relevant training to hone your skills. Using your time in this way will demonstrate to future employers that you are serious about your investment in yourself.
Finding the perfect placement
Sometimes, everything just clicks. You like the company, they like you and the job is perfect. If the company can offer you a permanent position, you are already there and in the best place to hit the ground running. Bear in mind, however, that sometimes the final decisions are made by people who still do not know how wonderful you are. It may be that the company has no place available for you, or they are committed to a ‘contractors only’ policy. If this is the case, accept gracefully, stay in touch in case things change, and be comforted by the fact that you now have a better idea of the sort of job you want. Happy hunting.