Rise of the business world's hitman

Rise of the business world's hitman

SINGAPORE - They are the business world's equivalent of a hitman.

When a job needs to be taken care of, bosses turn to them.

They arrive with the right expertise for the job and they get it done professionally, effectively and with minimum fuss.

They are the super contract professionals - highly talented and skilled people who eschew the traditional path of building a career within a company to offer their services as freelancers to the highest bidder.

By virtue of necessity, more and more companies are turning to them.

The rise of the super contract professional is a sign that the Singapore workforce has changed forever after the global financial crisis.

Where everyone once sought a permanent job in a solid company offering good career progression, working on successive contract jobs is now an appealing option for a growing number of talented people.

Specific skills

As a recruitment specialist, Robert Half has seen the number of senior-level people applying for contract positions increase 20 per cent between 2011 and 2012.

The demand for these professionals is driven by companies that need specific skills to manage sensitive projects, such as outsourcing of processes, project financing, or to act as interim managers while a new operation is set up or a company goes through a restructuring.

So what makes the life of a freelance specialist so appealing?

First, the people who choose this approach of earning an income do so for lifestyle reasons. Second, they know they can achieve their true market value for their high-quality skills by offering them to more than one employer.

Choosing to work on contract means giving up the belief that a permanent position equals security.

After the massive job losses that took place during the global financial crisis of 2008, can anyone be certain they have job security, even in the largest of companies?

You could be doing an outstanding job in your role, only to have decisions made by others bring your corporate house down.

Faced with this reality, freelance workers believe they have greater security taking their career into their own hands and working for themselves.

Then there are the benefits to their families.

Want to take a month off to help your daughter prepare for her exams?

How about working hard for 10 months and rewarding your family with a two-month overseas trip? Or even working part-time on a project while you complete your MBA?

Or want to fill in a year while you consider your long-term goals?

All these options become possible once you take on the life of a super contract professional.

Others see their work as a contract professional as an extended trial period, to decide if they want to continue their career with a company, or to keep building their network of contacts while they wait for their dream role to appear.

So at the end of the day, freelance specialists trade off security and permanence, for flexibility and options.

For a super contract professional to prosper, their skills must be in high demand.

They have to offer a real benefit to an organisation, such as the ability to deliver a challenging project or bring skills that are lacking among the permanent staff.

In more challenging economic times, many companies have freezes on permanent headcount.

The only way companies can bring in extra resources to tackle important new projects is by way of contract professionals.

The budgets for these projects are usually separate from the recurrent budgets out of which permanent employees are paid.

This means contract professionals can get hired by a company that would not be able to hire or could not afford them otherwise.

It is a relationship that benefits both the contract professional and the employer.

Business cycle

Another reason why companies are increasingly turning to contract professionals is the need to maintain productivity and output through the peaks and troughs of a business cycle.

Many companies face the dilemma of increased orders which normally would require new hires to fill.

But with the economic outlook so uncertain, they are hesitant to invest in more permanent staff.

For such companies, the answer is to engage contract professionals who have the skills and can hit the ground running while providing flexibility to adjust the company's headcount if things turn sour.

Some argue that the rise of contract professional is a reflection of a tight labour market, where skilled professionals are in high demand.

When the employment market eases up, many expect these contract professionals to be left without any work, like the last person standing in a game of musical chairs.

However, talking to these super contract professionals, it is clear that freelance work is their career - they are choosing this approach to earning an income over more traditional methods.

And given the flexibility contract professionals provide to companies, there is little chance that the need for this new breed of professionals will disappear any time soon.

Freelance contract employment is now a viable life choice for many talented and skilled Singaporeans.

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