The Rising Trend in Contracting

The market for contract finance professionals is expected to remain firm in Asia amid the ongoing skills shortage and continued demand by employers to complete high-level and strategic projects.

According to Robert Half’s latest survey1, an average of 25% of employers in the region’s financial hubs – Singapore and Hong Kong – are hiring, or considering hiring, skilled finance and accounting professionals on a contract basis to address skill shortages within their organisation.

The demand for contract professionals, in fact, started heating up two to three years ago. In the aftermath of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, financial institutions have continued to seek professionals with strategic skill-sets to drive project-based transitions and other change-management programmes. Projects that typically require highly skilled ‘specialist’ contract staff include integration-based work, process improvements, finance change enterprise resource implementations, as well as mergers and acquisition (M&A) transactions. These projects have a start- and end-date, which makes it practical for organisations as they can bring in contract professionals to complete the work without having to commit to permanent headcount. By hiring contract professionals, organisations can also gain immediate access to talent with specialised skills in these niche areas.

Another trend we are observing is the shrinking pool of highly skilled finance professionals, which is creating a big challenge for financial institutions in their search for quality people. According to a recent Robert Half survey, more than 90% of the employers in Singapore and Hong Kong looking to hire in the second half of 2011 indicated they are having difficulty finding skilled finance professionals. Amid the tight employment market, contract professionals can provide a ‘just-in-time’ solution to meet tight project deadlines and fill the gaps as an organisation goes through the hiring process for a permanent employee, which can take up to three months or even longer. During periods of market uncertainty, organisations also rely more heavily on contract professionals as it gives them the flexibility to quickly adjust staffing levels as workloads fluctuate.

Financial institutions also go through periods that we refer to as ‘workload peaks and troughs’. Busy periods usually revolve around their reporting seasons, whether at month-, quarter- or financial year-end. During these periods, organisations often supplement their existing teams with contract professionals to alleviate workload pressure on existing employees, which will inevitably help bolster staff morale and in turn, decrease staff burnout.

In view of the above trends, it is indeed a good time for job seekers to get into the contract space or to continue in it. Being a contract professional has many advantages, and key to this is the chance to enjoy a wide variety of experience and exposure. A successful contract professional is someone who thrives on change, has the ability to quickly adjust to new organisations and work with new people, has confidence in their skills, and most importantly, can deliver. Contract positions provide an excellent opportunity to understand how other firms operate, learn best practices, and apply your knowledge and expertise to a variety of projects across a variety of organisations, while affording you an opportunity for a more flexible lifestyle. For example, you could choose to take a two-month break to spend more time with your family – an opportunity that may elude permanent employees.

While the concept of contract employment is relatively new in Singapore, Robert Half expects the trend to continue as the competition for talent remains strong. Contract hiring is a viable alternative for securing skilled talent, while allowing companies to manage rising business costs.

1Robert Half’s Workplace Survey, covering Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, gauges international responses on issues relating to the economy, hiring trends and workplace habits in finance and accounting. The latest survey was developed by Robert Half and conducted by an independent research firm that surveyed 1,651 human resources and finance and accounting and banking managers in four countries.

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