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How to select a project worker

Matthew Franceschini
September 18, 2014

There are many guises of a contingent worker, each having its own unique and attractive set of skills and experiences to offer. Here’s how to assess their merits so you can make an informed choice when it comes to selecting the type of project contractor who will best support your business goals.

White collar contractors, also known as independent professionals (IPros), have long been engaged by organisations looking for scalable technical expertise on demand. However just as the global workforce landscape has rapidly evolved from what it once was, IPros have developed and grown to be more than simply a gun for hire. ‘Contractor’ now denotes a multitude of professionals with different engagement modes, methods of work and professional needs.

The complete lifecycle of an IPro, from graduate to semi-retired consultant, provides organisations with IPros of differing soft skills, technical skills, experiences and benefits. The best one for your organisation will depend on several requirements. So how do you choose the right one for you? Here is our definitive guide to the benefits of each different life stage of a contractor so you can make a fully informed decision about who best suits your business requirements.

The graduate

The number of students enrolled at an Australian university is currently in excess of 1 million. These are all highly educated, highly motivated individuals on the precipice of entering the workforce. However due to excess of supply and the harsh economic climate of recent years, these eager resources will have difficulty landing a permanent role. This has led many graduates to adopt short-term or contract work to help build experience, learn on the job and gain valuable connections.

The perks: The current wave of graduates is the first generation to grow up with modern technology, and is incredibly proficient at picking up new programs and operating systems. While graduates may have little on-the-job experience, they are willing to learn and possess an up-to-date education that will allow them to disperse knowledge, technological skill and current best practice theories among your workforce. Graduates provide an opportunity to upskill your current staff and provide training on the job at no cost.

With graduate starting salaries being more moderate than the average market rate, these IPros provide organisations with a cost effective option for those seeking fresh skills and adaptable minds. Engaging a graduate IPro also gives an organisation’s existing workforce and the graduate themselves the chance to engage in vital knowledge transfer that will benefit all parties involved.

The career changer

Career changes are no longer the anomaly they once were. Research by SEEK Learning undertaken in 2013 indicated that only half of Australian workers feel they are in the right career, with just under a quarter of those surveyed planning a career change in the following 12 months. With so much time spent at work, many Australians are choosing to apply their skills in a different field in a quest for improved job satisfaction. Several of these individuals may choose to enter a new career space through part-time or contract work, which allows them to test the fit with a new profession and ascertain whether it is right for them.

The perks: Like graduates, career changers are looking for a fresh start and are keen to take on new responsibilities. Unlike graduates however, they have likely been in the workforce for several years. Experience is about more than technical proficiency, and those seeking a change in career come with a wealth of professional and life experience from a variety of different fields. Organisation, communication, management and leadership skills are all qualities that are directly transferable, and career changers coming in with a fresh perspective can provide new insight and perspective to how things are done.

What’s more, career changers are individuals who thrive when pursuing new challenges, rather than stagnating in jobs they don’t feel intellectually or professionally inspiring.

Organisations looking to hire workers with finely honed and transferable general skills, who are also highly motivated to learn and develop quickly, should look to those changing careers, particularly for roles in project management and leadership positions. These individuals are likely to be driven and productive in their roles as they are choosing to work hard to take their career to new places.

The short-term specialist

The short-term specialist is who you call when you require niche skills, a consultant or an expert analysis. These workers have acquired a great deal of technical skill and specific experience that makes them an invaluable commodity to a business needing short-term access to specific areas of expertise.

These individuals are usually only engaged for brief contracts—sometimes as short as a few days, in the case of IPros brought in to check equipment, educate on software or consult on a potential project—and are used to analyse, assess and provide their recommendations before moving on to the next project. This is largely because expertise like this doesn’t come cheap. IPros of this nature must spend a great deal of time and money on enhancing and sharpening their skillset, and this is reflected in their remuneration.

The perks: For consulting purposes, the short term specialist is well worth the price, both through the valuable insight they provide and the priceless knowledge they transfer to your existing workforce. Access to niche skills on an as-needed basis allows organisations to tap into talent they may otherwise not have been able to access or afford long term. This allows organisations to manage a roster of revolving experts to ensure they have access to new technology, software, techniques and thought leadership.

The career contractor

The career contractor makes up a large portion of the contingent workforce. This IPro has had experience across a wide array of industries and offers a broad and varied skillset to organisations seeking a highly professional and knowledgeable individual.

The career contractor, unlike those who prefer to work in a short-term consultative capacity, may prefer to engage in a mid- to long-term contract where they can enjoy both the flexibility of contract work and the camaraderie of a team.

The perks: IPros of this nature generally have broader areas of expertise, and can easily adapt their skillset to apply it to the needs of your organisation.

The longer nature of their roles allows career contractors to build rapport with colleagues, master the relevant technology and familiarise themselves with company process. As career contractors build relationships with team members, they are also able to establish knowledge sharing processes that feed their skills back into the rest of the team and enrich the organisational skills bank.

According to the results of our annual IPro Index study, these types of IPros are very engaged in their work, as the past four years of reporting have consistently shown that the highest attitudinal IPro Index score is for measures surrounding engagement in work.

Far from being disinterested workplace participants, the vast majority of career contractors perceive that they are productive contributors to their client organisations and consider themselves trustworthy, professional, efficient and effective in their client dealings.

The mature-aged consultant

The mature consultant is in possession of something no other IPro is: a lifetime of experience. Research undertaken by Deloitte has shown that many mature-aged workers are choosing to delay retirement, both for financial reasons and professional satisfaction. Many IPros, semi-retired, choose to stay active in the workforce in a part-time consultant capacity so they can keep doing what they love in a flexible manner that affords time to enjoy the fruits of their years of labour.

The perks: Similar to the short term specialist, a mature aged worker can be brought into an organisation in a consulting capacity to pass on their wisdom, act as a mentor for younger workers and engage in a leadership capacity for restructures and specific projects. They crave flexible work hours and are fantastic option for organisations that need the insight of more senior specialists, but not looking to hire someone full-time.

Making the choice

When it comes to engaging the right type of IPro to support your business goals, there are several things to consider.

Taking the time to evaluate your organisation’s current condition is the first step in unearthing issues, challenges and gaps in your workforce that are holding you back from where you want to be. You will then be in prime position to set new goals and engage IPros who can help support you in achieving those goals.

When choosing the right IPro for you, consider the functions you need performed, the duration you need them for and the skill and experience levels necessarily to perform the job. A graduate, for example, may be more suited to a longer-term role that requires cutting edge technological skills, while a career contractor or mature-aged consultant may be better suited to a project management role.

As with a regular employee, IPros go through a variety of guises throughout their lifecycle. Each group has a unique and attractive set of skills and experiences to offer, and the right type for your organisation will be dependent on your budget, your needs and the goals you hope to achieve as an organisation.

Matthew Franceschini
Matthew Franceschini is a co-founder and the CEO of Entity Solutions, a contractor management agency. He has more than 10 years’ experience working in the contract workforce management industry. He holds a Bachelor of Economics and is also the Vice President of Independent Contractors of Australia.
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