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Contract employment: Why is Singapore hesitant?

Calum Smith | Dec. 15, 2008
Unfortunately, contract employment remains largely misunderstood in Singapore

This shift is allowing employers to adopt a more mature approach to contract workers and discard the out-dated perception of contractors as an unskilled labour force. While it will probably take a few years for the phenomenon to spread across the wider employment market, we are seeing a number of positive changes in that direction.

Growing older

Singapores aging population is also promoting a major re-evaluation of the way that contractors are being deployed. Companies are beginning to lose a lot of retained knowledge as the baby-boomer generation retires, triggering a brain drain. To remain competitive in todays marketplace, companies cannot afford to lose this knowledge base, and we are starting to see some companies hire back experienced staff on a contract basis soon after retirement. Their role can be anything from a part-timer who works only three days a week, a trainer for younger employees or a high-level corporate adviser.

The shortage of candidates with specialised skills in Singapore remains an issue and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Not enough job seekers with the right skill sets in projects, accounting, tax, legal, and knowledge in structured products are available to meet demand. As a consequence, companies are increasingly willing to offer opportunities to job seekers who do not have as much experience by starting them on contract with a view to make them permanent if they perform well. These in-demand skill sets offer foreigners an entry point into the professional job market through contract positions, and potentially become a stepping-stone to a successful career in Singapore.

While there are many pockets of opportunity, it is fair to say that overall, Singapore remains behind many overseas job markets in its use of contractors. The development of the market here has been held back by an image of contract work that has its roots planted from a previous decade. However, shifting demographics are driving change and the use of contractors will continue to expand. What will emerge is a more flexible and robust employment market where job seekers have more choice.

Securing key workers

With headcount within companies almost as precious as profits, bringing in a contractor instead of a new permanent hire is one way companies can secure the key workers needed despite tight hiring restrictions.

Project managers holding PMPs, accountants with CPAs, marketers with MBAs, interim managers with more than 10 years of executive level experience, and other highly qualified professionals can all be seen working as contractors. There are even more roles in the market demanding these skill sets that remain unfilled.

It will take time for some of the dynamics of contracting to be worked out across all sectors of the economy. However, as the Singapore contract market matures at the back of the current financial situation, we are confident that the benefits of contract employment will increasingly gain recognition among employers and employees.

Calum Smith is a consultant of Robert Walters Singapore, financial services (contracting) specialist recruitment division, focusing on contract placements predominantly within middle to back office.


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