How to attract the best contractors

Most employers understand the importance of a strong value proposition in attracting top permanent staff, but far fewer consider it to be a vital element when attracting contractors. Yet with organisations becoming more agile and utilising more contract and temporary staff than ever, a strong value proposition is exactly what’s required if you are to attract non-permanent employees when you need them most.
The increase in demand for contract workers has been one of the most prominent developments in the workplace in recent years. A 2019 Oxford Economics and SAP survey of 1,050 senior executives found that non-permanent staff now account for roughly 42 per cent of workforce spending. The attractions of such a model are evident, allowing businesses to call on labour as and when they need it. Employers can even outsource end-to-end management of this talent pool, with the help of managed service providers.
“Contractor workforce models are a cost-effective solution for many companies,” explains Dr Magdalena Cholakova, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship in the Department of Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship at Rotterdam School of Management. “They work not only for companies that were originally set up with a flexible model in mind, but are also a model that other, more traditional companies are switching towards as well.”
But in an increasingly competitive labour market, many organisations will find themselves competing for talented contractors, in much the same way as they do for permanent employees. Therefore, in future, employers will need to think about developing a “contractor value proposition”, in much the same way they do for permanent employees. 
“Traditionally, companies have treated their relationship with contractors and contingent workers as transactional rather than strategic,” says Kristofer Karsten, Head of Human Resources at Ceridian. “To truly unlock the full potential of this cohort, employers need to view them as more than a quick fix to an existing problem.”

Welcome contingent workers to your team

This starts with committing to engaging contractors, says Keith Robson, an HR leader who has worked at companies including M&G Investments, NATS, Rolls-Royce and Aviva. “Unless the business has set out the high-level strategy explaining why agile working is important to the whole organisation and how they are to achieve it, contractors may never be embraced on arrival as an asset to support agile working,” he warns.
There are also specific measures that organisations can take to help develop a contractor value proposition. Ensuring they feel welcome is a good starting point, says Rebekah Tapping, HR Director at employee engagement provider Personal Group. “It’s important that the onboarding process is the same for both full-time and contingent workers,” she says. “These people still wear the uniform and are representing the company so you don’t want them to feel any less engaged because they aren’t fulltime.”
It’s also vital that the quality of work they are given is at the level they would expect, warns Dr Zofia Bajorek, a research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies, who looked at the use of contingent labour in the UK’s National Health Service for her PhD. “Organisations need to recognise that these people are providing them with a service that they actually need,” she points out. “Give them that good quality work, remunerate them properly, reward them fairly and give them the same voice as permanent staff.”

Remember your duty of care 

Karsten says that there are also valuable lessons to be learnt from the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic: “Companies have a duty of care over everyone that they work with. The challenges of 2020 imposed an even greater responsibility on employers to prioritise workforce morale and mental health, and for the most part, they have risen to the challenge.
“As we transition into a hybrid workforce – with some working from the office and others not – businesses would be well-served to remember the lessons learned during this period and apply them to their contractor workforce as a valuable extension of their brand and culture.”

Give contingent workers consistent support

Giving contractors a main contact at your organisation can also help them feel wanted and part of the team, as well as making life easier for permanent staff, says Ross Meadows, partner and head of the HR and employment team at Oury Clark Solicitors. “The primary contact can resolve any issues the contingent worker may have and provide easy access to other staff within the organisation who can assist where needed,” he says. 
“Ensure that contingent workers are given feedback from the organisation on the work they are carrying out and arrange catch-up meetings to iron out any issues.”
It’s also worth remembering that many contractors follow portfolio career paths and will look for employers who can offer them interesting opportunities – as well as good pay and benefits. Businesses must ensure that they communicate why their projects are compelling to attract the best contingent workers.

Understand local laws 

Yet there are also legal issues that organisations must consider when it comes to using contractors. “Self-employed contractors are in business on their own account and do not have the right to many of the benefits and protections to which workers or employees would be entitled,” points out Claire Brook, employment law partner at Aaron & Partners.
Inevitably, legal nuances differ from country to country, so seek local advice.
To sum up, the reality for many employers is that contractors will remain an important part of the mix. For those that don’t get their value proposition right, however, there are very real risks. “The bottom line is they will quickly gain a reputation in the market as a business where contractors aren’t welcome,” says Robson. “They could potentially find key work projects not being delivered, as they won’t have the talent or resources in place to execute them. With social media, and contractors being well networked, any business that doesn’t get it right will become known very quickly.”

About this author

Matthew is the Global Managing Director, Enterprise Solutions at Hays, having joined Hays in 2005. Previous roles held at Hays include Business Director in the UK and Chief Operating Officer for Asia Pacific. He is now responsible for leading the global enterprise solutions teams at Hays and investing to ensure clients retain a competitive advantage in talent acquisition from the delivery of Hays MSP, RPO, technology and modular service solutions. For more information about enterprise solutions at Hays, visit our website.

Prior to joining Hays, Matthew worked within Engineering, Research, Operations and Commercial areas at Johnson Matthey and Corning Inc. He has formal qualifications in Organisational Psychology and Industrial Engineering.

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