APSCo has published a new guide describing contractors as “the new normal”.

Friday 31 May 2013

Contractors and flexible working are the “new normal” in the modern labour market, according to the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo).

APSCo has published a new guide for its clients offering practical help and advice on the hiring and deployment of contract workers, as well as the legal and operational differences between using employees and flexible workers. It contains tips on important points to consider when engaging any contractor, as well as broader articles explaining how hiring contractors can add genuine value to a business.

The APSCo Guide to the Flexible Workforce features articles from organisations such as the Institute of Directors, Ernst & Young, Cranfield School of Management and Professional Contractors Group (PCG).

Traditionally contractors have been seen as little more than a temporary resource, says Ann Swain, APSCo chief executive. However, she adds that businesses are beginning to see the advantages of using flexible workers on a more frequent basis. It can provide them with candidates who have a wide range of experience of different management styles, business cultures and practices, and who are therefore likely to bring different qualities to the company.

Mike Hollin of Alium Partners agrees, claiming that interim managers are seen less as “crisis managers” and more as an “elite group of solution providers”.

As economic upheaval has caused several established firms to struggle and even collapse, he says, a consensus of risk aversion has taken over in businesses hoping to ride out the storm. But this approach in itself has driven many companies into difficulty - and interim managers are perfectly placed to help pull them out of the rut.

“Interims are now short-term strategic experts and not the supply teacher model,” he adds.

But Ms Swain also notes that in uncertain economic times, when business conditions are tough, hiring self-employed professionals can provide much-needed flexibility.

“Businesses need a contingent resource that can grow and shrink as demand dictates,” she points out. “Many organisations are utilising the skills of professional freelance and contract staff as a way of managing costs while continuing to maintain productivity”.

Similarly, PCG head of public affairs Simon McVicker points out that “buying in” top-level resources for short periods can be the best option for smaller companies. Organisations with limited resources can gain all of the benefits of specialist skills without having to commit to a permanent hire.

As a result, he argues, countries which have the strongest and largest bodies on independent workers are coping with economic upheaval better than their counterparts which house fewer freelancers. Germany, France, the UK and Poland have all reported dramatic rises in contractor numbers, while the troubled economies of Spain and Italy have both seen a drop in flexible workers.

Whether APSCO’s guide will encourage companies to turn to freelance expertise remains to be seen, but its authors clearly believe that the labour market is in the middle of a seismic shift towards flexible workers.

“It may be that we are entering into a new era of corporate agility and that freelancers, temporary workers, contractors and those that work part-time will no longer be seen as ‘atypical’ but as the new way of working,” says Ms Swain.

By Victoria McDonnell

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