The growing contingent workforce: Contract work can present new opportunities

With 35 percent of U.S. companies relying on smaller staffs since the recession, the landscape of the labor market is changing substantially and more employers are beginning to emphasize the contingent, flexible workforce.

A recent survey from CareerBuilder finds that this trend is fully expected to continue through 2012, as 36 percent of responding companies said they planned to hire temporary or contract workers this year. This number is up from 34 percent last year, 30 percent for 2010 and 28 percent for 2009.

In addition to demonstrating the idea that the flexible workforce is beginning to take hold, the results of the survey are also positive for the individual workers themselves as 35 percent of these employers said they ultimately planned to hire their temporary employees on a permanent basis.

Why has there been such expanded use of contingent workers by U.S. business? It is largely due to pressure on corporate CEOs to slash costs and increase corporate earnings in a recession.


The new workforce

The traditional and primary target for cost cutting has always been administration costs. In the 1980s, 1990s and early part of this century, the mechanism for cutting those costs was layoffs. Although businesses still rely on layoffs to reduce costs, the use of contingent (temporary) workers is a popular alternative.

To cut costs, management changes the status of select full-time employees to temporary, part-time or independent contractor. This change in status is often times done without the consent of the affected employee. Unless one desires this change in status and can afford to forego reduced income and in many cases benefits, employees consider this change in status undesirable.

However, there are men and women who choose this lifestyle. We often refer to them as consultants, freelancers, temps, temporary workers, independent workers and seasonal workers. In some cases, workers are forced to become a part of the contingent workforce or face having no income.

Before you decide to add “consultant” to your résumé, here are a few items to consider. If you have significant experience in a particular area, consider leveraging your employment experience as a consultant, but keep in mind the following industry standards and likely client expectations for consultants:

• You have at least 10 years of progressive experience in your specialty area.

• You have credibility and your advice is sound.

• Your work or research has been documented.

• You are considered an expert in your field of knowledge.

• Others can vouch for you as references (this will come as you build your consulting practice).

In addition, consider obtaining a phone number where prospects can reach you, a business card, mailing address and a website to promote yourself. As a consultant, your clients look to you for detailed guidance on a particular area of expertise.

For example, you may be hired as an organization development consultant or a merger strategy consultant providing advice to the client. In many cases, the scope of the project is broad, and could include several smaller projects within the overall agreement. For that reason, the work may occur as part of an ongoing commitment, as opposed to having a short-term assignment.


Finding the work

Just as volunteering often leads to employment, so does being a contingent worker. If you find yourself displaced or without a job, a contingent role could bridge the income gap until you find permanent employment. Many people find that they enjoy the flexiblity and freedom of working contingently and they start their own businesses. Check sites such as Guru, Craigslist and SoloGig for project-based work.

Becoming part of a network affiliated with your services can be very useful for finding work independently. You should also post a profile on social networks, such as LinkedIn ( Maintaining your membership with professional organizations and attending network meet-ups are advantageous ways to spread the word to possible clients.

Be sure to sign up with temporary agencies such as Kelly Services, Agile 1 and Manpower. A significant number of temporary workers have landed full-time employment within organizations that use these temp agencies.

Some agencies, such as Lab Support and Lab Staffing, are specialized for life science-related fields, so be sure to approach agencies that have high odds of placing you in your area of skill.


Tammy McIntyre is owner of McIntyre Employment Service, an agency providing individuals and small businesses with career development services. She welcomes reader responses to

One Comment on “The growing contingent workforce: Contract work can present new opportunities”

  1. Tammy – Great article and 100% on target. We are a software company that works with many of the large nationwide service delivery organizations and we are seeing them increase their usage of flexible workers more and more. The research we see shows that this trend will continue for the next 10+ years and will grow to be the majority status of the US workforce. We are constantly looking for new talent, so anyone looking for work can sign up for free at our site Thanks! James Droskoski @WorkMarket

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