The rise of project-based work

By Robert Half on 6 November 2014

The rise of project-based roles over full-time positions has sparked seismic shifts in the workforce. In September 2014, The Guardian reported that the influx of casual workers across Australia is growing at a dizzying rate, and fixed-term and project-based contracts now affect an estimated 35 per cent of all workers.

Interestingly, this spike in project-based workers and contractors isn’t necessarily linked to financial uncertainty and a company’s unwillingness to invest. A September 2012 article in the Harvard Business Review found that although some temporary workers were facing issues securing full-time employment, others were choosing this option to widen their skill set, broaden their experience or design a career that provided more attractive prospects.

For companies disrupted by technology or grappling with change-management processes, project workers are a subset of the workforce that are mobile, agile and highly skilled. They often allow for effective management of cost centres and a faster way to identify talent gaps. Here are three factors underpinning the rise of project-based work.

Greater agility

Business leaders know that competitive edge hinges on an ability to address skills shortages and implement change quickly. More and more corporations are adopting a start-up mindset when rolling out a major project or launching a new initiative, whether it’s a customer-relationship-management database based on a single view of the client or a digital strategy based on a new mobile app. Hiring a project worker with specific expertise and credentials over a full-time employee who needs training is the fastest way to bridge the talent gap while moving quickly towards short-term goals. Opting for short-term contractors to execute specific projects also avoids disrupting an organisation’s structure.

Cost savings

Increasingly, businesses are swapping outdated yearly staff budgets for a model that allocates funds based on a project-to-project cost. This means a project’s outcomes determine hiring patterns, rather than the other way around. The rise of project-based work signals the ways in which businesses are reaping cost savings by employing contractors based on highly specialised needs. This practice also gives businesses the option of avoiding the financial commitment posed by a full-time employee and to gain a better understanding of cost centres by paying wages based on specific tasks.

Instant innovation

Project-based workers often bring skills and experience gleaned from a range of challenging roles. In many cases, they’ve worked across several industries, countries and projects – a quality that breeds flexibility, new ideas and an understanding of best practice. The value of project workers also stems from their ability to see innovation as part of their working method rather than a buzzword or far-flung goal. Ultimately, this ability to bring new ideas to the table and roll them out quickly is a catalyst for gaining an advantage over competitors.

The rise of project-based work raises interesting questions about the relationship between the employee’s shifting values and the employer’s long-term goals.

For more information, visit our project consulting page.

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