Contract workers to sustain Australian employment recovery in 2021

An independent survey of Australian hiring managers commissioned by specialised recruiter Robert Half indicates that an increasing number of Australian businesses have adopted an agile approach to their staffing with almost one-third (31%) of Australian businesses intending to grow their contract workforce in the coming year and nearly half (46%) planning to maintain current contract headcount, providing a strong employment funnel for skilled talent as the market regains confidence.

  • 31% of Australian hiring managers are intending to grow their contract workforce in the coming year while 46% plan to maintain current contract headcount.
  • Top contract roles in demand technology, finance and accounting and business support are Help-Desk Support, Project Manager, and Customer Service Support.

With JobKeeper still subsidising an estimated 1.3million roles across several industries1, it’s expected that there will be a surge of new jobseekers when the scheme ends in March. Many companies will have to adjust their workforce to reflect the reduced support. Positively, however, an independent survey of Australian hiring managers commissioned by specialised recruiter Robert Half indicates that an increasing number of Australian businesses have adopted an agile approach to their staffing which may mitigate this employment gap.

According to the latest figures by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, contractors currently make up more than 8% of Australia’s workforce2 and this number could grow this year since almost one-third (31%) of Australian businesses are intending to grow their contract workforce in the coming year and nearly half (46%) are planning to maintain current contract headcount, providing a strong employment funnel for skilled talent as the market regains confidence.

Top reasons for engaging a contract workforce

With the Australian government hailing the employment recovery in 2021 as ‘extraordinary’3, the past year has emphasised that change and unpredictability – for better or for worse – is the only real constant in the current environment.

A mix of contract and permanent staff will be key to helping companies improve their agility, quickly scale their workforces, and manage overheads in a fluctuating market. In line with this, achieving a better mix of contract and permanent employees was ranked the second biggest medium-to-long-term impact of the pandemic on Australian businesses’ recruitment strategy.

The primary reasons a company utilises temporary or contracting professionals are:

  • We can remain nimble during changing economic conditions 53%
  • We can access specialised skills/subject matter expertise 51%
  • We can scale our team as needed without affecting full-time employees 49%
  • We require support for special projects 43%
  • We alleviate the burden on existing employees 41%
  • We can determine if someone is the right fit for a full-time role 38%

Source: Independent survey commissioned by Robert Half in November 2020 among 300 Australian managers.

While jobseekers in today’s market prioritise permanent employment for stability purposes, the benefits of contract work are also plentiful for candidates. Some of the biggest benefits of contract work for professionals include rapidly expanding skillsets and industry-experience in a competitive market, leveraging this variety of experience into a wider pool of potential job opportunities, enriching one’s professional network and in turn the pathway to future opportunities, and short-term assurance and flexibility as the market stabilises.

Top contract roles in demand

The top 5 priority contract hires for the first half of 2021 spanning technology, finance and accounting, and business support are:

For CIOs/CTOs For CFOs For General Managers
Helpdesk Support Officer Project Manager Customer Service
Systems Engineer Functional Business Analyst Human Resources Support
Software Developer Finance Manager/Controller Administrative Support
Systems Administrator Commercial Financial Analyst Marketing Manager
Desktop Engineer Financial Accountant Logistics

While the jobs market recovery in Australia has been quite significant, with the end of JobKeeper in sight, many companies will reassess their talent needs. ‘Caution’ will be the keyword for many organisations and their HR teams. Using a flexible staffing model which embraces a mix of contract and permanent workers can be a strategic solution to such caution as it offers companies immediate access to candidates with specialised skills who can make an immediate contribution to business-critical or project-based work with minimal training,” said Nicole Gorton, Robert Half Director Australia in announcing Robert Half’s latest survey results.

“Companies don’t just rely on contract staff to maintain business continuity or temporarily replace permanent employees. More and more businesses rely on experienced contractors to actively grow their business. As companies re-evaluate their strategic priorities on the road to recovery, there will be a heightened focus on new revenue building opportunities and future growth. Contract workers will be increasingly valuable to overseeing fixed-term projects or supporting business-critical initiatives which require niche skillsets.”

“Contract work also helps professional’s future-proof their careers as the market regains confidence. The outdated view that contract work it is in some way a band-aid fix while seeking permanent roles no longer applies in the market. In the current climate, the agility of contract work is as much a benefit to employees as it is to employers. The rapid evolution of industries and operations in the past 12 months has demonstrated the importance of being able to transition technical and analytical skillsets across industries in order to sustain employability in a shifting market, which contract roles enable,” Gorton concluded.

  1. Australian Treasury, 2020, JobKeeper Update, Australia.
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2020, Characteristics of Employment, Australia.
  3. The New Daily, 2021, ‘Scott Morrison hails extraordinary jobs recovery’.

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Katherine Mills
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