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Contract Work — the New Norm in IT, but is it Good for Workers?

Read to find out key insights into the world of IT contract workers from an industry insider.

In 2015, one in nine Singaporean workers were contract workers. As more companies in Singapore look towards embracing a contract model — where workers are hired for a defined period of time, we caught up with Kek Sei Wee, the CEO of Singapore-based IT recruitment firm IoTalents, to see how contract work in the IT sector is evolving with the times.

Q: What have you observed about contract work in the Singapore IT sector?

The IT industry has a higher percentage of freelancers, often referred to in this industry as contract workers.

The interesting thing is that age is not a factor when it comes to contract work in this sector. Many older professionals have developed a niche expertise and due to their knowledge in this space, they often become consultants as they prefer to offer their services and know-how to many companies rather than be tied to one. This is useful for small companies or those with a limited budget who need certain expertise or professional help for a short duration.

While typically, contract work can span different periods, over the last two years or so, I have noticed that the tenure of contracts is starting to get shorter, depending on the nature of the work and the project. For example, there are gigs as short as one to two days of work in security testing. However, the common span of IT project work is around two to three months.

Contract work is a good option in the IT space — it requires technical expertise and flexibility but offers opportunities to earn well. Employers tend to value maturity and the extensive experience that goes with this as they tend to look for someone who can jump right in and start the job immediately, with minimum fuss and no extra training needed.

In your opinion, what skills/qualities/experience are IT companies looking for when hiring contract workers?

The skill sets required are normally based on the project. Contract workers need to know how to market themselves and their skills. Currently, the IT skills we see that are in demand include SEO/content writing, UX/UI design, web/mobile app development, software testing and cybersecurity.

When it comes to experience, there is an increasing trend in enquiries from employers looking for contract workers/freelancers who have experience with emerging technologies such as data science, AI (artificial intelligence), IOT (the Internet of Things), RPA (robotic process automation and blockchain technology.

Do you feel there are any advantages of contract work for PMET workers and the companies hiring them?

For IT contract workers, the main advantage is the flexibility to work on different projects and in different environments — it helps build expertise and skills, which give a competitive advantage. In addition, as the jobs are often task-orientated or project-led, they can be more interesting and challenging than business-as-usual jobs. For example, I know of a middle-aged PMET who last worked at a Fortune 500 company but then decided to go into freelancing. Today, he is enjoying a freelance career that is rewarding and fruitful as he enjoys taking on lucrative and engaging projects from both SMEs and large corporations. He’s not tied to a single company and he can take on projects which he likes and which suit him, something that is not so easy to do when you work for a company.

Another advantage is that you build your network — it’s not uncommon to have companies call back a contract worker for a future project if they like their work. In some cases, if there is a job opening for such a position the company might extend the contract or even convert it into a permanent role. From my experience in the industry, contract workers who are really good at their job can earn well.

For companies, it’s mainly about having the opportunity to tap into different specialised skill sets when needed. Hiring freelancers can also help them to reduce overhead costs.

Do you think contract PMET workers, especially those who are more mature, can be easily reintegrated into the workforce?

It really should be their choice if they want to freelance or work full-time. A good freelancer is very in touch with the industry and has an extensive network so they can cast their net wide. If they choose, I believe they can fit back into the full-time workforce relatively easily.

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