As we’ve touched on previously, in the time following the global recession growing numbers of professionals have moved to working on a flexible or contract basis. This has meant that the contracting marketplace is now very active, making it an ever more important part of HR teams’ strategic talent plans. As talent management professionals know, in order to develop truly successful people policies, they must first recognise the drivers of their audience and what engages and inspires them. So what are the main factors that motivate contractors that HR teams should be aware of?

It could be assumed that professionals move into contracting for obvious reasons. After all, who doesn’t want to have the potential to gain more exposure to different companies, expand their network and have access to an increased number of opportunities? However, an analysis of our own database of several thousand contractors found that other factors are also behind the growing number of individuals joining the contracting marketplace.

Many professionals have reported moving into the arena because of the increased likelihood of developing their professional skills. By having exposure to a greater number of opportunities and organisations, contractors have an improved chance of widening their skill set and developing expertise in a diverse range of areas. This perhaps highlights that HR teams will have to provide more training and development opportunities in the future if they want to keep their contractor base satisfied. Skills development was listed as one of the top three influencing factors for professionals moving into contracting in our survey and was particularly dominant in engineering, as 53% reported this as their main driver.

Another influencing factor that HR professionals should be aware of is the potential for improved work-life balance, one of the much publicised attraction points of moving into contracting.  Obviously, this isn’t the same type of work/life balance that some working flexibly would receive and relates more to having downtime in between contracts than asking for the right to work four days a week, for example. And, it could be that some sectors are simply better geared up for the achievement of an improved work/life balance. Our own analysis, for example, found that contractors in education were much more focused on a healthier balance than their peers in other areas.

Perhaps the most obvious factor that drives professionals into contracting is the ostensibly higher rates on offer. After all, the nature of the roles and the specialist skills provided surely warrant increased reward. This reason was noted across all sectors but was particularly dominant in IT where 74% of professionals on our database highlighted this as their main factor behind becoming a contractor.  To HR teams, paying higher rates may be a concern but of course they are actually avoiding the costs associated with increasing permanent headcount. While taking on a contractor may be more expensive in the short-term, it avoids the long-term investment gained by taking on a permanent employee, and importantly it provides a resource pool of skilled labour to work on one off projects. Businesses should perhaps not be put off by the initial cost but should recognise the value for money that contractors provide in completing one off projects.

All of these factors highlight that, perhaps, contractors aren’t a particularly mysterious bunch. In the past many have been treated differently to permanent staff and perhaps been criticised for ‘only being in it for the money.’ But while this may still be true in highly paid roles in some of the more challenging areas of the globe, the great majority of contractors have become an integral part of the workforce as a valuable resource. While there is an obligation for organisations to match certain pay and benefits under existing AWR legislation, increasing numbers of contractors are seeing the benefits of using professional umbrella employers in order to provide ongoing employment as they fulfil various assignments. This is a win-win for both the contractor, who then has security, and the hirer which is able to mitigate the risk of employee/employer claims. However, it still benefits both the individual and the company for contractors to be deeply embedded into the corporate culture.

What do you believe motivates contractors?