Independent contracting is the occupation of choice for 20 per cent of Australia’s workforce, and is most prevalent in the Communications Services industry, according to preliminary research conducted by Monash University.
Dr Tui McKeown of Monash University’s School of Business and Economics said virtually no research has been conducted about the “modern day” contractor.
She said the research, dubbed “The Forgotten Workforce,” indicates a gap between how organisations and recruiters view and work with independent contractors, and the views of the independent contractors themselves. While the surveyed contractors believed they were in control of their work, the managers said that they had full control over their contractors.
“The employing of independent professionals has been on the rise over the past eight years,” said CEO of Entity Solutions Matthew Franceschini and a funding partner for the university’s research paper.
“It is a viable career option and an effective business solution. However, much of the thinking around employment, work, HR policies and management is stuck on the traditional, old fashioned view of the employee/employer relationship, and the contractor as a mercenary – only in it for the money,” said Franceschini.
The research, which is still in its infancy, consists of two approaches: an online survey of 87 people, of which 11 (13%) came from the Communications Services industry followed by the manufacturing and finance industries; and a series of 25 in-depth interviews of contractors from within the IT sector.
All IT contractors had a common theme: they rated earning more money as the number one reason for their job choice. However, stimulating work and control over their work were other key reasons why they are happy in their current contract situations.
According to Franceschini, in times of economic uncertainty, tight budgets and recruitment freezes, companies still need work to get done, and this has made the hiring of independent contractors all the more appealing, he added.
Sydney-based IT consultant Joseph Rignanese chose a contracting lifestyle, after being daunted by the prospect of sitting at the same desk for 10 or more years.
“One of the best things about my career is being able to change companies on a regular basis and get exposed to a lot of different areas really quickly,” he said.
Despite the attractive salary and stimulating work environments, Dr McKeown said that many independent contractors were still frustrated by the lack of fusion between employees and contractors. Many IT contractors expressed that they were not able to fully contribute their expertise to a project and were sometimes underutilised.
“There is tension between employees and contractors which accounts for the way they are neglected in the workforce,” said Dr McKeown.
It’s a message shared by some.
“Contractors make me feel undervalued as an employee,” said business analyst Danielle Buhler. “I work harder and get paid less, but they seem to be getting all the credit.”
The ongoing research will further investigate the functional arrangements which can contribute to a contractor’s professional skills, and will aim to identify the work experiences that affect the attitudes of contract workers.