The rise of the transient engineer: Are contract roles the new norm?

The rise of the transient engineer: Are contract roles the new norm?

If you have been paying attention to the morning headlines or know someone who overuses the phrase ‘the gig economy?, it won’t come as a surprise to you that the way we work is changing.

At a glance, engineering seems to be one of the last industries to be disrupted by its own version of Uber or Airbnb. In reality, engineers shifted away from having permanent, 9-to-5 engagements long ago.

As Australia looks to invest in infrastructure over the next 10 years, we are seeing a resurgence in the contracting trend in the civil arena.

 Driven by an abundance of project-based work, more and more engineers are now opting to become transient professionals and engage with companies on a short-term basis.

Contracting can bring about a world of opportunity, however it is important to understand whether you can make this arrangement work for you and your future employers or clients.

We’ve set out to answer some of the most common questions our candidates at Peopleconnexion have about whether contracting is right for them:

First thing’s first: What are the benefits of contracting?

For many, the first and most obvious place to begin is the higher rate of pay. Traditionally, contractors will earn a more attractive hourly rate than those in permanent positions due to the short-term nature of their work. In trading employment stability, guaranteed leave and permanent benefits, contractors gain a higher rate of pay and a chance to dictate when and where they will work.

Instead of the standard 4 weeks of leave, it’s not uncommon for contractors to take a few weeks off between projects and end up with more time off than they would in a permanent role. Time off for contractors however is unpaid, so this is a factor to take into consideration when weighing your opportunities.

(Just for the record, our office has observed that fishing seems to be the R&R activity of choice between projects.) 

Image: ABC

The flexibility contractors are awarded comes in different shapes and forms, stretching beyond time spent at work. In moving between projects, roles and industries, contractors often accelerate their professional development simply by gaining exposure to different environments, technologies and methodologies. As a result, many contractors find themselves with a broad skillset making them more versatile professionals.

What about companies?

For companies, contractors offer a degree of workforce flexibility that is in no uncertain terms, attractive. Being able to ramp up for a project and scale down afterwards is a situation well suited to the project focus engineering consultancies around Australia are now adopting.

In using contractors, companies eliminate the need to run extensive internal recruitment drives leading up to a project and the need to have teams sitting idle until their next tender is won. The trade-off is the risk that a contractor will leave halfway through a project, clash with an existing team dynamic or compromise intellectual property. Placing a focus on recruiting the right people is the easiest and most effective risk management strategy when engaging contractors.

What is a typical contract duration?


Depending on the nature of your work and which section of the project lifecycle you operate in, contract durations can differ wildly. As a rough guide, these are the timeframes we commonly see for different roles:

?        Technical & advisory: 1 week ? 6 months

?        Design: 6 weeks to 12 months

?        Drafting: 4 weeks to 12 months

?        Project Engineer: 3 months to 12 months

Is there a difference between short-term and fixed-term contracts?

In a word, yes. A fixed-term contract has a specified duration and termination date. Unless extended, the contract will automatically reach its expiration at the end of its term. Also, some fixed-term contract engagements carry the same entitlements as a permanent employee e.g. annual leave, so understanding the contract engagement is a key part of the onboarding process. Short-term contracts are normally created to provide extra capacity to a project team and do not necessarily have a fixed end date.

The main difference between the two types of contracts is the end date and the ramifications this has on payment and notice periods.

How will the ramp up of rail and steady momentum in mining and resources affect the contractor trend?

During the mining boom, we saw a sharp increase in the use of short term contracts and contingent workers to keep project budgets in check. Contracting allowed companies to maintain a high degree of workforce flexibility and access expertise for short periods of time, rather than building capability internally and having to make teams redundant when projects reached completion. 

In a similar fashion, a wave of rail projects across Australia is exacerbating the need for contractors. Take a look at Engineers Australia’s vacancy statistics:

 Civil, electrical and mining positions are well and truly leading the pack over the last six months. As projects continue to come online, the need for contractors will only become more prevalent.

If you are considering contracting for your next move or would like to know what opportunities are available for contractors, I am always available for a confidential discussion via or on (07) 3333 1511.

With our significant investment and our wealth of expertise in payroll management and onboarding systems we make the experience smooth and seamless for both our contractors and clients.

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