We are now two years into the Brexit negotiations and there is still little clarity on what will happen. However, in the run up to the referendum demand for contractors was high and in the face of more uncertainty I see this demand increasing, particularly if there is an end to freedom of movement between the UK and the EU.
Currently, immigration from EU countries has decreased considerably, but this has been more than compensated for by immigrants from non-EU countries.
That said, some workers from the EU currently employed in the UK are undoubtedly looking elsewhere for work, which means that there are gaps for employers to fill. It is also possible, if not probable, that firms will need specialist skills on a temporary basis to enable them to get through the dislocation of the UK leaving the European Union. In particular, there is concern about sectors traditionally reliant on the migrant workforce, such as construction and hospitality.
I am certain that there will be increased demand and opportunities for freelancers and contractors over the next few years. The UK’s increasingly flexible workforce has proven resilient and adaptable and their prospects look good as companies may well be more cautious about hiring full-time employees during the Brexit transition period and will choose to hire talent on tap, on an as-needs basis.
A flexible workforce is more critical than ever during times of economic uncertainty. Contingent workers offer experience, expertise and knowledge and businesses of all sizes can gain the benefits without burdening themselves with all the costs (and risks) that come with hiring a full-time employee, such as NI contributions, holiday pay, sickness pay, maternity/paternity rights and so on.
However, deciding whether or not to hire a freelancer depends on a wide range of variables and here are some questions for a business to consider first.
Is your business growing?
If you need to find staff quickly, bringing in seasoned contractors who can hit the ground running makes good sense. An organisation might need more staff in order to get the job done and grow the business but it also needs more clients and more business to justify taking on more staff. Using contractors gives you the flexibility to manage the peaks and troughs by scaling up or down according to need.
Do you need specialist skills or are you facing a skills shortage?
Taking on contractors is a good way to keep your overheads down whilst optimising access to expert skills and knowledge on an as and when basis. Hiring a contractor can offer a reliable and cost-effective route to specialist skills too. A REC Jobs Outlook report revealed in July 2018 that the potential uncertainty of Brexit may be affecting how firms choose to hire, with intention to hire higher for temporary agency workers than for permanent staff both in the short and medium-term. REC’s report also evidences that more employers are using agency workers to manage uncertainty – up 19 percentage points compared to the same period last year.
Do you need long-term cover?
Staffing levels are obviously reduced when permanent employees are absent from work. Businesses have to manage maternity leave, sick leave, sabbaticals and holidays. Some of these absences can be planned for, but even then conjuring up the right people with the right skills for the job at the right time can prove difficult and time-consuming. Building up relationships with contractors you can call on really adds value to your organisation.
Do you need fresh ideas and approaches?
Contractors can be a source of creative energy and new ideas and can invigorate your business with their new approaches and fresh perspectives that rub off on existing employees.
Do you have a crisis that needs handling?
A crisis can strike any part of an organisation at any time and, whatever the cause and symptoms, tackling it demands a high level of specialist expertise, often at short notice. By turning to a skilled contractor, companies can resolve an issue quickly and efficiently and once the problem is solved those contractors can be released.
Do you know what you need?
Sometimes you might not know what resource you might need for your business in the long term. An experienced contractor could help a small business to scope out what the project needs and what the role might demand and advise the business accordingly. Coming from outside the business, contractors can often think outside the box and help you to understand what you might need.
If you answered yes to some or all of the above questions then hiring a freelancer could be the best solution for your business.
Properly managed, contractors and freelancers can deliver the levels of speed, skills and flexibility that are vital to a company’s ability to operate in the faster, more fragmented and less predictable environment we are likely to see post-Brexit. Using contractors also gives organisations better control over their fixed permanent costs, whilst reducing the exposure to increasing regulatory risks associated with permanent employees.
For many companies, the arguments in favour of the flexible worker are becoming increasingly compelling, giving them the ability to structure their workforce in ways that permanent employment simply doesn’t allow for.
Recruiting in-house demands a significant investment in time, energy and resources - things which a small business might not have. By briefing a reputable and creditable recruitment agency, businesses can gain access to an already vetted crop of contractors and freelancers as well as advice on the legalities of the process. Agencies can help smooth the hiring process and businesses can reap the benefits of knowing that those people who come your way fit the bill.
Julia Kermode is chief executive of The Freelancer & Contractor Services Association, the UK’s leading professional membership body dedicated to raising standards and promoting supply chain compliance for the temporary labour market.