The value and popularity of the gig economy has steadily grown across all industries over the last few years, as employees and workplaces gravitate towards flexible working practices. Especially over the last 18 months, the uptake in non-ongoing workers has increased – especially within the public sector. By the 31st of December 2020, non-ongoing employees equated to 11.6% of the total Australian Public Service (Australian Public Service Commission, 2020). This was an increase of approximately 2,467 workers over the 2020 calendar year, which the Australian Public Service attributed to the additional demand service organisations experienced as a result of the pandemic; particularly Services Australia and the Australian Taxation Office which look after services like Centrelink, JobKeeper, Medicare etc. During this time, many government agencies experienced high levels of mobility within their teams. New people joined projects to ensure they were completed on time and workers were redeployed to areas where they were needed most. The Australian Public Service Commission even designed their own ‘Tiger Teams’ – small highly skilled groups (usually specific to IT) to set up task forces with specialist qualifications to help process and sort through the influx of JobSeeker applications  (Byrne, 2020).
As Australia begins its ‘roadmap to recovery’, some are wondering if the demand for non-ongoing workers will remain – especially now that teams have built structures in place to better manage and cope with the demand stemming from the pandemic. The Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott, predicts that when staff transition back (to their regular work) at some stage, it’s going to be different (Byrne, 2020). The increased uptake in non-ongoing employees (which consist of three distinct subgroups of workers: those employed for a specific term, a specific task or irregular or intermittent work (casual)) during the covid crisis has highlighted the value of having a mobile and flexible workforce. We explore these advantages in more depth below:
The obvious benefit of non-ongoing employees is the additional support they can provide an organisation during periods of uncertainty. In light of the turmoil and rapid rate of change across the workforce last year, many government’s original hiring forecasts were derailed. In periods of uncertainty, being able to hire casual staff or employees on a six-month contract rather than permanent employees can be a great solution for organisations looking for an agile way of meeting demand while managing budgets. Consequently, government agencies and local councils relied on these non-ongoing employment options to help provide their staff with the additional support they needed during COVID-19 while ensuring they didn’t stray too far from budget in an economically turbulent period.
Even outside of ‘COVID-19 living’, the flexibility and additional support that non-ongoing employees can provide is hugely beneficial when an organisation is experiencing staff fluctuations. Within big government departments and public service organisations, a number of staff are often on extended leave at once; maybe some are on maternity leave while others are taking their long service leave. To ensure the department doesn’t become delayed on any ongoing projects and can maintain their normal levels of productivity, organisations can hire contract or temporary workers to fill in for these team members until they come back from their extended leave.
Non-ongoing employees also provide a very diverse and varied skill set, as they’ve had experience working across multiple organisations and systems. Their varied experience equips them to identify and resolve a greater range of issues, as they have developed an outside-in approach to problem-solving. This is advantageous to any government organisation, as a fresh pair of eyes can observe ways to make frameworks and systems more efficient. Furthermore, non-ongoing employees – especially permanent contract workers- often work within a specialist area and consequently will bring particular expertise that is difficult to find and not necessarily required on a daily basis. This means they can fill any knowledge gaps a team might have while offering greater flexibility, as the organisation doesn’t have to commit to employing them long-term. They can choose when to engage with them and once a particular project has been completed, they can release them without financial penalty. Or perhaps if the project is taking longer than expected they can extend their contract. This level of flexibility is hugely advantageous for organisations working on projects with a lot of moving parts- which is a regular occurrence in many local councils and government agencies.
Finally, employing a non-ongoing employee is a great way to ‘try before you buy’. Similarly to an individual employee who might use a contract position to test out a particular role or see how they like working with a particular team of people – a contract position is a great way for government organisations to trial out employees without committing to permanent employment. Employing people for a particular project or time frame is a great way to determine how well they work within the organisation; how well they adapt to the organisation’s culture and processes, how well they get along with their colleagues and if they bring value to the organisation through their knowledge and skills. If the experience with the particular contract worker works really well, the organisation can then look at employing them on a more permanent basis or at the very least, have them on file for future projects. Alternately, if for whatever reason the contractor doesn’t work out, the organisation hasn’t incurred significant recruiting costs in the process.
The challenge for organisations and companies looking for contract and casual workers is to gain traction in the marketplace as demand in the contract space grows. Differences in the needs and wants of temporary workers vs. permanent workers are subtle but still distinctive. Consequently, it’s important that organisations are aware of these needs and know how to meet them in order to effectively appeal to and attract the desired market. Because as in any form of recruitment, the aim is never just to fill a role but to fill it with the right person.
According to Linkedin data, the key factors on-ongoing employees’ value when considering a job are similar to that of a permanent worker; strong compensation and benefits options, a good work-life balance and positive workplace culture. In a recent Linkedin survey that spoke to contractors within U.S. government, 64% of respondents voted for strong compensation, 59% voted for work-life balance and 44% voted for workplace culture. A Harvard Business Review Talent Trends survey found similar results, claiming that contractors were more invested in salary than full-time workers and rated company culture and learning new skills within a role, highly. Consequently, for a contract role to appear more desirable to candidates, it’s recommended that public sector organisations ensure they can meet these requirements; do they offer flexible working options to their temporary staff? Can they offer competitive rates? Will temporary staff be entitled to professional development resources or networking opportunities with the wider organisation?
According to Linkedin’s data, contractors are also more engaged on Linkedin than the average worker; they are 1.6 times more likely to respond to InMails and 1.8 times more likely to engage with content. This makes sense as contractors need to keep a regular eye on the job market so they’re ready to pounce on their next role. For an organisation, this insight suggests that putting a bigger focus on Linkedin as opposed to other platforms could be beneficial in reaching a bigger pool of candidates.
It’s also important to remember that the recruitment process within contracting is fast-paced. Contracts are short term- sometimes 3-4 weeks- and workers want to minimise the length of time between contracts, so are always on the lookout for their next role. Organisations need to move fast to secure a candidate, especially if that candidate is in high demand. Consequently, it’s important to make fast decisions, especially when considering extending a contract or re-hiring a previous contractor.
Another key factor organisations should consider are the processes they have in place to make contractors feel like a part of the team. As Linkedin’s research demonstrates, contractors value a positive workplace culture and thus appreciate opportunities to build and foster relationships and collaborate with the wider team. Subsequently, local councils and government agencies should make sure they include contractors in any social events or publicly acknowledge their input or impact on a project. Establishing these bonds will also go a long way in building a long-term relationship.
Finally, if organisations have specific recruitment needs in regards to their contract work, it can be beneficial to reach out to a recruitment organisation that specialises within your particular industry or deals with contract roles. For example, because Public Sector People focuses solely on recruiting within the public sector, a significant portion of contract roles we work on are contract roles. This focus has ensured our consultants have built strong relationships with a number of candidates and are well versed in what will and won’t draw talent to a contract role.
If you’re looking to fill a particular contract position or advice on whether contracting would work for your organisation, don’t hesitate in reaching out to our specialised consultants.
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Phone: (03) 8535 3111
 Australian Public Service Commission. (2020). Size and Shape of the APS. Australian Government. Retrieved from https://www.apsc.gov.au/employment-data/aps-employment-data-31-december-2020-release/size-and-shape-aps
 Bryne, Elizabeth. (2020). Coronavirus Has Changed Public Service For The Better, Commissioner Says. ABC. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-17/public-servants-are-running-the-country-from-their-loungerooms/12255998