Pros & cons of being a freelance in top construction roles

  • 24 May 2016

SARAH_FINALGUEST BLOG: Sarah Ronan, Managing Consultant (Contracts) at TDM Recruitment Group, on why the rise of freelance project managers, quantity surveyors and other design and technical managers is unstoppable.

 

The number of Project Managers, Quantity Surveyors and, increasingly, Design and Technical Managers moving into freelancing is rising fast as professionals make hay while the sun shines. Frankly, who can blame them? This is a phenomenon being seen across many sectors, but even more so in our project-based industry. Additional economic factors and the rise in the number of contract vacancies make freelancing the major current trend in construction staffing.

Why the growth?

One answer could be our recession hangover. The vast redundancies that came in 2009 has led to a degree of caution in committing to the hire of permanent staff.The hiring freeze of seven years ago also resulted in a lack of people entering the industry’s white-collar disciplines. With many businesses curbing their recruitment activity during the recession and a general lack of investment in training, there is a well-reported skills gap across middle-management roles and particular disciplines – the roles that would have been filled by aspiring graduates in 2009. This scarcity of professionally qualified permanent candidates for roles means that freelancers filling these skills gaps can command a premium.

The pros of freelancing

Many staff with the right ‘in-demand’ skills are naturally keen to capitalise on the situation, aware that the current boom-time may not last forever. While main contractors or luxury developers with a strong future pipeline may prefer to take on permanent staff, others employers may look at paying a contractor on a day rate in order to obtain the right skilled staff without the obligations that go with a permanent hire.

As an example, realistically quantity surveyors, who are in particularl short supply at the moment, can earn up to 40% more as freelancers. This is a clear pull factor for any professional in any sector.

Freelancers also benefit from a large amount of flexibility in not being tied to any individual firm, and the ability to enjoy a variety of different projects. This variety can also benefit their CV by demonstrating their versatility, and some professionals, for example QS’s, will then have the freedom to almost cherry-pick projects to work on according to the areas or types of project they would prefer.

The cons of freelancing

However, it is swings and roundabouts, and with the attractive pay-packet comes the cost of a lack of job security. Freelancers will unlikely work all year round with periods of down-time between contracts. They will be the first to leave if there are any serious issues or delays on a project. In addition, there are none of the benefits associated with employment – no holiday pay, healthcare, sick pay and all other company benefits. The higher risk is reflected by the higher day rates.

Why hire freelancers?

Freelancers are a pool of talent that any firm should be open to drawing from. They get access to a unique skill set which may not be available among their permanent staff, all without being tied to an annual salary and contract. A client may only need someone for a month in a certain area of a project however that individual’s skillset could be essential in helping a project to move forward and remain on time and on budget.

Aside from providing specialist expertise, freelancers are a practical solution to providing cover for permanent staff or additional resources to push a project across the line.

Misconceptions

There is a common misconception that freelancers are not as committed to the end-goal as permanent staff but this myth is old hat. Freelance professionals are keenly aware of the close-knit nature of the construction industry. With reputation being everything, contractors are always careful to ensure that a high quality service is delivered, helping to secure their future work. They also offer extra value on a project by bringing a set of fresh eyes where permanent staff may not have the same level of perspective.

There is a second misconception that people freelance because they cannot get a job, but in the highly-skilled end of the market, it is the complete opposite. They are working in this way because it offers a range of key benefits to them, not least financial.

Employers can often baulk at the high day rates that freelancers currently command but that’s a ‘false economy’ mentality. The true cost of a permanent member of staff goes well beyond the basic salary. Commission, benefits and even obligatory costs such as Employers NI, all inflate the cost of a permanent hire. Similarly, the cost of not filling a skills gap on a project can have consequences far more expensive than the cost of a freelancer on a day rate.

Who is in control?

Anyone who has been involved in the hiring process, knows that currently the market is very candidate-driven both in permanent and contract recruitment. The sheer size of some of London’s key developments, their staffing requirements and the volume at which these are being passed through planning, presents its own challenges – how can companies adequately staff their projects in such a candidate-driven market? Further investment in house-building across the country is going to put even more stress on the construction candidate market.

Clients’ chances of negotiating these obstacles are bettered when they choose to partner with the right recruiter. Knowing their clients’ needs and understanding how their client’s businesses work, helps a recruiter to successfully source contractors with the skills that the project requires. Similarly, recruiters value their candidate relationships equally and understand that for a freelancer, their next contract role is as important to them as it is to a permanent candidate.

No matter where the current wave takes the industry, one thing is undeniable – the rise of freelancers is as unstoppable as the rise of London’s skyline.

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