Robert Smith of recruitment consultant Hays Montrose explains why more and more construction workers are turning to fixed-term contracts.
Contract work offers less stability than a permanent job but it does have advantages. In fact, there are increasing numbers of construction workers who prefer to work on short- or fixed-term contracts because these offer more variety of work, different locations and colleagues and, often, higher wages. Others use the industry’s fluctuating workloads to their advantage, taking a temporary position to get their foot in the door of a company or to gain experience while looking for a permanent job.

What’s good about being a contract worker?

You are not tied to one employer, one location, one job, one set of hours or one set of colleagues. The work is varied and you gain valuable experience. The pay is usually better, although it varies according to skill and the type of assignment. John Newell is a long-term contract worker with Hays Montrose. “I wouldn’t want to work for one company,” he says. “I like the self-regulating nature of my work and the money is a nice bonus.”

What would I miss out on?

As a contract worker, you do not have access to many of the employment benefits offered to permanent employees, such as pension plans, healthcare schemes and profit-share options.

Contract workers used to miss out on paid holidays but, under the European Union Working Time Directive that came into force last October, employers must now provide all workers with 15 days’ holiday a year. They must also provide sick pay for contract workers.

What are the possible pitfalls?

You need be the type who adapts quickly to new environments. Employers will expect you to be able to hit the ground running. Of course, contract workers are also the first to go if a company has to cut back. You are at the mercy of market forces and there will be quiet periods. But when the market is good, contract workers can move from firm to firm commanding the highest possible rates.

What skills are in demand?

There is a contract market for every skill in the construction process. The biggest demand is for labourers, especially bricklayers and carpenters. Information technology specialists, such as AutoCAD technicians, are winning a lot of work, as are technical experts, such as claims surveyors.

What’s the market like at the moment?

It’s very good for contract workers. Worries about recession seem to have been premature. Hays Montrose contract sections around the country are all reporting a record number of contract workers currently on assignments.

How do I get work?

Sign up with a recruitment consultant and invest in a mobile phone, an answering machine or pager so the agency can get hold of you at all times — you never know when a contract may crop up. You should keep in contact with your recruitment consultant so that he or she can develop a better idea of which work you prefer. When you do get work, ask for letters of recommendation after every job, and keep your CV up to date.

Top tips for contract workers

  • Always carry a time sheet in case you have to finish your contract prematurely. You will need to get it verified to be paid
  • Never discuss pay with your co-workers. It can cause animosity
  • Arrive on site in your own safety footwear and hard hat. Putting the onus on clients to supply these will restrict your suitability
  • Ask for a health and safety induction on each site
  • Introduce yourself to everyone. You may need a reference; they may be recruiting or know who is
  • If you don’t know how to do something, ask. People appreciate honesty and you will learn a skill