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Contractors must develop in-demand niche skills to avoid damaging their prospects

Contractors must continuously develop niche, in-demand skills to ensure that they stay high on the priority list of their agents, or they risk potentially losing out on lucrative new contracts.

This is according to a new survey of contractor agencies by umbrella company Parasol, which asked 40 recruitment consultants about their hiring strategy when contractors reached the end of their assignment.

Although 97% of those surveyed monitor when their contractors’ contracts are nearing their end, only 69% then proactively seek out a new assignment in advance, and only a quarter place contractors into second and third assignments after their first one.

When asked the reasons for dropping so many contractors, many agents responded that “a lack of relevant skills has been a key factor”.

Parasol sales director Jeff Blakemore highlighted that the recruiters’ responses are a “timely reminder” that contractors need to stay on top of their skills development: “We predicted that 2014 would be the year of the niche contractor, and that the era of the generalist was over. These results seem to confirm that trend.

“Plenty has been said and written about the UK’s skills shortage in recent months. The talent crisis only represents an opportunity…for those contractors who possess the expertise and niche skills that recruiters and their clients are crying out for.”

ContractorCalculator CEO Dave Chaplin agrees, and believes that contractors in the core contracting disciplines need to stay ahead of the game when it comes to skills development: “Contractors are responsible for their own training and development, and they will find that the new contract opportunities that arise through investing in new skills more than compensate for the time and cash investment they must make in training.”

The responses that Parasol was hearing direct from contractor recruiters included:

  • “If the contractor has generic skills that we are not looking for, we would not pro-actively ‘sell’ that kind of person”
  • “If we are simply too busy filling current vacancies in areas where the contractor does not have relevant skills, we will not spend time on finding them work”
  • “If there is no demand for their skill set I won’t pro-actively find them (the contractor) another assignment.”

Other reasons why recruiters have dropped contractors from their active lists include poor performance during an assignment and negative client feedback. Changes in a contractor’s location, or a spell of permanent employment, can also impact negatively on their attractiveness.

Blakemore concludes: “As economic conditions improve and demand picks up, contractors who invest in their own professional development and continually enhance their skill set are in a fantastic position.

“In contrast, those who have failed to carve a niche for themselves may find opportunities drying up.”

Published: 21 August 2014

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