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Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 47 – Benefits of contracting

Welcome to the July edition of Information Overload for Registrants and other interested readers. As always we hope that you found the information in the last edition of interest and use, and will find the latest edition of similar benefit.

This month we are looking at the benefits (or not) of joining the ranks of the contractor sector. If you have ever wondered what it was like to work on fixed-term contract but haven’t been motivated to find out on a personal level, we hope this edition will give you some food for thought. Of course if you would like to experience first hand the benefits of joining (or re-joining) the contract sector, then please contact our offices, we would love to hear from you, we have project work and contracts waiting for those people with the right skills and abilities.
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In this issue we will look at:

• A permanent job is not the only option
• Niche Specialists vs. Generalist Agencies
• How do you get the most out of the contract experience?
• A Thought to ponder

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In the May edition of the Registrants Resources edition of Information Overload we looked at where to find job information (available from http://www.iea.com.au if you don’t have a copy on hand). To take this topic a little further, today we are going to talk about working through an employment agency and life in the contract arena.

To some people reading this, getting a “full time” job is the most important aspect of working. To some people that full time job represents stability, a chance to earn a decent wage, a chance to buy a house, get holiday and sick leave entitlements and the possibility of career progression.

If you have been following the changes to workplace laws in recent times (and lets face it, it’s pretty hard to miss unless you are stuck on a mountainside in a cave somewhere), you will not have failed to notice that “times, they are a changing”. Do we still have the same kind of stability in our work places anymore? The answer is no. Employers can “sack” people almost at will, and not be held accountable through unfair dismissal claims – especially if those reasons are cited as “operational”. It doesn’t matter what size organisation you work for either – as organisations try to reduce costs and bottom line expenditure in the face of increasing competition – especially with the global dominance of America and China, people are seen to be the quickest and easiest way of reducing overheads and therefore costs.

These comments may seem to fly in the face of what we are seeing in the Records and Information Industry at the moment. There are more jobs than people, and we do appear to have a severe skills shortage. Add the problem of a lack of RM/IM training opportunities through our educational institutions, and we feel this is not a problem that is going to go away in the near future.

A “permanent” job is not the only option
Given our recent comments about the changes to the Industrial Relations laws, do any of us have a truly “permanent” job anymore? The answer is probably not. But where does that leave you? Well for those of you who are reading this and are not currently “on contract” through IEA or any other agency, you may like to consider fixed-term contract placements as an alternative to a “permanent” role, especially if you consider that contracts can range from a day to a year with every variation in between.

What are the benefits of contracting?
• Contracting puts you into places and situations that you may not have thought about before. Of course this may put you off working in a particular industry or with a particular organisation entirely, but short, fixed-term contracts does allow you to try before you “buy” in.
• Employment agencies should be able to offer you a variety of work, although it is entirely up to you whether you take a role or not. It should also be noted that you are never put forward for a position without being contacted first.
• Depending on the agency you choose to work for, you should get offered positions that are well within your range of skills and abilities. (Please note, this may not be the case with all agencies – especially if they don’t really understand your qualifications and experience).
• You can finish a contract with as little as 24 hours notice – although to be fair to the client, we hope that you don’t, and
• The pay is generally better as you get what is called “leave loading” on top of the normal salary.
• And you can use the money you receive in the contract sector to persuade banks and other lending institutions that you are in a stable work environment and therefore not a bad credit risk.

Of course there are also downsides. These can include:
• There is generally no holiday or sick leave cover; if you don’t work you don’t get paid. But if you put aside the additional monies you earned (leave loading) you will cover this “problem” quite nicely.
• There is generally a steep learning curve – every organisation is different, including the systems they use, the practices undertaken and of course the people you will be working with.
• Contracting is not for everyone – if you are not happy outside your comfort zone, then you will struggle going into a new workplace on a regular basis.
• And despite what we have said about there being more jobs than people, we (and other employment agencies) cannot guarantee additional work beyond your current contract. In reality of course, the work is available for those with the right skills, abilities and attitude.

So you’ve decided to take the plunge, which agency do you work through?

Niche specialists vs. Generalist agencies
Depending on your own brand of expertise you should be able to find a niche specialist employment agency that can help you to find work. For example, there are only a few specialist agencies looking after library and records management staff in Australia these are:
• One Umbrella – unfortunately these have been taken over by Candle – and are probably more accurately known as a Generalist agency these day. One Umbrella (http://www.oneumbrella.com.au) look after Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane.
• There is also Zenith Records and Information Management (based in NSW) – (http://www.zenmngt.com)  and there is
• Information Enterprises Australia – IEA – yes us!! IEA (http://www.iea.com.au) is the only niche specialist employment agency for library and records management staff who are based in Western Australia.

Whilst we cannot say for certain how another specialist agency works. The advantage of working through Information Enterprises are many and include:

• We know the language, the industry, and will pay you the correct rate for the job you are being asked to do;
• Variety of placements – everyone from state government to private enterprise
• Job length – 1 day to 1 year
• If you work on fixed term contract for IEA, you are employed by IEA – we pay your tax and super – did you know if you work for some agencies they won’t pay your super if you don’t earn over the requisite monthly amount of money? Well we do and always have done.
• If you have a problem at work, we will sort it out for you.
• We know everyone by name.
• We encourage a revolving door policy. If you decide to work elsewhere for a while we are first in line to offer you congratulations and we hope that one day you will come back to us with additional skills and knowledge. The more skills and experience you have, the more opportunities open up for you and the more money you are likely to earn.
• We have a comprehensive Occupational Health and Safety Induction. We know the first day on a new job is likely to be the most dangerous so we ensure you undertake the RCSA induction before being placed with a client (host employer). Should the unthinkable happen, we also have an Injury Management Policy and workers compensation insurance! But we would rather you didn’t need to use them.
• And perhaps the most important aspect of working as a contract employee for Information Enterprises is that we keep in touch with you. Not only do we speak to you on your first day to make sure you got there ok, and they are treating you well. We also speak to you on a regular basis throughout the contract so that we can make sure everything is going well, and if not, what we can do to help you. Of course you don’t have to wait for us to call you, the entire team at IEA are ready to help if you need to speak to us. 
Generalist agencies – as their name suggests can offer virtually anyone to any organisation. Generalist agencies include organisations such as Drake, Hays & Alliance. The beauty of working through a generalist agency is they are on some of the large employer bases preferred suppliers lists and common use contracts with Government agencies.

As you can imagine, there are also some potential disadvantages in undertaking work through a generalist agency. The main reason is they don’t know you or your specialisation. They are unlikely to know the subtle nuances of your profession, language, and what a job really entails. Consequently they may not charge the correct rate for the work that you are being asked to do (and yes we have seen this occur in many instances). If the agency does not charge the correct rate, then the likelihood is that your hourly rate may be lower. So be prepared to negotiate if you think the rate is poor.

How do you get the most out of the contracting experience?
• Be willing to learn from as many people who are willing to teach you.
• Always be polite – you never know where the next job will come from, if you think this is only a two week job it doesn’t matter what attitude you have – then you are wrong. Perth is a very small place….people talk…make them talk about you for the right reasons.
• Repeat business – clients ask for people they like, and who know the work and the organisation.
• Be helpful – but be aware of the duties as stated in your contract – if you do more you should be paid more.
• Dress standards apply. Always bear in mind that you are representing yourself, and future business opportunities – again be remembered for the right reasons.
• Time keeping is essential. Some fixed-term contracts have a limited time span due to a variety of reasons. If you are going in to replace someone who is on annual or sick leave, the host employer is not likely to tolerate tardiness or Mondayitis !!
• Do not abuse the host clients property – internet, email, phones, stationery etc
• If you are asked to do additional work with the client (host employer) please ask them to speak to the agency representative. You may find yourself working without a contract and associated workers compensation etc if you do a few extra hours here and there – to help out.
• Be confident in your skills and abilities – and if you need someone to talk to – we are only a phone call away.
• And finally – enjoy yourself, you spend a good portion of every day in the workplace, so start the day with a smile rather than a frown. You will only get one chance to live this day, so don’t waste time and negative energy wishing you were some place else.

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A Thought to Ponder
“Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings”
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
English lexicographer, critic and writer
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