“Precarious Employment” Isn’t Always as Precarious as it Seems

June 2, 2015

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Last week, Toronto News outlets picked up on a report released by United Way in partnership with McMaster University about the state of employment in Toronto. The report examined the city’s workforce with respect to job security, and found that a recent trend away from permanent, full-time employment has continued. It examined the growing prevalence of part-time, contract, and seasonal labour, with a statistical analysis of how so-called “precarious” employment can have a negative impact on individuals’ family, political, and community engagement. The biggest takeaway from the report? Only 48% of Torontonians are currently employed in Full-time, permanent positions offering benefits.

Toronto is only one city, but it speaks to a wider trend. As we’ve been writing about at Argentus, the world of work is shifting. The vision of a career where someone works for one company for their entire career is a thing of the past. As the United Way reports, fully 1 out of 5 employees in Toronto is currently a Contract (Contingent) employee. We’ve often quoted a prediction that by 2020, 50% of employees in Fortune 100 companies will be Contingent. As a recruitment company that’s navigating this changing world of work by recruiting high-skilled contingent staff for strategic, project-based assignments within Procurement and Supply Chain, we felt the need to point to this study and offer some comments.

We realize that the United Way report is talking about a broad swath of employment including low-income, lower and medium-skilled and seasonal positions. And for those positions, the precariousness of employment is a serious issue with big effects on the social fabric. As the report and news articles outline, precarious work can result in less on-the-job training, lead people to begin families later, lead them to report higher rates of stress and mental illness, as well as other impacts. But we feel that it’s important to mention that for high-skilled, strategic positions, such as those we recruit for in Supply Chain and Procurement, contract isn’t so much of a dirty word.

For high-skilled workers, contingent work is often an alternative to the permanent workforce that offers numerous lifestyle advantages. It affords numerous tax benefits, as well as the possibility to work in a variety of industries and on project-based work. It offers the chance to work more independently, in a consultant/client relationship as opposed to an employer/employee arrangement. It allows better work/life balance in the opportunity to take extended leave between contracts. And contingent positions at top companies can be a try-before-you-buy scenario leading to great permanent roles. For lots of high-skilled workers in Supply Chain and Procurement, and we at Argentus represent quite a few, what you lose in job stability you can gain many times over in other benefits both tangible and intangible, financial and social. In addition, the number of people choosing to be self-employed, to start their own businesses, are on the rise, and the entrepreneurial spirit is part of the story here.

We empathize with individuals in precarious living situations due to their lack of full-time, permanent work. It’s a dreadful state of affairs when someone who’s aiming for permanent a role can’t achieve it because of labour conditions. And we recognize that there’s a huge level of difference between a Strategic Sourcing Manager in the Financial Services industry (a typical contingent Procurement role we at Argentus would recruit for) and many of the individual cases the report outlines (i.e. temporary staff engaged in clerical work). But we feel it’s worth mentioning that these top-line statistics don’t necessarily tell the whole story: this shift, at the higher end of salary and skill level, isn’t entirely employer-driven. And quite a few high-skilled professionals in our network prefer the contingent lifestyle.  

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