Asia job hunters choosing temp work over permanence

More ‘exhilarating’ work, chance to build career main drivers

HONG KONG (Reuters) — Cary Lam quit the security of a permanent job in the IT industry after eight years for a better opportunity that until recently, was a rarity across most of Asia: A temporary one-year contract offer.

With the move, Lam, 37, joined the growing ranks of workers in Asia willing to turn their backs on the stability of a permanent "iron rice bowl" post for the uncertainty of contract employment — with the added bonus of more exhilarating work and a chance to build their careers.

"In my mind, there's not much of a difference between permanent and contract jobs. It's not about security, it's about the overhead in changing jobs," said Lam, an HSBC project manager, adding that his job decision hinged on the nature of the position and the company, rather than its shelf life.

Contract employment in the professional sector is growing across Asia, and recruiters from Beijing to Singapore say that a more eager workforce paired with mounting demand from employers for short-term labour is giving companies and workers in the region an increasingly competitive edge in the global professional job scene.

Temporary jobs in East Asia cities are starting to attract more candidates for more project-based offers, sweetened by the esteem of working for big multinational names.

"There's a cultural cringe that is slowing it down ... but over time, it will become accepted," said Andrew Banks, founder and chairman of HR and recruitment firm Talent2.

According to Korea Labor Institute statistics as of August 2010, the amount of non-regular workers in South Korea has nearly doubled since 2002, accounting for 33.4 per cent of the country's 17.05 million workers, up from 27.4 per cent.

Available numbers for the professional sector show there is still a low temporary to permanent jobs ratio in Asia. But evidence shows that both employers and professionals have turned more to contracting since the global financial crisis erupted in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008.

Current contract employment uptake in Hong Kong for recruitment firm Robert Walters is 15 per cent against permanent employment, up from zero in 2008.

"Prior to the financial crisis, there was almost no contract market in Hong Kong at the professional level," said Sommer Owens, Hong Kong's manager for contracts at Robert Walters, which brought its contracting desk to Hong Kong in 2009.

Contract work in project-based jobs now spans the banking, financial services, construction, consulting and, in particular, IT industries.

"We for example had 30 people in Macau, recruiting 4,500 people for a casino, in just nine months following the planning phase and once the work was done the client was able to take over the process themselves," Banks said.

Latest stories