In September 2016, 180 Engineering conducted a four-question poll among engineering professionals to better understand perspectives relating to contract engineering positions. The poll included three questions with fixed answers from which to select, as well as a fourth optional open field question where many respondents shared specific observations and experiences.
Likely of little surprise to anyone in the industry, 63% of respondents indicated that they are seeing a shift toward more contract engineering positions. When asked if respondents view this shift as a good or a bad thing for both hiring organizations and engineering professionals, the results were mixed.
Respondents were pretty evenly split in the above graph, when asked to complete the sentence — “Do you feel that an increase in contract engineering positions is…” with one of four phrases. “Good for companies needing engineers,” was the slightly-favored answer.
A few respondents reflected within their comments that companies tend to shift to hiring more contract engineers when the economy is weak, or is uncertain. However, several respondents shared comments reflecting a growing affinity for holding contract positions either on a long-term basis or as a means to “test drive” an organization before committing to a full-time position.
“After a career of ‘permanent’ positions, I chose to leave one of these positions for a contract position. I’m rather doubtful that I will accept a future ‘perm’ position unless I’m able to work at the organization as a contractor first.”
In past years, hiring managers have generally regarded “job hopping” as a negative; however, in some cases it is now regarded as a positive. Contract positions often facilitate the benefit of allowing engineers to accumulate varying experiences quickly.
“The days of being loyal to a company and a company keeping you for your entire career has been gone for a while. I remember when I started seeing resumes with candidates hopping from one to job to another every 2-3 years. I was initially negative. Now, I see it as positive because it indicates they are hungry to contribute quickly in meaningful engagements. Invariably, they get exposed to broader experience than if they stayed in one position for the same amount of time.”
On the other hand, some hiring managers see the shift toward more contact positions as being short-sighted and dangerous for the prosperity of an engineering organization.
“Contract positions end up being an overpriced short-term Band-Aid for organizations believing talented engineers are plug and play tools that yield instantaneous industry understanding and immediate results for the accounting department working to reduce payroll. As a hiring manager, I have proven this time and time again and have watched good engineering companies implode on themselves for not investing in quality full-time employees and training to maximize their efficiency and output.”
These insights point heavily to the fact that the success of contract positions within a company’s talent management strategy is highly dependent on the culture and needs of the organization. In the long term, contract positions as solely a cost reduction strategy, may not be a successful strategy. However, organizations that benefit from a constant influx of new ideas, talent and skills could greatly benefit from a well-managed contract position strategy. In addition, contract positions can contribute very successfully to shorter term needs in times of economic uncertainty, skill gaps and other temporary situations.
The final interesting insight from the survey was a bit of generational intelligence. Millennial workers have been reported to be more comfortable with contract work and the “gig” economy than other generations. However, several hiring managers and engineering professionals shared that hiring lesser experienced contract workers is generally not an attractive option as both individuals and hiring organizations likely achieve greater success if less experienced professionals are more formally trained and mentored.
“My observation is that people with over 10 years of experience are more comfortable with contract positions while the newer generation is more hesitant. This is what I have observed in the aerospace industry.”
“Contract work is mostly made for experienced engineers. Nobody wants to hire someone without experience to be a manufacturing engineer.”
There is little doubt that contract engineering positions will continue to be a meaningful part of the industry’s talent acquisition and talent management strategy. The story of how the contract engineering workforce evolves over the upcoming years will be interesting.
For 180’s next poll, we are interested in learning more about sexual discrimination within the engineering profession. Click here to participate in our new four-question poll, “Sexism In Engineering – What Are Your Insights?”