Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Making the most of temporary positions

The construction industry may be treading water at the moment, leading more companies to offer temporary work to those seeking their first and second jobs. But approach them the right way, and you’ll reap the benefits of a new flexible kind of working.

Saul Townsend, spokesperson for the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), says some areas in the industry are faring well.

“In the UK there is a wide range of public infrastructure projects on hand, with clients looking for best-value tenders from contractors in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Moreover, there are still skills shortages in many key areas, such as construction management, because of the additional training required to become a professional.”

But the industry is nothing if not cautious, and it’s that which has led many construction companies to offer a wider range of temporary contracts over full-time work.

“It’s certainly our perception that the industry has increased its number of temporary contracts available,” says Saul. “It makes sense for them to be flexible in the short term – and temporary contracts are ideal for this. Construction is a very flexible industry, anyway, and is full of people who work on a temporary basis, such as contractors.”

According to Saul, most temporary professional jobs in construction last six to 36 months. “Construction managers oversee the whole process, so will be employed throughout, while engineers or surveyors may be employed for only part of a construction project.”

Extra flexibility, same benefits

So why choose a temporary job? There are many benefits to choosing a part-time over a full-time contract. For example, if you’re not sure where you’d like your career to go, it will give you the opportunity to see what suits you. Construction goes where the work is, so many jobs could be in exotic locales abroad – places you might not necessarily consider working.

“It’s fair to say that a temporary position is more likely to be abroad,” says Saul. “There are plenty of opportunities in the Middle East, China, Australia and Africa, as well as government-funded infrastructure projects here in the UK.”

“Even in a full-time position, you have the opportunity to experience a variety of different projects in a variety of different places,” he adds. “That’s one of the benefits of the industry.”

You should also be entitled to the same benefits with regard to pensions, sick pay and holidays. And, if you make the most of your role, this puts you in a good position with the employer when a permanent position opens up.

Making yourself wanted

So how can you make the most of your role? For Dr Mark Shelbourn, programme leader for construction management at Nottingham Trent University, making the most of every opportunity is key. “Make the most of your time. Whether it’s a long or short-term contract, the more varied roles you can take on the better.

“The best way to make your temporary contract a permanent one is to make every effort to make yourself indispensable. Do the job to the best of your ability, but be flexible as well and make the most of every opportunity.”

Saul agrees. “To turn a part-time into a full-time job, you need to show your value to the company,” he says. “Make yourself someone they’ll want to hold on to. Get to know your manager – strike up a good relationship. Ask him or her about your progress and where he or she would see you working in a few years’ time. Prove your value to the company and show willingness that you’d like to have a career with them. There are always opportunities out there if you can prove your worth.”

On the other hand, don’t assume that because you have a limited time period, you have to hit the ground running. “Employers love it when a student is not afraid to ask questions if they’re unsure about something,” Mark says. “You’ve still got plenty of time to learn. A softly, softly approach is key.”

We spoke to Tom Foulkes, director general of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), for an engineer’s perspective. “Taking a temporary or contract role could lead to other opportunities if you have the right attitude,” he advises. “Once you're in the door you have a much better chance at any new roles that come up. There are jobs out there so make sure you are prepared, enthusiastic and proactive about your approach.”

Keeping up with training

“You will still be able to pursue your professional training and CPD in a temporary contract,” says Saul. “It’s in your employer’s interest to ensure you are well-trained and well-versed in what’s going on in today’s industry. By doing a temporary job, you often get more chance to tap into the knowledge of the whole industry, through talking to colleagues and learning about different projects.”

Other options

Tom’s advice is to look at a range of options. “With fewer roles around you may have to drop your expectations,” he says. Besides temporary contracts, voluntary work could also be an option; "Another alternative would be to consider volunteering in developing countries, through RedR or other aid agencies,” Tom says. “This is a fantastic way to gain valuable, but different, experience while using your expertise to help communities who need it most." RedR is an international charity that recruits engineers and other construction workers to help build infrastructure where it is needed most.

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