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Strategic Hiring: When It Makes Sense to Hire a Contract Engineer

By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman

Business leaders have embraced a new strategy for coping with frequent swings in the economy. To avoid tumultuous and costly hiring and layoff cycles, managers are increasing their reliance on professional contractors, free agents and other contingent workers. It pays to know when it makes sense to hire a contract engineer.

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June, July, August and September of 2013 set new records in total temporary employment. In September, new staffing industry jobs constituted 13.6 percent of all net new jobs and 16 percent of private sector employment. Further, analysts predict that contingent staffing employment will grow 19 percent through 2018.

But does hiring a contractor always make sense? Or are there times when engineering managers should simply bite the bullet and add regular staff?

Certainly all hiring decisions should be carefully considered. But here are five situations where hiring an engineering contractor is positively a no-brainer.

When work volumes are unpredictable

It’s hard to balance labor costs with revenue when you’re juggling a slate of short-term projects, and/or in times of transition. For instance, talent and workloads seldom align when a firm is trying to segue into faster-growing segments such as oil, gas petrochemicals and electric and hybrid vehicles. Because contract labor is a variable expense, it provides equilibrium to managers dealing with the increasing volatility of engineering work.

When deadlines are tight

Hiring contractors can boost an engineering firm’s capacity practically overnight. Contractors are instrumental in helping a growing firm land new clients or tackle incremental projects. Plus, injecting additional engineering expertise increases options for realigning full-time staff and resources.

When you need specific expertise

Some engineering firms are still reeling from downsizing during the recession. Contractors provide a much-needed infusion of specialized skills and expertise in every engineering discipline and industry. And there’s no need to wade through a lengthy hiring and approval process, because the turnaround is fast. It’s possible for contractors to come and go, augmenting your regular staff throughout various phases of an engineering project.

When budgets are tight

The hourly rate for a highly qualified contractor is often less than the equivalent cost for a full-time employee when you factor in all the costs. For instance, the average cost of recruiting a new college graduate during the 2011-12 recruiting season was $5,134 according to employers responding to National Association of Colleges and Employer’s 2012 Recruiting Benchmarks Survey. You can avoid acquisition and downsizing costs by hiring a contract engineer.

Legally required benefits add on another $3.53 per hour to the cost of regular employees while benefits like paid leave and insurance average 29 percent of wages or $8.87 per hour according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Be sure to consider all the costs when comparing the rate for an engineering contractor to the tab for a full-time employee.

Before your staff burns out

Long hours can lead to burnout, disengagement and turnover. Worst of all, individuals who are most vulnerable to occupational burnout are strongly motivated, dedicated, engaged and productive. Stem attrition and boost morale by reinforcing your full-time staff with experienced engineering contractors. After all, managers can ill afford to lose valuable members of their engineering team.

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Other information of potential interest

What to Look for in Contractor Engineering Resumes

What Engineers Really Want from Employers

Chemistry Lesson: Using Science to Select Culturally Compatible Contractors

Five Myths about Co-Employment

Insightful Interviews: Favorite Questions Asked by Engineering Managers

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