Why more European consultants are choosing project work
Being a project worker comes with many benefits and it seems more Europeans are going it alone.
According to the European Forum of Independent Professionals (EFIP), the number of freelancers and contractors operating across the continent grew by 82 per cent in the last decade. With more high-paid roles expected to become available in the coming years - particularly in professions such as IT and engineering - this figure could rise even further.
Benefits of working on shorter-term projects include:
- Flexibility: Being able to work where you want, when you want
- Higher pay rates: Depending on the sector and nature of work, project workers generally command higher rates than permanent staff
- Mobility: People who work for a variety of companies on short-term projects find it easier to secure work in a variety of countries and locations than somebody who is tied into a permanent employment contract
- Variety of experience: One month you might be completing a cloud computing project in Germany, the next you could be analysing data for a business in Spain. As long as you have a broad range of skills, exciting opportunities will continue to present themselves
- Enhancing your CV: Your resume will look much more attractive to future employers if you have experience of working on a multitude of high-profile projects
Project work continues to appeal to Europeans
In its latest in-depth report, the European Forum of Independent Professionals (EFIP) estimated that more than 8.5 million people in Europe could class themselves as independent professionals, or 'I-pros'. It defined these workers as being self-employed without hiring any employees and it's this group that specialist consultants fall into.
There is a healthy spread of I-pros across the continent's main economies, with 1.68 million based in Italy, 1.6 million working in the UK, 1.5 million in Germany and more than 732,000 in France. Overall, around 53 per cent of these contractors are highly qualified and have studied at university. The majority of I-pros (61 per cent) belong to the 25 to 49 age group.
What are the drawbacks of consulting?
Although project work clearly has many advantages, there are certain challenges to overcome.
Being your own boss means you have extra responsibilities. Permanent workers employed by companies can expect to have their tax affairs taken care of by their HR department and they do not need to worry when tax return dates loom.
Permanent employees can also rely on statutory sick pay when they are too ill to work and are also entitled by law to have a certain number of holidays a year. These are two luxuries that consultants could miss out on.
Another major problem is not being paid on time. Companies that employ you on a short-term basis can keep you waiting for payment for a long time and this can leave you with cashflow problems. Many firms treat project workers as suppliers, which means your invoice might not be settled for between 30 and 90 days.
There have also been suggestions that project workers in some European countries are being unfairly dismissed when government bodies tender public contracts. In the past, large corporations have monopolised these lucrative projects, but steps are being taken to ensure small businesses and sole traders are able to compete for this type of work.
How can you overcome these challenges?
The benefits of consulting generally outweigh the negative aspects and new initiatives will help to ensure contractors' needs are taken into account when new employment legislation is introduced at EU level.
One of the best ways to maximise your expertise as a specialist is to work with a consultancy organisation. They have strong relationships with a diverse range of organisations, which means they are well placed to keep you informed about new projects. They can offer other services, such as payroll and project management, as well as advising on career and work-related issues, meaning that consultants can focus fully on the project at hand.
Michael Bailey Associates is one such high end consultancy, working with organisations to set up, run and manage projects in their entirety, connecting experienced specialist consultants with opportunities as they arise. As a consultancy operating in a strategic way with clients, we are able to offer fast payment and provide consultants with field managers for ongoing support.Thanks to our extensive network of global offices and partners, we can also offer attractive international opportunities.
How will the rise in project work affect specialists in Europe?
The EFIP stated in its report that the sharp rise in the number of consultants working throughout Europe in the last decade may have reflected wider economic trends.
It highlighted a significant spike between 2008-11 in particular, which was a very difficult period for the global economy. The financial crisis forced a lot of firms to make some permanent staff redundant and plenty of these workers decided to begin a consultancy business, rather than apply for another full-time position.
These professionals - especially those who have valuable experience of working in sectors that are now reporting skills shortages, such as IT - are now in a great position to boost their earnings. Businesses have grown in confidence over the past six months and are willing to invest. This, coupled with an increasing reliance on modern technology, has worked in favour of consultants with solid technical skills.
Lifestyles are also changing rapidly and the traditional 9-5 working day is becoming obsolete. With organisations fighting for a competitive edge, the ability to implement and deploy business critical projects fast is essential, and consultants who are able to work longer/more flexible hours to get the project done are key to this. As are consultancies that can manage the workforce of a complete project lifecycle. This added flexibility appeals to people who are keen to break free from rigid working patterns, improving their work-life balance in the process.
Relaxed immigration and employment laws in certain parts of the world have made it far easier for consultants to move abroad in search of lucrative work. The modern workforce is increasingly mobile and this also works in favour of companies, as they are able to look much further afield when searching for the best talent.
With the economy continuing to recover, it will be interesting to see how many specialists decide to set up as a consultant in the next few years. While businesses will undoubtedly be in a stronger position to hire permanent employees, many experts believe the financial collapse of 2008 has changed employment trends for good.
Specialists who can come straight into an organisation and make an instant impact are preferable to permanent workers who require extensive training, as well as holiday and sickness pay. If employers' attitudes have indeed changed since the recessionary years, we could see Europe's growing pool of talented specialist consultants continue to increase in the near future.