Financial recruitment specialist Joslin Rowe assesses the role of temporary staff in a market that is facing a shortage of skills

Attitudes towards those who work on a temporary basis have changed dramatically over recent years and the value of temporary workers is now being recognised. The flexibility offered by contract workers provides modern businesses with a way of addressing the peaks and troughs of the economy. The demand for permanent employees is falling as a result of economic conditions, but demand for temporary workers is unchanged.

The ideal temp is someone who is multi-skilled with an underwriting, claims or broking background. They should be an all-rounder with a good skill base, which can be easily transferable to all sectors of the market. Ideally, they should have a minimum of two to four years' experience in the insurance market.

So who temps and why? There are lots of reasons why someone might choose to temp or work on contracts. The usual candidates are those whose jobs have been made redundant or who want to take a more flexible approach to their career.

Another reason to temp is to reconnect with skills after being out of the market for some time. Some temps have disliked their previous job and quit, or are unsure about their next career move and retain a link with the industry.

Due to the shortfall of skilled people, recruitment consultants have seen a shift of emphasis in recruitment procedures. Companies have had to become more imaginative about their hiring methods.

The rationalisation that the insurance market has undergone in the past five years has resulted in a shortage of candidates for permanent positions, particularly at the junior to middle end of the market.

This is because cutbacks left fewer trainee positions; consequently, there is a lack of talent coming through. Someone with six months' to three years' experience can, in most cases, secure a lucrative package. However, such is the shortfall that companies are heavily recruiting temporary and contract staff.

The market is now appreciating the value of overseas workers and is turning increasingly towards the temporary Antipodean market to solve its staffing problems. Those recruited are generally people who have been travelling, have moved to the UK from other countries or whose jobs have been made redundant.

Since the government introduced new regulations, it is easier for non-European Union nationals to work in the UK. Candidates from overseas have bombarded UK firms with their CVs, and companies are reaping the rewards in what has once again become an employee-driven market.

In the past, employers felt that workers from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa would not have the appropriate skills to cross over to the London insurance market.

Now such people are in demand, as they have an insurance background and a good deal of experience from their home country's industry. This workforce offers not only knowledge that can be adapted to the market, but also a commitment to work and untapped enthusiasm.

There are opportunities in all areas as more and more brokers and underwriters are entering the arena. Companies in the home counties are becoming major players in the temporary insurance market, and a number of City-based organisations have opened branches there.

The requirement for temporary staff in the home counties meets the needs of those who do not wish to commute to the City or who prefer flexible local employment. N

The Aussies are coming
Kerry Betts, 26, from Sydney, Australia, is one of an increasing number of Antipodeans working in various roles within the London insurance arena. She is working as a property underwriter's assistant at Lloyd's. Betts is on a one-year working visa and has temped for a couple of insurance companies in that time.

She says: "My background is in recruitment but, after spending a couple of months temping with the Joslin Rowe insurance division, I was then placed within a broker firm in Lloyd's.

"There are quite a few people from New Zealand and Australia working here and it is a very interesting role and different to anything I have done before. The companies I have temped for have been very supportive and trained me in all the basics.

"Temping is ideal for travellers like me as it gives me the flexibility to work on short-term contracts. I can go travelling for a couple of months, come back and temp again."

One year of temping: how does it feel?
Brian Grant, a 58-year-old claims adjuster, has worked in the London market for more than 20 years and has been contracting for just over a year. He moved into the temporary market when his job was made redundant. He is working on a project with a City-based international insurer.

He says: "The more senior, specialised candidates will almost always find temporary and contract work, purely because they have a vast knowledge of the market. This means organisations don't have to bring in expensive consultancies.

"The downside of contracting is that your contract can be terminated with just one week's notice, or the renewal of contracts is often left until the eleventh hour. But this can be used to the contractor's advantage as you can give the employer short notice.

"Also, contracting is an ongoing learning curve and the nature of the role means that more often than not you can be involved in ad hoc tasks."

Grant believes that if professionals have been out of the market, for example, due to redundancy, then it is now much harder to get permanent work.

He adds: "I think this is because the market assumes you are going to demand too high a salary, which is not necessarily the case.

"One of the most important things to remember when contracting is that you have to be flexible. When you join a company, you have to prove yourself, regardless of your experience."

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