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As organizations pull out of the pandemic, many are competing for skilled contract workers with offers of competitive pay, professional development and better prospects for staying on when more permanent positions open up.

Toronto-based staffing firm Tundra Technical Solutions – which recruits on behalf of the federal government, the banking industry, telecommunications companies and social media giant Facebook Inc., among others – has now introduced another incentive for this transient talent pool: benefits for gig workers.

“It will close the gap between full-time employees receiving benefits, and contractors who are typically without them,” says Tundra Technical president Micah Williams, whose company administers a new benefits plan on behalf of its roster of contractors. The Contractor Bridge program includes access to health, life insurance and retirement benefits, as well as discounts on fitness club memberships, continuing education courses and other goods and services often enjoyed by full-timers.

The goal is to support the firm’s network of contract workers “with employee-style benefits” and help its clients attract top talent in a hot labour market, Mr. Williams said. “It’s never been this busy. It’s crazy, coming out of this pandemic, how much demand there is.”

While the vast majority of employees prefer permanent roles, the appetite for gig work has increased – either by choice or necessity, the ADP Research Institute said in a recent report on emerging employment trends. Employees who lost jobs that were seemingly secure before COVID-19 disrupted the world economy were weighing “the benefits and drawbacks” of contract work against their likelihood of landing new permanent jobs, the research arm of ADP Inc. found in a global survey of 32,471 employees at the end of 2020.

One in seven were “actively trying to move into a new industry that they consider more future-proof,” ADP reported. In the current environment, job-seekers increasingly see contract work as an effective way to break in to a new field – given the sheer volume of postings for temporary employees while organizations cautiously proceed with post-pandemic plans and figure out future full-time staffing needs.

“We’re experiencing not only a new way in how, when and where work takes place but also who we work alongside and count on to get the job done,” Ed Yuen, vice-president of strategy and business development at ADP Canada, said in an e-mail interview. “Now more than ever, as the economy begins to ramp up, companies and HR teams find themselves relying on contract or gig workers to position themselves for success.”

But the pandemic has also highlighted long-standing inequities between permanent and contingent workers who worked shoulder-to-shoulder pre-COVID-19 and will do so again as the economy reopens, Mr. Williams said. Some organizations are now working to address the treatment of the gig workers they are increasingly relying on through the recovery period. Corporate supporters that have “jumped on board” to provide benefits, goods and services at group-discount rates for Tundra’s contractors include Manulife Financial Corp., HSBC Bank Canada, Telus Inc., Dell Computer Corp., Peloton Interactive Inc. and Goodlife Fitness Centres Inc., he said.

TalentEgg, a national online job board for students and recent graduates, has also seen an uptick in recruitment after a dismal 2020, in which many students “graduated into a job market with no jobs,” says TalentEgg president Mary Barroll. It was a year of lost opportunities. Graduates who were lucky enough to find work were often employed in fields they had not trained for or started their own small enterprises. Others signed up for further studies or took on volunteer positions.

As employers resume their hunt for young talent, a question they often ask is “what did you do during the pandemic?” They are trying to gauge how resourceful these prospective candidates were and are vying to recruit those who appear to have the best potential, whether or not they have much work experience, Ms. Barroll said.

A starting point for many entry-level positions is typically an internship, a summer job or a gig. And while benefits are not part of the package, leading employers are tailoring their offers to appeal to a more serious cohort of graduates. Take-your-dog-to-work and happy hours on Fridays have been replaced by a commitment to professional development, diversity, equity and inclusion and corporate social responsibility. Ms. Barroll said these next-gen employees want to be treated as valued members of the team.

As do the more seasoned professionals who are recruited to perform essential contract roles in the recovering economy, Mr. Williams said.

“It can’t be just a body shop; it has to be so much more.”

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