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What are the most important skills for contractors to have?

Paystream News

Kerry Hull

Tuesday 21st Apr, 2015

Many of the UK's industries are currently struggling due to widespread skills shortages, but what should the country's contractors be doing to make sure they can benefit from the situation?

Conflicting reports have been published on the matter, with some suggesting that the qualifications obtained in school are the most important factor and others claiming that life experience and practical skills are more desirable.

We've taken a look at some of these reports to help us to reach some conclusions about the action that contractors should take to make sure they are in the best possible situation in light of the talent shortage.

How important are skills from school?

Most jobs require candidates to have a GCSE or equivalent level qualification in English, Maths and often Science, but according to recent research from the Education and Training Foundation, employers are becoming increasingly interested in taking on individuals with Functional Skills qualifications.

These involve students using literacy and numeracy skills in a practical manner to gain a qualification. Some 87 per cent of the 1,400 businesses questioned by the organisation stated that they valued the applied skills, flexible assessment methods and problem solving nature of these educational programmes.

Chief executive officer of the Education and Training Foundation David Russell explained: "Clients care about the quality of maths and English skills people have, not just the qualification. They told us about the type of knowledge and skills which hold real currency and support the success of their businesses."

Contracting is often popular in industries that require workers to use practical skills - construction and manufacturing, for example - meaning that individuals who work in this way might like to ensure they have evidence of putting their numeracy and literacy skills to use on their CVs to help increase their chance of securing roles.

The skills shortage

Skills shortages - situations whereby businesses cannot perform to their best ability due to a lack of personnel with the skills and qualifications that they need - are prevalent in many of the UK's industries, with research published by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) in March 2015 showing that 24 per cent of clients expect these issues to continue for the foreseeable future when trying to hire temporary workers.

Furthermore, 19 per cent of respondents to the survey were concerned about the level of skilled permanent members of staff that were available.

Chief executive of the REC Kevin Green commented: "Companies are already reporting talent shortages in key industries like engineering, IT and construction. Fixing this needs to be a priority for the next government so that the UK can continue to prosper.

Recruiters also have a major part to play in connecting clients to untapped talent pools, such as the one million older workers who could provide the skills and experience that clients are looking for."

How can contractors benefit from the situation?

With around one-quarter of firms struggling to find the skilled personnel they require, contractors could find themselves benefiting from the situation if they possess coveted attributes.

Businesses are often interested in taking on contractors with specialist talents on just a temporary basis to allow them to complete a specific task.

Therefore, individuals who are willing to work ad hoc may wish to offer their services to firms that are struggling to help them to get the job done to the highest possible standard, without placing a long-term strain on the business' resources.

What's more, temporary workers sometimes find themselves with a few spare days or weeks in between contracts, meaning that they can use this time to attend training courses, work towards new qualifications or learn new skills to make themselves more desirable in the eyes of clients and to increase their chance of winning that next contract.

Other coveted skills

Not only is it evident that contractors need to be doing all they can to upskill themselves and gain as much experience and as many qualifications as they can, but they also need to make sure they possess basic life skills to ensure they can fit in well in a variety of working environments.

This is particularly important for contractors, as they will be required to work with a wide range of businesses and people due to the nature of their role.

A blog from software company Computers in Personnel HR (CIPHR) detailed eight skills that every worker should have, with these including an ability to put on a smile and act positive at all times, having a certain degree of self-motivation, being aware of their capabilities and knowing how their body language might influence other people's feelings.

Also on the list from CIPHR were listening skills, the need for people not to take themselves too seriously, exercise generosity when appropriate and be willing to compromise, while keeping the needs of the business as their top priority.

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