Contract workers are in greater demand

Agile, change-aware STEM organisations need to rethink the ways they access talent and capability

Birds eye view of male engineer in orange high vis and hard hat climbing up ladders in chemical plant


Move between contract and permanent roles

Employed Contractor Model (ECM)

Research highlights

Light Background Calendar

Key take-away

Greater use of STEM contract workers could help mitigate unfilled permanent roles

Innovation Light Background

Key statistic

The majority – more than 60% - of 4,960 survey respondents were in contract positions of some kind, reflecting the increasingly flexible workforce

Mathematics 04 Light Background


Contract workers are in greater demand. This is due in part to dynamic shifts driven by the Covid-19 pandemic and anticipated post-pandemic market conditions. These shifts are causing agile, change-aware STEM organisations to rethink the ways they access talent and capability. They want to be less dependent on a full-time salaried workforce, and see contract workers as providing the flexibility that more project-based business models require.

At an individual level that includes a less rigid approach that shifts away from majority reliance on a permanent, salaried workforce. It’s an approach that’s geared toward employing hard-to-find specialists on continuums that range from permanent and fixed-term salaried employees to extended reliance on contractors.

Payments And Invoicing Dark Background

Move between contract and permanent roles

A 2021 survey by human capital management software company Ceridian indicated that more than half of executives polled say they intend to increase the size of their team within their organisation in the next 12 months, with 35% leveraging contract workers to do so.

As the contract economy model starts to go mainstream, 62% of executives polled think that freelance or contract workers will ‘substantially replace’ full-time employees within the next five years. The findings align with our How the STEM World Works research. Of 4,960 respondents overall, 33% say they search for contract roles only, while 27% search for both contract and permanent roles (Table 18). The percentage of respondents who have shifted from permanent to contract roles, and vice versa, are the same – 6% for each (Table 16).

Further, leading companies and their markets are moving rapidly towards SThree’s Employed Contractor Model (ECM) as a preferred method of accessing temporary skilled STEM workers. ECM is where a skilled specialist is legally employed by SThree but works for the employer. It’s a model that’s already seen majority uptake in the US market, as well as becoming increasingly popular across Europe.

Many executives think contract workers will 'substantially replace' permanent employees.

Additionally, the ECM model is increasingly attractive to employers. With employment litigation a key concern and a multitude of new workforce laws introduced in recent years, employers can mitigate risk by outsourcing employment of contractors to recruitment agencies, which take on the employment obligations around taxes and employee insurance.

“Employers enjoy lower risk and reduced cost of labour over the long term – they flex their workforce as and when it is needed. This is hugely attractive to many sectors where volatile market forces are the norm”

Explains Matt McManus, Global Process Director – Sales, for SThree. “It also gives them the ability to target and recruit niche skills that are needed to fill specific roles or projects. And it often offers a shorter recruitment period, with more candidates available in the short term. This is especially the case when specialists arrive on their first day with all the required equipment, removing the need for organisations to source tools, vehicles or arrange expensive, time-consuming training.”

But the benefits aren’t exclusively for clients. McManus adds: “Candidates, meanwhile, enjoy flexibility of roles to suit personal situations, choosing when and where they work. They have a choice of more varied roles to broaden their individual experience.” They also have opportunities to build wider professional networks, which could lead to greater career opportunities in the future. 

Tick Light Background

The SThree Employed Contractor Model

Our Employed Contractor Model – ECM – contractors are directly employed by SThree and are therefore effectively working on secondment to the employer. Thus, it removes complexity and compliance concerns on their behalf. Advantages and benefits for professionals include:

  • Paid holiday (not normally received as a contractor or freelancer)
  • Eligibility for bonus schemes and health insurance
  • Added security of long-term contracts
  • Freelance status remains intact (legally)
  • Access to more projects (especially in large companies)
  • Greater flexibility compared to permanent employment

The ECM model has proved particularly suitable for the STEM sector, due to the cyclical nature of STEM workflows, which are often planned along project/research timelines.

Rise of the contractors tables

How the STEM World Works

Young child reaching out hand and finger to touch the index finger of a robot

Making a difference is becoming an important factor when searching for a new job

STEM employers can enhance their attractiveness to top candidates by ensuring that they have a positive impact on society and the environ...

Group of early-career chemists wearing labcoats in lab smiling at tutor

Bringing skilled people together to build the future

STEM professionals know their worth in this changing world of work. And employers need to tap into their skills if they are to build the ...

Dark image with blue and pink shadows on the face of a women holding a tablet and digital pen

How the STEM World Works

This report provides special insight into the career journeys and big picture dynamics that directly and indirectly shape STEM recruitment.

Close up of hand pressing finger print into finger print scanner light up in red

Career aspirations of STEM professionals are changing

STEM professionals' career aspirations are changing. We unearth these changing expectations and motivations in our research.

STEM Equity Coalition

Salary and benefits are still the top priority for STEM candidates

Companies who delay in recognising market value of sought-after specialists risk losing them to a better considered offer.

Asian male employee sat on edge of windowsill holding mobile on loud speaker looking at laptop

Flexible working options are no longer regarded as an added benefit

Flexible working options are no longer being regarded as an added benefit – they are now expected to be a standard given of employment.

Black female cyber security engineer looking at screen of code in office

Women are a powerful source of new talent

Women are a powerful source of new talent to help address the STEM gender gap and shortages of STEM skills. But there is still work to do.

Two renewables engineers hanging from harness entering access point of an up and running wind turbine

Employers need to recognise the value of career development

Employers need to recognise the value of having clear career pathways to attract and retain sought-after specialists.

Close up of female infrastructure engineer wearing a hijab sorting data cables in cabinet

Extending the recruitment search creates new opportunities

By extending their recruitment search to other sectors, STEM organisations can increase their chances of finding the most-suitable candid...

Save your copy of the report

Download whitepaper

Find your next role

Discover life-changing jobs in engineering, life sciences and technology with game-changing organisations around the world. 

Seek sought-after specialists

Draw on our global network to recruit the best professionals and find the skills you need tomorrow, today.