Column: Job for life dead and buried

Once upon a time if you were hired by an employer you could expect to stay in your job for many years, if not for life.

Once upon a time if you were hired by an employer you could expect to stay in your job for many years, if not for life. Employers tended to be paternalistic towards their staff--which had good points and bad--and in return those employees were expected to be loyal to their employers. It was a trade-off and it was hard to imagine things any other way. We were protected and cosseted from hard times and from offshore (and often from onshore) competition.

All this was done in the name of security and for many years it made perfect business sense.

That "cradle to the grave" ideal is well and truly blown away now. Enterprises focus on their bottom lines like never before and market forces rule in all areas including employment.

So where does that leave company loyalty? And if you can't expect loyalty, what about the security of your business information?

According to Andersen Consulting's Chris Lewis the temporary employment model is still expanding into new areas and could become ubiquitous.

"The workforce has got a lot more mobile," says Lewis, "and people are not joining organisations for life any more like they used to. You go where your skill-set is best recognised and certainly contracting adds to that.

"The studies we've seen point heavily towards contracting becoming more and more a way of life--even more than we've seen in New Zealand. And that goes from executive level down.

"There have been a number of studies on the 'executive contractor' where you may be paid the equivalent of annual salary plus a bit and you're only on contract for 12 months and there are no employee benefits."

The temporary model is, of course, almost ideally suited to the IT industry, where much activity is project-based and where specific sets of skills are required for specific periods. But the benefits are not just one-way. Contractors tend to get paid more than permanent staff and many enjoy the lifestyle and flexibility the new paradigm offers.

Security issues are dealt with formally, according to Lewis, through security clearance documentation and non-disclosure agreements.

Protocol Personnel managing director Megan Fletcher agrees with the need to gain written agreements on security issues, but also points to the self-regulating nature of the IT sector.

"The market in New Zealand," she says, "is so small that credibility will be lost very quickly. People simply won't get work if they behave in an unprofessional manner. Word gets around very quickly.

"And we certainly don't risk our professionalism by dealing with those people."

It seems that to a large extent the loyalty factor has also been replaced by professional ethics, with a tacit understanding backing up any written agreements that well-paid independent contractors or contracting firms take on certain responsibilities when they are admitted to a site.

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