Securing and maintaining contractors in a booming Chinese market

In the Asia Pacific region in particular things are (yet again) heating up. From Melbourne to Beijing we're hearing reports of shortages of skilled staff and difficulties locating specialized skills. For recruiters, HR and global mobility professionals this just adds another layer of complexity as candidates become more demanding and less reliable. Some candidates seem to change jobs for what appears on the surface to be very small differences - i.e. a marginal payrise.

How do you combat this when operating to tight margins and the always looming deadlines? The simple answer is to make the effort to understand each candidate and each market - and motivate them accordingly. You won't win them all this way - but you'll definitely improve your success ratio's! You may think that contractors are workplace mercenaries who are only motivated by money (although if we're honest almost everyone who undertakes paid employment is primarily motivated by getting paid!!), but research indicates differently. Monash University undertook a study of contract workers in Australia and found that being exposed to a variety of work and having a sense of freedom were also important to freelance workers.

In a similar vein Professor Tampoe, at Henley Management College,  outlines three other attributes which motivate contractor workers:

  1. They like to have a degree of autonomy. Contractors are confident, skilled professionals and they don't need to be micromanaged in their work. Instead they flourish when given the chance to showcase their abilities and experience. Plus it allows your managers to focus on other tasks!
  2. Fixed tasks, fixed periods. If you hire someone for a fixed term then their tasks & responsibilities should mirror this situation. Even if they are just doing operational work that will run until the light dissapears from the sun - they need to know it's a 3 month iteration of a larger cycle and you are giving them a list of achievable goals during this period. As contractors are both highly experienced and self motivated it is essential that these tasks are achievable. And given they have done this job before, they will know if they are being asked to perform the impossible!
  3. Listen to them and show that you value what they say. Imagine if you had performed similar tasks at dozens of organisations, some good and some bad. You would have distilled your experiences on what constitutes best practice and what is a recipe for disaster. You would have seen innovative solutions for common problems. Then imagine your frustration if you are hired to a role where they aren't interested in this knowledge? This is the worst of all worlds for a contractor: when their most valuable attributes are being ignored! You should include a series of review points and an engagement summary - give them the opportunity to speak up and impart their experience. It's up to you what you choose to do with it!

It's a great template to remember next time you pitch an fixed term international assignment to a candidate and by empowering the candidate with this information and giving a concrete demonstration that you think they are important, you're delivering more value than your competitors.


Additionally there can be noticeable differences by region. For example a  study published by in the International Journal of Human Relations showed that in terms of motivation Chinese employees felt that good wages were most important, followed by good working conditions and personal loyalty from the boss and organization. So if you're trying to source or secure a person in China then you make your financial terms as competitive as possible, ensure that the direct manager reaches out to the candidate to establish a connection and strengthen your employer brand by gathering as much positive information you can about the company and work environment. This might just take you a few emails to accounting, a manager and a couple of helpful colleagues - but when it improves your hiring ratio then your job just became significantly easier!

However whilst it is tempting to try to define broad characteristics ultimately everyone is unique and has their own motivation. Your best source of information on what motivates the candidate is.... the candidate themselves. Maybe you should ask them?

Client comment

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Shell International Trading & Shipping