SMEs in the UK must look to capitalise on flexible employment options such as those offered by contractors in these tricky economic times, according to one industry figure.

Richard Abelson, director of specialist financial services recruiter MERJE, said that due to the current economic situation, a fundamental shift in the marketplace has taken place, and that a growing number of companies are turning to contractors to fill roles, and adopting a flexible employment strategy.

Companies that do this need not add important workers to the permanent staffing roll due to their contractor status, while contractors get work via the SME.

Writing in a blog post for Real Business, Abelson pointed to four key issues for SMEs to look at when considering whether a contractor may be more suitable than a full time member of staff in certain circumstances.

The first is urgency, with Abelson stating that when a business requirement is time sensitive, a contractor is nearly always the best option.

“An experienced individual can be placed within a week or two, whereas recruiting a permanent member of staff can take up to three months, and in some cases, longer,” he said. “One of our clients was recently acquired by another company and there was an urgent need for extra resources. We were able to get a temporary candidate placed within only four days. There have also been cases where our clients have had to respond to requests by regulatory bodies and within seven days of being instructed, a candidate has started work.”

Cost was another key area, and the flexibility of the contractor offering means that companies do not get stuck paying a full time employee for the foreseeable future.

Experienced contractors can often be the best option for a SME looking to get a specific complex task achieved, while Abelson added that a contractor is often the ideal addition to an under-achieving team, helping to get them up to speed and quickly fix a problem within the company. For example, a permanent staff member may leave unexpectedly, and a contractor could be the ideal person to take over this role before a full time appointment is made.

“Essentially the decision between hiring a contractor or a permanent employee comes down to your individual business needs,” said Abelson. “If you’re looking for someone to join your team, fit in with company culture and work on projects across the board then it’s probably worth investing time in recruiting permanent staff. If, however, what you’re looking for is someone to fly in, get the job done and then drop off your payroll then employing a contractor through some form of flexible employment strategy is probably the best way to go. And if you build a bank of good, reliable freelancers, they’ll always be there should you need another pair of hands.”

So what does this mean for contractors? It seems that the SME sector is becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of contractors and the various roles they can adopt within a company. With so much talk about the changing labour market currently, it seems likely more and more companies will take heed of the advice on offer from figures such as Abelson, which will hopefully be very beneficial to the contractor community at large.