Over the past 10 years, we have witnessed the rise of a new breed of worker: those who choose to, or those who are pushed off the corporate ladder.

They are called “supertemps” and they are typically senior employees who decided to break away (or have that decision taken for them) from corporate bureaucracy to work on a contract or temporary basis.  Supertemps are typically over 40 years old, are highly skilled and often have strong relationship and life skills learned from the greatest university of all – experience.  It continues to surprise me that this university is often underrated and undervalued (disclosure moment: author is aged 49).

In the Australian market, there is a considerable pool of unemployed supertemps.   During any working week, you see many unemployed supertemps frequenting the coffee shops of the suburbs and at school pickup.  They never appear in unemployment figures and so are officially invisible.

Compared with many western countries, Australian labour laws provide a lot of protection to employees.  Minimum rates of pay, strong occupational health and safety, minimum work conditions, compulsory 9.5% superannuation (pensions), unfair dismissal safeguards and more. However for contractors and temporary staff (including supertemps), the same protections are not in place as they are suppliers rather than employees.

Historically this risk was accepted due to higher rates of pay in return for shorter duration assignments.  However for supertemps in industry and government rates have dropped or stagnated since 2005.  It appears the great supply of talent has driven competition and driven rates downwards.

So for buyers, there exists a smorgasbord of supertemp talent, at variable cost and all at a great price.  Talent can be selected, with the best retained and the others discarded.

Too good to be true?

Like everything in life, there are downsides.  A buyer churn and burn mindset with supertemps creates little in the way of loyalty.  And when they leave, the Supertemps take corporate memory with them, and sell it to the next client.

As with all markets, the pendulum will swing back towards the supertemp as supply declines.

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