Contractor? Making yourself more employable post COVID by Stewart Pennykid

We have many readers in the Fire and Security systems maintenance and installation fields. COVID19 has caused a huge amount of pain for this sector. We asked recruitment expert, Stewart Pennykid, for his views on how to be ready to bounce back, as business starts to pick up.

How to make yourself more employable as a Contractor for post Corona rush.
                The Covid-19 outbreak and following “Lockdown” started to affect everyone from the beginning of March, and the self-employed were hit particularly hard. While some Contractors in the Fire & Security Industry were able to continue as ‘Key Workers’ many found contracts cancelled or postponed with very few new opportunities available. Others, made the conscious decision not to work or had the decision made for them due to their own or family members health issues.


   The problems relating to compensation offered to the self-employed and issues surrounding these as “Lockdown” took effect, are well documented. I therefore want to take a more positive approach in this article and offer some support when it comes to winning new work as the expected rush of contract opportunities begin to present themselves.

                Whether you are relatively new to the contract market or you’re a seasoned professional and have seen it all, the COVID19 pandemic is going to be a game changer for a short period at the very least. Lots of ongoing projects will still need to be completed to original deadlines, new projects will need to start ASAP and service and maintenance levels will need to ramp back up to hit SLAs. All of this will need to be achieved while no doubt adhering to, new, more relaxed Social Distancing rules.

                While the amount of work available may seem bountiful, much like corona virus itself it will be some time before it hits its peak. As we come out of Lockdown everyone will be keen to get back to business as usual but will also be very wary that the economy has shrunk by record levels and many businesses have reduced in size or unfortunately gone out of business. This will no doubt lead to only the most important and time critical jobs being released initially, with more following as confidence returns and the economy recovers.

                Like never before contractors will be fighting for the same jobs and in lots of cases will be available immediately. So, what steps can contractors take to make sure they are best positioned to take on the new work available, benefit from new opportunities, and stand out from the rest?

Understand the Market

                As contractors that can work across any industry it is going to be important to understand which sectors have been affected most by the pandemic and which will pick up first? It might be that past clients are a key indicator here.

                We know that construction continued longer than other sectors and, in some cases, continues to operate at a reduced level. Logic would suggest that there will be a great deal of site-based work that will need to be completed quickly in order to catch up with the rest of the project.

                Social housing on the other hand, appeared to be one of the first areas that saw projects cancelled or postponed. While it will also potentially be one of the last areas to get back to some form of normality, when it does there will be a huge amount of work that will need to be completed, from service and maintenance jobs, to new replacement installs. Can you adapt the type of work you offer? Do you have the right credentials?

                Taking these 2 sectors as examples lockdown is an ideal opportunity to look at the certifications and qualifications you have as well as those you will require to complete the kind of jobs and projects you want to work on. This should include things like a CSCS card, FIA modules or equivalent, Asbestos awareness, working at heights as well as specific product certifications.


                With the fight for work and shrinking economy as mentioned previously, it might be beneficial to look at where you position yourself when quoting for work. Whether this is a day rate or pricing a project, will your rates still reflect the best value for money in the sector? Can you squeeze them and publicise them temporarily?

                When working with a known customer this may well be a conversation that they initiate and is something that contractors have to be prepared for. When quoting for or being offered new work it will be worth remembering that with the economy taking the hit that it has, everyone will be looking to make cost savings where they can. While nobody wants to start a price war with their fellow contractors there may not be as much opportunity to negotiate initially due to the number of competitors for work.

What is your Unique Selling Point (USP)?

                Standing out from the competition is nothing new. Where many get confused however is what makes them unique. A lot of contractors will quite rightly have lots of confidence in their work and believe this is the reason they should be chosen for particular contracts. Recommendations and word of mouth count for a lot in most industries and from my experience that is no different within Fire and Security.

                In order to stand out in these unprecedented times however, it will be of great benefit to show why you are unique or better than the competition. It could be the amount of specific product certifications or particular projects worked on and it could be different for each contract you are looking to win. Remember, for a prospective employer to understand your USP, they need to see it.

Multiple Agencies

                If you’re not making use of a range of agencies offering contracting work already, now could be the ideal time to start. Employers do it, so why wouldn’t contractors? Agencies offer opportunities with a wide range of different customers and even different contracts within companies they shared clients.

Getting set up with agencies is easy and can all be done on-line. Once set up, whether working through a Limited Company or through an ‘umbrella’, contractors are ready to be put forward for any work that suits their skills and experience. In most cases agencies will pay on a weekly basis making them an excellent way of making vital quick money following the relaxation of lockdown.

Key benefits to using our services I’ve been told are…

  • Contractors can scale down the business development they don’t have time for, as agencies are doing it for them
  • Payment terms are quick, easy and secure (i.e. weekly pay for day rate roles)
  • Multiple contact points for any on-site or off-site issues
  • IR35 protection

Social Media game

                In real life people often act very differently around a client than they would around a work colleague or friend, especially when creating a first impression. While LinkedIn and Facebook are important and productive tools for contractors, they can be potential new clients first and lasting impression.  Taking this into account on both platforms is important, although more so on LinkedIn I would suggest as this is still seen as a much more “professional” network.

                There is a great deal to think about when posting anything on Social Media but some of the key things to remember are.

  1. Keep your profile up to date. LinkedIn members with a profile picture are 14 times more likely to receive page views, while those who post skills are 13 times more likely to have profile views compared to those who don’t.
  2. Be comprehensive about current skills and objectives. LinkedIn is like a digital CV, the more information you provide on your page, the less you will need to provide in the future.
  3. Let people know you’re available. Give details of why, where and for how long. If you’re busy and rarely available this will have a much bigger impact.
  4. Be active, be yourself and be respectful. Remember, your posts and replies to posts will be someone’s first impression of you. Remember also to like and respond to comments people make on your posts as this increases your digital reach.
  5. Network after business hours. LinkedIn and Facebook work in your favour as the vast majority of people use these networks more outside of conventional working hours. You might get more interaction and exposure if you update your status, network, and connect with people and companies after business hours. Test this out at different times of the day to see what works best in getting responses and other interactions.

As much as I am sick of the word, these are unprecedented times. A lot of the challenges contractors are facing, much like the country as a whole, are still unknown at present. One thing that is certain however, the more prepared you are now, the more you will benefit as we return to the new normal.

Stewart Pennykid

A recruitment professional with over 12 years experience of providing contract and temporary recruitment solutions to a wide range of clients including national industry leaders, international hotel chains, universities and government funded operations.

Now leading the Cento Contract Recruitment Division – the UK’s number 1 nationwide recruitment company dedicated to the Fire & Security, Lift & Escalators, Built Environment and Health & Safety industries

Contact Stew: Tel: 01509 615 290    Email: