The importance of qualifications for long-term contracting success

Employers want recognised, up-to-date qualifications plus relevant experience from their contractors. But, as many successful contractors will testify, taking time out to get training or to re-register their qualifications can be the last thing on their minds – especially when another contract beckons.

So it happens that the most experienced consultants can find themselves without the qualifications that are deemed necessary in the first round of assessments – which are often done by HR people. With 2012 and all the opportunities presented by the Olympics, contractors need to make sure they don't miss out on opportunities to win the best contracts just because their CV doesn't make the grade.

Richard Rose is a trainer of PRINCE2™, who also works as a consultant, so he understands the pressures that contractors face. "Many of the candidates I see are hoping to improve the balance of their CVs with a recognised project management qualification. Often, these are very experienced people but there is an expectation these days that you need to have passed the exam to get considered for the jobs, so contractors are under pressure to conform."

Richard says many organisations - and particularly local authorities - insist that both potential employees and contractors are PRINCE2 qualified. "Organisations view it as proof of the candidate's capability," he says, "and if you haven't got it, they often won't even look at your CV."

Jan Eldon has been contracting since 1997 when he set up his own IT support consultancy. With clients mainly in the IT, insurance and Telecoms industries, Jan has also worked for publishing companies and pharmaceutical giant Unilever.

Jan recently decided to take a project management course. "With contracting you're not pigeon-holed exactly, but you can get over-specialised when one particular type of contract leads to another of the same kind. In order to be able to break out of this pattern you've got to demonstrate skills in other areas and until you've got the right blend of skills, qualifications in the area you want to move into can help."

Taking time out of work and funding courses can be difficult, Jan says. "You've got to think about the long term in order to justify taking time out of work and the expense of the course, but to continue to attract the right sort of contracts it's a worthwhile exercise."

Richard agrees "It's important that contractors invest in their own development. Employees are offered training throughout their careers, but contractors need to think about their aspirations, what they want to achieve in the long term and set out plans to achieve this. They should think not just about the contracts they can and do attract, but what they hope to do in the medium to long term and endeavour to ensure their skill set is updated to ensure they do achieve their goals."

"It can be frustrating for experienced contractors who think that qualifications are just a badge – they don't prove you are competent in your field of work. However, what they do signify to employers is that the contractor they're getting speaks the same language and has a similar mindset to other contractors and employees working in the organisation. This is important to employers because they'll want their contractors to start adding value from the very start of their contracts."

Another point to be aware of, Richard says, is the importance of Re-registration. If your PRINCE2, MSP™, or M_o_R® Practitioner qualification is more than five years old, you should renew it. "It's not so important for employees because their organisations know how they've gained experience, but for contractors competing for work, re-registration is vital. This is because the methods are updated and anyone whose qualifications are more than five years old could have gaps in their knowledge. Contractors also need to demonstrate their commitment to their own CPD and re-registration is the best way to demonstrates to employers they are serious about keeping their knowledge up to date."

Many contractors find it difficult to take time out of work to fit in time to attend courses or to re-register their existing professional qualifications. Some training companies such as Firebrand Training can provide you with the fastest route to professional certification through accelerated learning, so contractors don't have to take too much time out of work.