News, Blog, Employment, Awards, Careers | Monday 18th October 2021

Q&A with Laura Raven, Director

Zitko Contracts opened its doors in mid 2018, with Laura Raven joining as lead the following year. It’s an ever-growing professional community of project managers, engineers and technicians, deploying on contracts ranging from a few days to a year or more.

Here’s an update on what the division’s doing and how it’s making a difference to contractors and clients.

Q: It’s a year since the first lockdown. How has it been?

A: It’s been a tough 12 months for contractors, and the Fire & Security industry certainly hasn’t been immune. There was a huge increase in professionals looking for their next contract and only limited opportunities.

We’ve tried to support those not working. Our lines stayed open throughout and we worked with manufacturers and employers for example to organise training courses. We’ve also run mental health workshops. We’ve stayed open. We’ve been here.

Despite all this, we’ve actually doubled our business. And if you’re a contractor looking for work, we are handling more enquiries. The market’s looking up.

Q: In more ‘normal’ times, what sort of contracts do you deal with?

A: We cover the full project management, installation, commissioning and maintenance spectrum. That might be to cover an absence for a week or two or it could mean deploying a whole team to a major capital project for a year or more.

Sometimes a client might need to import a skillset they don’t have or to ramp up quickly to service a new contract. Others prefer to use contractors to cover peak demand so they can maintain a stable permanent workforce. Others still outsource an entire operation to us.

We deploy right across the UK and mainland Europe, and we’ve placed contractors in the Middle East.

Q: For employers, what is it Zitko brings to the table?

A: We’re relatively new to the contracts market. For sure, we’re established, and we have a substantial community of contractors who work with us continuously.

But we certainly don’t idly flick through a vast database and send along half a dozen candidates who ‘might be okay’. In common with the rest of Zitko, we’re focused on the detail – job content, skills, experience and always, that elusive quality: ‘fit’.

While we might know an ideal contractor, we often use search and we rely heavily on recommendations from our network. We interview every candidate to learn what makes them tick and we take out full references.

It means that contractors and employers can have a lot more confidence they’ll be happy at the end of their first week together!

Q: It sounds like a good approach for contractors too?

A: If you boil people down to a CV on your database you won’t last long – or at least you shouldn’t do! We feel a real responsibility to our contractors, to find them suitable, well-paid work and to see that they get paid on time.

It starts with the basics. You upload your timesheet and expense claim weekly to our portal. They go directly to the client for sign off. You, and we, can track progress on the system. You then get paid at the end of the following week. It’s a popular system!

We’re also at the end of the phone, whether you’re having challenges on a contract or simply want to unload at the end of a difficult day! We’re a team and we’re looking to the long-term with our contractors, as well as with our clients.

Q: Covid aside, what are the challenges this year?

A: IR35 goes live soon in the private sector and brings new restrictions on off-payroll working. It’s targeting people who are basically permanent employees, but are employed on a contract basis. HMRC views this as evading certain taxes and NI contributions.

One solution is simply to go PAYE with an employer or agency, but we’ve been developing a new ‘scope of work’ model that satisfies IR35 requirements. It enables contractors to remain self-employed. We’ll be publishing further details shortly.

IR35 aside, the other challenge is Brexit. Visa application delays make it virtually impossible to deploy non-EU citizens / residents to Europe quickly and for significant periods. This now affects British contractors, but I’m hoping things will improve as Brexit beds in.

In the meantime, we’ve many contractors who do have the right to live and work in the EU, so we’re still able to meet our clients’ needs. It just adds another dimension to our work.

Q: And finally, what do you see as the opportunities?

A: We invested a lot of time last year in relationship building with employers we hadn’t worked with before. Some have already become clients, which is one of the reasons we grew the business even during the pandemic.

I’m confident it’s going to translate into some excellent opportunities for our contractors as demand pick up. We’re coming back bigger and stronger - and we’re looking forward to the year ahead.

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