Whether explicitly or unofficially, employers have always classified their workers based on those employees’ perceived utility to the company. To be clear, this classification doesn’t fall along the lines of permanent workers and contractors, full-timers and part-timers, or staff employees and temps. It’s about value. Even if organizations no longer publicly refer to workers using phrases such as “skilled” or “unskilled” labor, they still categorize their employees in other telling ways. When technology companies think about their contract workers, for instance, they tend to label them as “critical talent” or “support staff.”

Critical talent usually includes employees who write code or provide specialized, difficult-to-replace labor that is key to driving revenue. Support staff can encompass many types of employees, but they generally are viewed by the company as being less essential than their “critical” counterparts.

What may seem surprising about this dynamic – and what should be considered most important to contractors – is that an employee’s status can shift over time. A worker who may be deemed “critical” upon hiring may find themselves in a supporting role if, for instance, the innovation project they were brought aboard to complete is suddenly decommissioned by leadership. This may be doubly concerning to contractors, who are generally considered to be more expendable than permanent workers. So it begs the question: How does a contractor go about stepping up from support staff – or, if they’re already there – maintaining their status as a member of an organization’s critical talent?

How Employers Assess Contractor Value

Generally speaking, the process companies follow when evaluating their talent amounts to a two-dimensional analysis: reviewing a worker’s skillset and examining the total expense that employee represents on the company’s bottom line. But much of the evaluation hinges on that first component.

Consider a scenario: A tech contractor is hired to shore up a hot project for which the company has high aspirations. But within two years the initiative fails to pan out, so leadership decides to reduce or eliminate the company’s investment in that area. In the meantime, the worker’s skill set hasn’t changed – and, in fact, has probably been enhanced. But those skills no longer align with the organization’s strategic priorities. This is how a contractor with specialized expertise, a worker who may be highly valued by the general market, can suddenly find themselves with a target on their back.

How to Play a ‘Critical’ Role

The same recommendations given to any worker with career ambitions or concerns about job security apply to contractors seeking to stay on the right side of the support/critical axis: take advantage of training opportunities, learn how other areas of the business interact with yours, make efforts to be a strong collaborator and team player. But returning to our theoretical tech contractor, there’s even more work that can be done.

For any specialized tech talent, it may seem to go without saying, but it is crucial to stay on the cutting edge of technology. The tech world moves quickly, and there is always new talent coming up that has more recent schooling or training on new innovations. Additionally, keeping your profile and resume updated to reflect your key skills – and any training or experience in new technologies – can be a differentiator

Equally as important, however, is periodically taking an objective look at your organization’s strategic priorities. If your own skills and experiences align with those priorities, you’re more likely to land in the company’s critical talent group. If, on the other hand, you seem to fit into your organization’s support staff, you’ll want to seek out specialized training or volunteer for opportunities in areas that are higher priorities (read: revenue drivers) to the company. Network to find mentors or advocates in departments that are more closely aligned with the company’s goals than your own department. Make your efforts transparent so that management and perhaps leadership are aware that you understand organizational objectives and are taking a proactive approach to making them your own.

Interested in learning more about PeopleCaddie’s talent cloud? Here is how talent clouds help improve a company’s HR strategy.