Contract employment is gaining ground with the white-collar workforce here as firms turn cautious on hiring amid an uncertain business outlook, according to recruitment firm Robert Walters yesterday.

Bankers, accountants and human resources and information technology professionals are increasingly taking up such work, it found, with more firms expected to offer contract roles this year.

"When I came to Singapore three years ago, there was unquestionably a view that contracting was really the thing you did if you couldn't get a permanent job," said Mr Toby Fowlston, managing director of Robert Walters South-east Asia. "It was not considered a viable career. Without doubt, that is changing."

He told a briefing yesterday that the change is especially evident in the financial services sector, particularly in investment banking.

"We've seen a lot of offshoring and restructuring in some of the bigger banks and that has created a gap where particular banks don't know whether or not they are going to have a permanent headcount," he said.

"They're moving a function into the Philippines, India, and they need to hire. They can't commit to a permanent hire so they hire a six- to 12-month contractor."

Banks here are also ramping up efforts to recruit overseas Singaporeans, getting them to return home, under pressure from the Fair Consideration Framework introduced in 2014, said Robert Walters. The framework requires bosses to prove they have tried to hire Singaporeans first before they seek foreign professionals.

Across the financial services sector, risk and compliance as well as internal audit professionals are in demand.

"For front-office roles, recruitment levels remained steady for junior to mid-level candidates across corporate and transaction banking," wrote Robert Walters in its survey report on last year's hiring landscape. "When it came to senior hires, the majority of banks filled these positions through internal promotions."

Mr Fowlston said the legal profession needs more derivatives and trade finance lawyers: "That's where we are seeing some foreign lawyers coming in."

Separately, 82 per cent of overseas Singaporeans told a Robert Walters survey that they are keen to return home to work.

But three out of four of them will not come home without first securing a job, and half of them expect a pay increment of 15 per cent at least. "Unfortunately, only one out of five employers is willing to offer a 15 per cent increment," said Mr Fowlston.