Finance and accounting professionals looking for work are being urged to consider temping their way through the downturn.

According to specialised recruiter Robert Half Finance & Accounting, companies that are nervous about hiring fulltime employees during periods of economic uncertainty often hire temporary or contract staff to cover workflow gaps.

This can translate to increased opportunities for those who are looking to earn income, make new contacts and enhance their marketability and skills while searching for more permanent work.

"In the current environment, businesses can find it difficult to predict their long-term staffing needs," says Megan Alexander, senior manager of Robert Half.

"Using project or temporary professionals for high-priority work helps them to maintain productivity without committing to full-time employees until they are certain those positions are sustainable."

Ms Alexander says that while many people associate temporary work with secretarial and administrative roles, opportunities are available in several specialised and accounting fields.

"Companies need highly skilled professionals for a wide range of projects that require differing levels of expertise and experience," she said.

Following are the most in-demand temporary and contract roles in the current economy, according to Robert Half:

1. Credit and collections specialists
When businesses go through a slump, ensuring timely payment becomes even more important than usual. Companies are working with these professionals to help manage credit risk and collect from overdue accounts. In particular, firms are looking for staff who can help them to reduce inefficiencies and maximise cash flow.

2. Staff and senior accountants
In any economy, businesses need staff who can perform core accounting tasks, such as maintaining the general ledger system and analysing and preparing financial statements.

3. Project accountants
In a down economy, as well as emphasising debt collection, businesses tend to focus on cash-flow forecasts and cost-control mechanisms. In particular, they want staff who can analyse their processes and recommend where costs can be cut with maximum financial effect but least disruption to the business. They are also keen to improve their cash-flow forecasting so they don't face any unwelcome surprises.

4. Change managers
Once businesses have identified where they can cut costs and improve processes, they then need to implement those changes. This requires specialist skills, usually from temporary staff. Businesses are looking for professionals who can approach change not just from a finance perspective but also from an operational point of view, identifying inefficiencies and new ways of overcoming them.

5. Systems accountants
One of the changes businesses often implement during a downturn is to upgrade their general accounting and business IT systems to increase efficiencies. For this, they need skilled systems accountants to identify what impact the new systems will have on finance processes, and how the change can be successfully managed.

6. Finance managers
Because of their dual focus on financial detail and big-picture commercial imperatives, finance managers are frequently the most senior finance personnel in small to medium-sized businesses. But at present, those businesses are nervous about hiring permanent staff because they genuinely don't know what business will be like in 12 months' time.

As a result, while they're still hiring for this crucial role, they are opting for short-term contracts rather than permanent hires.