I have contracted for a while, and I’ve seen my share of contractor envy, distrust, and discrimination. However the most common emotion I encounter is envy. At every site I have ever visited, the following conversation has occurred (give or take a few words):
them: “Why don’t you go permanent?”.
me: “Because I like to get different experiences and see new datacentres.”
them: “It’s the money, isn’t it?”
me: “No, I get bored without new challenges.”
them: “Yeah but also the money, right?”
At this point there will be a reference to me going home to my golden throne, huge car, and 6 bedroom house. Well a Renault Scenic isn’t that small, but mine doesn’t have diamond-studded wheel-trims either.
So, in an effort to lay out the whole of this argument between Contractors and “Permies” once and for all, I present the following list of considerations for the contractor-envious:
Permies get to (more-or-less, and depending on your industry) count on still being employed a year from now. Ok so that’s less true in the post-credit-crunch economy than it used to be, but you stand a much better chance of it still being the case.
Contractors can generally be dismissed with near-zero notice. Even if you have a full workload, it’s still possible for it to be passed on. “Sorry. No work for you today. Please go home.” Coupled with the fact that the majority of contracts are for 3 to 6 months and followed by periods of unemployment, stability is not something you can count on.
Sick Pay and Holiday:
Most permanent positions will pay your wages when your sick, and they will also pay for a certain amount of holiday over a year. Contractors don’t get those benefits. If a contractor isn’t working for a day, they don’t get to charge for that day. Holiday’s and sickday’s are expensive… (I have seen contractors struggle in to work with various communicable diseases because of this)
As a permanent employee, you might feel stuck in your current role. Perhaps the only way up is “Dead Mans Shoe’s”, or perhaps the path ahead is simply years of grinding for a marginal level of promotion. The chances are this is not entirely true. I have seen Permies complain about being passed over when all they have done in their day-jobs is cruise along without really reaching for it. But of course this isn’t everyone, and I can’t comment for those people. Still it beats the contract position: You do not have and will never have a promotion path.
This is something you seldom get as a permanent employee; The capability to visit different corporate setups, datacentres, technologies, and people in a relatively short space of time. For me, this is the part that keeps my work fresh and interesting. I absolutely could not survive holding the same job for years at a time without these things. It’s also the hardest point to explain to Permies, mostly because it tends to run at odds with the notion of Stability.
If you contract, there will be times when you are not working for a client. This is generally known as being “on the Bench” and can last a long time depending on your marketplace. You need to be happy being effectively unemployed for months at a time (in the worst case). You also need to be able to pay your mortgage and feed your family for as long as it takes to find your next job.
Yes contractors do generally get paid more than Permies doing the exact same job. Sometimes it’s quite a lot more. Sadly, this is the first point people generally see, dismissing the above 5 points instantly. Yes I get paid more, but I have to save more for when I can’t earn. I have to pay for extra’s like Public and Professional liability insurance. I can’t claim any expenses from anywhere for extra travel or equipment; I have to provide all my own stuff.
I can’t say the costs even out over time because they don’t. I get paid more because of the extra risk I take. The problem is in explaining to Permies that there IS extra risk at all.
The reality of contracting is it’s not for everyone. I have taken particularly contentious Permies aside and said “all you have to do is quit your job, sign up with an umbrella, get an accountant, and practice some interviews”. They usually stop listening after the first point. You can’t get the good without the bad, and yes I do get paid more money than an equivalent Permie, but I also have to work hard for it and I have to take the extra risk that comes with it.
Now – Are there any questions?