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Is It Time to Join the Contract Workforce?

Contract Worker

The contract workforce has grown rapidly over the past few years, and experts project exponential growth in the near future. According to a January 2018 NPR/Marist poll, 20 percent of US workers are contract workers. A 2017 study by Upwork and Freelancers Union projected that more than half of the US workforce will be freelancing by 2027 if the growth of the contract workforce continues at its current pace.

These freelancers include people who are doing contract work in addition to a full-time job, those who are freelancing but would prefer a permanent position, and those who are solely contract workers by choice.

What Is a Contract Worker?

Contract workers—also known as contingent workers, gig workers, consultants, and freelancers—work for a company for a set period of time or on a project basis. Contract workers are not full-time, permanent employees of the company they are working for and do not receive benefits from the company. Contract workers may work as 1099 freelancers, which means they are fully responsible for managing their own taxes and buying their own health insurance. Or, they may contract through a recruitment agency, in which case they are considered an employee of the agency during the period they are working.

Often contract workers are individuals with high-level, specific skills. For example, a company may need a front-end developer to create a new app for their business, or a senior executive to offer expertise during a period of rapid business expansion.

Is Contract Work Right for You?

The number of people making the decision to work on temporary projects, rather than in a permanent position, is growing. According to the Upwork and Freelancers Union survey, the number of worker respondents who say they are freelancers by choice rather than necessity rose from 53 percent to 63 percent between 2014 and 2017.

But entering the realm of contract work is a big decision and there are important things to evaluate before taking the plunge. These aren’t broken down into pros and cons because what one person would put in the pro column, another would place firmly in the con column. Here are some of the key considerations:

The Work Ends

As opposed to a permanent role within a company, contract work has a defined end date—when the contract expires or when a project is completed. Your engagement with a company may be long, sometimes even more than a year, but it will eventually reach its conclusion. Many people thrive under these circumstances, such as those who enjoy varied work or relish the challenges that come with each new project. But others do their best work when they have the time to settle into a role over the course of months and years with the same company.

The changeable nature of contract work also comes with a higher level of instability than full-time employment. There is no guarantee that another role will be available when a contract ends. For those who have trouble budgeting for the long term, contract work can be challenging, and the steady paycheck of a full-time job may be preferable. Effective contract workers recognize and prepare for the ‘feast or famine’ nature of their work. They become the COO of a business of one and make choices that help them bridge periods of light employment.

Flexibility—Within Reason

Many dream of being a contract worker finishing up a full day’s work while sitting on a tropical beach somewhere. While this may happen from time to time, for the most part this image is a fantasy. Contract workers must show up and get the job done in a timely manner, or they are unlikely to land the next gig.

The flexibility of contract work can vary significantly. If the job allows you to work from home, as a contract worker you may be able to set your own hours, manage family responsibilities that come up during the day, and complete work at night. But whatever work you are responsible for during the course of a week or over the course of a project must be completed successfully, no matter where or when it happens. Be aware that staying in frequent communication and being available to offer input or problem solve is critical when working on a project remotely.

Other contingent positions will require your presence in-office every day during the contract period. In these instances, the flexibility rests in the temporary nature of the position rather than in your ability to complete your tasks anywhere and anytime. If you need to take a break after a contract expires, you can make that call.

Test Driving Careers

Joining the contract workforce is an excellent way to explore roles that can elevate your technical or leadership skills, or to transfer your skills to other industries. In any one permanent role, there are only so many opportunities to upskill or try something new. Your freedom to pursue new projects also depends upon room in the company budget and decision makers who share your vision—variables that aren’t always in the offing.

But offering your skills in the contract marketplace allows you to dip your toes into work you’ve wanted to try, but haven’t been able to thus far. A site-specific logistics manager, for example, may take on a logistics coordinator role that covers multiple territories. You can also take your skills with you across industries, such as a pharmaceutical sales rep exploring sales positions within the tech industry.

Stellar contract workers are fast learners, adaptable, and strong communicators. If you can hit the ground running when faced with the new and the challenging—and enjoy the process to boot—then contract work may be a great fit for you.

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Hudson RPO

Hudson RPO (recruitment process outsourcing) manages the people, process and technology associated with recruitment on a full service (outsourced), hybrid (co-sourced) or project basis. A global force in talent acquisition solutions, Hudson RPO designs, implements and manages custom RPO programs for mid- to large-cap, multi-national companies.