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In this article, I am going to assume that you have very little or no knowledge of working as a contractor or consultant. With that in mind, I will attempt to transform you from your current status to someone who is intimately familiar with the contracting profession. If you are seeking a job in any IT, engineering, or technical-related discipline — such as programmer, engineer, systems analyst, designer, drafter, software engineer, technician, etc. — this article could lead to the most profitable and professionally rewarding era of your career.
People who work in this profession have, over the years, called themselves by a variety of titles: contractors … consultants … job shoppers … contract engineers … technical temps … just to list a few. I consider all of these titles to be interchangeable, but I will normally refer to them as contractors. Basically, however, they are all the same.
There are three different components of the contracting profession. The first I have already mentioned: the contractor . That would be you, the programmer or engineer. The second component is the contract staffing firm , which is the agency that recruits and hires contractors. All the companies that advertise their job openings on this website are contract staffing firms. The third component is the client company , such as Microsoft, Boeing, or General Motors.
Here’s the way this industry works: The client company contracts with a staffing firm to recruit and hire contractors (like you) to work on the client’s project on a temporary job assignment. That’s a very simplified description of the contracting profession. But, it does give you a basic foundation for what I am going to be discussing.
In explaining this further, let’s assume that one of the thousands of client companies who often utilize contract personnel has a major project underway. They have tried to hire enough direct employees to staff that project. Unfortunately, they have not been successful, and now find themselves falling behind on their schedule. The client can then turn to one or more contract staffing firms, and ask them to supply contract personnel in the job disciplines they require. Highly skilled contractors will then be hired by the staffing firm(s), and step right in, normally side-by-side with the client’s direct employees, to work on the project.
There may be other reasons for a client company turning to staffing firms to furnish them with contractors. Perhaps they are a company that anticipates ups and downs, as far as manpower forecasts are concerned, over a several-year span. We frequently see this in the aerospace industry. Such clients are far better off hiring contract personnel, rather than captive employees. In that way, they avoid the enormous cost of searching for and hiring each employee.
Contract staffing firms have vast files of resumes for well-qualified contractors who are immediately available to fill their client’s needs. The client also avoids the day-to-day costs of maintaining that individual as an employee (paying for things like insurance, payroll, and other administrative burdens adds up very quickly). The contract staffing firms assume all those costs. The client also avoids a reputation, among their direct employees, of continually hiring personnel then, a couple of years later, letting them go. Contractors know that their job assignments are temporary and are always prepared to move on to other projects. Direct personnel are usually not conditioned that way.
As a contractor, working in this manner, you would be working on the client’s project, under client supervision, but you would be an employee of the contract staffing firm that placed you. They would give you your paychecks, withhold taxes, and pay any benefits that you may receive (such as vacation, medical, etc.).
During the late 1990’s another rationale emerged for clients to hire contractors through staffing firms. Now we often see contract positions being advertised as “contract to hire” or “temp to perm” or “contract to direct.” This is simply a “try before you buy” approach. Both clients and contractors are more frequently “checking each other out” before committing to a long-term relationship. This has proven very beneficial for both the hiring clients and job-seeking contractors.
Frequently overlooked as a reason for entering the contracting job market…but perhaps the most valuable reason of all…is the opportunity for professional growth. This career enables individuals to work for a variety of companies, learning from each and taking that knowledge with them to their next assignment. And, in this day of constant changes — with new software, programs, and computers being introduced on a regular basis — keeping up-to-date is critical for your long-term career health. After a few years of contracting, one can amass an invaluable set of skills. Added to whatever professional training one may undergo along the way, it doesn’t take long for a contractor to make him or herself a very valuable commodity.
There are a variety of ways that a contract assignment can be structured. The most common method is to work as an employee for a contract staffing firm on assignment with that company’s client. The staffing firm normally finds the contract job opening, then hires you to work for their client. That is basically what I have been discussing up to this point. . . working as an employee.
Another way that some people become contractors is to form their own corporation and work as employees of that corporation. Their company simply bills their clients for work performed. They then pay themselves out of corporate profits. This method, too, is not as simple as working as an employee of a staffing firm. Complications with incorporating, dealing with the IRS, carrying your own liability insurance, providing benefits, and finding companies that will hire you in this way.
There are many rewarding aspects of working as a contractor. The most important, to the majority of those working in this profession, are:
Contract employees first surfaced prior to World War II in the Detroit area. They were hired to help in the retooling and manufacturing of automotive plants for the war effort. The profession has been steadily growing ever since. You will find contractors working in virtually every major industry in the world… including software, aerospace, nuclear, computers, marine, petrochemical, automotive, industrial, manufacturing, electronic, civil, entertainment, chemical, textile, financial, commercial, refinery, communications, publications, architectural plant layout, tooling, brewery, transportation, electrical, structural, mining, pulp & paper, etc.
Typically, the average length of a contract assignment is from six to twelve months. Many last longer; some are also shorter. Once an assignment is completed, the contractor moves on to other employment (usually working for another client).
Contractors are highly qualified, highly paid individuals. They often have obtained additional schooling and technical training in their field. They are, therefore, very well qualified to handle most jobs in their specific discipline. That is a major reason why they are usually paid more than their direct counterpart would be paid. The opportunity to make more money is why most people become contractors in the first place. Besides receiving a higher than usual rate of pay, contractors often get daily per diem (in addition to their hourly rate), and travel pay to their job locations.
Besides being a professional at their job discipline, and having a desire to make more money… an equally important quality that must be a part of every contractor’s makeup is the ability to be mobile. They must be able and willing to relocate, sometimes thousands of miles from their homes and often with but a few days to report to a job assignment in another city, state or area of the country
Some contractors don’t travel from city to city to work on assignments…
Although the contractors I have just described are mobile and travel from city to city for various job assignments, there is also another type of contractor. I call them “freeway”, “subway”, or “local” contractors. In many major cities of the United States , there are thousands of these workers who continually go from assignment to assignment within the same metropolitan area, and usually continue to live at the same address. Most local contractors are located in the major metropolitan areas of the United States , such as: Los Angeles , San Francisco , Chicago , Dallas , Detroit , Seattle , Boston , New York City, Washington DC , and Atlanta .
Three things sometimes make local jobs less desirable to the “road” or “out-of-town contractor.” (1) The pay is usually somewhat lower than for a similar “road” job. Sometimes this is simply caused by the lack of per diem paid to those who work away from their tax home. Other times, it is actually less money per hour. (2) The length of assignments for local contractors tends to be somewhat shorter than for road jobs. And (3) local contractors are more frequently required to attend job interviews — unlike their “road” counterparts, whose resumes are often the extent of their personal contact with client firms prior to reporting for work (unless a telephone interview is requested).
On the plus side, however, is the fact local contractors are often able to build up a reputation with many client companies. If a contractor is really good at his or her job, he or she is likely to be called back more than once by some companies. In some cases a local contractor may be able to remain working for the same contract staffing firm on several consecutive assignments (often accumulating vacation time, remaining on the company’s 401(k) plan, and retaining medical insurance without interruption).
Why are contractors paid more than their direct counterparts? Often, it is because their jobs are temporary. Other times, it is because the expertise they provide is not readily available on the open market. When a client company is behind schedule on a project…they are usually willing to pay a premium for needed expertise.
When the project is again under control, or completed, the contractors will likely be terminated, and must then find another assignment. If they are lucky, the contract firm for which they were working will be able to place them on a new job immediately.
Courtesy of cjhunter.com