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Myth-busters: "Contracting is for people who can’t get a full-time job"

Myth-busters: "Contracting is for people who can’t get a full-time job"

The myth 

Contractors are contractors because they can't find a full-time job. Contractors are essentially temps who just make up the numbers when you're understaffed. Worse still, they're overpaid.

Employers might as well stick with full-time staff – they know the business structure and culture, they're paid sensibly, and you don't have to waste time training a person only to see them leave a few months down the line. 

In turn, a person shouldn't consider becoming a contractor in the first place because you'll never really feel involved in an organisation – you'll always be an outsider who’s out the door before they have time to establish any productive working relationships. 


Why does the myth exist?

For many years, career planning has dictated that you get a full-time job. You go to school, get your qualifications, maybe go to university, and then you settle into a 9-5 job until you retire.

Naturally, after so many years of that way of thinking, on both an individual and organisational level, people are going assume any career path that deviates from the norm is in some way flawed – perhaps it even suggests something negative about the person taking that path. 

Some people may become distrustful of contractors – the people who seemingly waltz into an organisation, throw their weight around as a so-called expert then collect their money and leave. It's easy to look at a contractor and see someone who doesn't understand organisational culture, values or loyalty. 


The truth

Contractors contract because it's a viable, enjoyable career path in the new world of work. Good contractors enjoy seeking out new learning experiences. They're driven and results-oriented. 

Contractors rely on referral and recommendation, so the pressure on them to produce results wherever they go is significant – if you're no good, you won't find work. 

Moreover, contractors have to pick things up quickly. They need to be adaptable, good at probing, asking questions and joining up the dots. They have to enter an organisation with little prior knowledge and hit the ground running. 

This applies in an interpersonal, political context, too. On the one hand, contractors need to be prepared to challenge and ask the difficult questions, but on the other they need to be savvy enough to not rub people up the wrong way. 

Contractors also have a strict timeline to work with. A contractor that stays at an organisation for too long risks becoming stale. They risk losing that freshness and that energy – that sense of newness they can bring to an organisation is what makes them unique.

For the employers, there are likewise many benefits to bringing in a contractor. It's an opportunity to create instant diversity and bring in new approaches – fresh, energetic ways of thinking. If you have a group of stale, pale males, you can remedy the situation by contracting in different experiences and perspectives. 

Better still, you can pay your contractors based on their results – you're not bound to hand over money to someone just because they turned up or they tried their best. Contractors are judged on their results.


In conclusion...

The old view of contracting is that it is a resource to be used for the primary purpose of making up the numbers – you would bring in a contractor in for a specific project, or maybe when you were entering a busy period. 

But in the new world of work, the process of bringing in a contractor is much more about shaping, or reshaping, your organisation's thinking than it is simply an exercise in getting more hands on deck. You only have to look at the stats to see this change in perception – the amount of contractors in the UK is currently just under 2 million – up by more than a third since 2008. The UK's contingent workforce contributes more than L100bn to the economy every year. 

You shouldn't just think of a contractor as another pair of hands – you should think of them as a brand new mindset that can add real value and diversity to your organisation. Contractors can help organisations as they embark upon their digital transformation journeys. 

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