By: Jim Hasse
For almost a year now, I've been in denial. I've been quietly and privately lamenting the trend toward temporary and contract employment in today's job market - and imagining all the negatives it poses for jobseekers, especially those of us with disabilities.
But, my thinking has changed recently. I now see a growing list of job sectors where temporary employment is becoming commonplace. I now realize individuals with disabilities need to deal with that new paradigm.
The Reality about Temporary Employment
MBO Partners, a business services company, claims independent workers will outnumber salaried employees by 2020, and freelance marketplace Elance predicts 54 percent of small business employees will be online contractors by 2017.
Both figures could be wishful thinking on the part of the businesses running the studies, but there's little doubt a large portion of the labor market is moving in that direction.
Shane Snow, CCO of Contently, writes:
"... Where newspapers and magazines once provided stable, salaried jobs for reporters, writers and editors, they now largely shun fixed costs for an employment model that relies on an increasing percentage of freelancers... About a third of journalists and creative workers are already independent, and that number is only going to increase ...
"... I don't believe the majority of businesses will ever become completely freelance or remote. Core staff members need to be in-house and work in proximity at any company of a certain size; local service-based businesses need people on site. But, it's entirely plausible that more than half of the American workforce will one day log in or show up every day as independent contractors."
Why Temporary Employment is Growing
First, the social contract between employer and employee is long gone. That social contract said, in essence:
"Stick with me as your employer, and I'll take care of you. I'll train you and promote you to positions of higher authority when you prove that you've used that training to make yourself qualified for those positions. As part of this agreement, I'll compensate you fairly in terms of salary, bonuses, health insurance, pensions etc."
Today employees are mostly on their own, even if they have full-time, "permanent" positions. They're personally responsible for their own career development and their retirement planning. And, they may have sizable debt accumulated over the years they spent gaining an education.
They job hop because they assume that's the quickest way to "get ahead," gain more responsibility and pay off their student loans, buy a home, raise a family etc.
Besides, they find today's jobs in many sectors offer little challenge. Those jobs are well defined, can be learned fairly quickly and soon become routine - offering little opportunity for real learning. Learning, after all, stops when a task becomes routine.
So, today's workplace is generally set up to encourage effective employees to "move on." After all, today's young people have spent 20 or more years in a "learning environment," and now, all of a sudden, they feel that their learning has stopped. They get bored with the routine, so they move on.
Many employees today remain on the job for about 23 to 24 months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Second, work is no longer a place. The Internet has brought work to the worker. The days of the worker "going to work" are gone.
Third, technology itself is making contract work possible and profitable. With a very little investment, individuals now have opportunities to be their own movie producers, book publishers, attorneys, photographers, journalists, accountants, administrative assistants, financial managers, etc.
Fourth, online talent exchanges let businesses find the best person to do any task no matter where that person is located. Finding that best person (a temporary "specialist" instead of a full-time "generalist") for a specific task is no longer a big hassle for hiring managers.
Fifth, since employers don't need to waste money on extra capacity (full-time employees who are "generalists"), they're lowering their fixed costs (such as health insurance, pensions, 401(k)s Social Security contributions and other benefits). As a result, they're willing to pay more per unit of work to attract top talent. That means top talent can charge higher rates, while businesses continue to save money in absolute terms.
Together, those five factors are driving the trend toward temporary and contract employment.
How to Thrive as a Temporary or Contract Worker
My concern about temporary and contract work from a disability standpoint is that being "a hired gun" and continually laying the groundwork for the next "gig" can be tough for anyone - rougher than working for a single employer.
Temporary work puts a premium on being physically agile, being a savvy networker and being self-sufficient (in terms of acquiring and paying for your own assistive technology and other accommodations) -- attributes which are certainly attainable with a disability but which also perhaps require extra effort and expense that non-disabled competitors for that next "job" don't have to assume.
And, I wonder if those of us with a disability will be able to command the premium rates contract and temporary employment requires to make up for the loss of benefits which normally occurs when someone goes from permanent to temporary employment.
With that said, here are my eight strategies for thriving, even though you may have a disability, in today's temporary work environment.
1. Work as an Entrepreneur.
You need to be your own businessperson and think and act like a "startup." Learn how to deal with the stress of continually finding work, getting paid on time, and marketing yourself. Prove that you are responsible and flexible.
Entrepreneurship puts a premium on personal branding, niche building, market research, innovation, networking and financial management. That's the opposite of "learned helplessness" - letting others "do" for us - and the implied social contract between employer and employee of decades ago.
Living well with a disability requires on an emphasis on development (instead of growth), persistence (instead of entrenchment), innovation (instead of status-quo) ambiguity (instead of certainty) and empathy (instead of aloofness). Those are all important qualities of entrepreneurship.
Being an entrepreneur is redirecting self- doubt (and the doubt others have about your viability) into a dare mode and harnessing that dare to drive toward personal development.
2. Become a Specialist.
Instead of billing yourself just as a writer, become a genomics writer in Boston or a cloud commuting blogger in San Francisco.
3. Keep Your Day Job.
Gradually wean away from your present day job to become a fully independent entrepreneur who is in a transition from temporary work to an even better day job.
4. Tap the Internet.
Become an expert at working with individuals as well as teams of people via the Internet.
5. Charge Premium Fees.
Put a premium price on your services when you recognize that talent in your niche is in short supply. Placing a premium now on your services as a contractor sets a floor for your starting salary as a permanent employee.
6. Avoid Moochers.
In the temporary work/contract employment environment, avoid individuals and organizations which seek to take advantage of your skills, talent, experience and personal attributes. This is especially important for contractors with a disability.
7. Seek Permanent Employment.
Become so valuable as a contract employee (because of your knowledge of the client's internal operations, trade secrets, internal vulnerabilities, and competitive situation) that your client, to survive and thrive, will want you as a permanent employee.
As part of your compensation package when offered a permanent position, take into account the benefits you did not receive as a contractor. Explore ways to make up for lost ground in terms of retirement accounts, health insurance, bonuses etc.
8. Join a Community.
If you're Web designer, for instance, join an online group of Web designers who are working to make it on their own and who share ideas, concerns etc. You can do that right here on GettingHired.com.
Now you can see why I look at temporary employment in a new light.
Copyright © 2013. Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC. All rights reserved.
Jim Hasse, Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF), (www.jimhasse.com) has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both job seekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (www.perfectlyable.com/), a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. Lighthouse International (www.lighthouse.org/), New York City, is the author of the 272-page hard-cover book, which continues to evolve online on Hasse's forum, Timely Tips for Retaining Employee Talent (forum.perfectlyable.com). He's the founder of www.cerebral-palsy-career-builders.com, a comprehensive career coaching guide for parents of youngsters with cerebral palsy.