The Gig Economy – Is Contract/Interim Work Right for Me?

If you still view contract work as a less-attractive alternative to a permanent position within an organization, it may be time to rethink your perspective.

Whether you are ready or not, the job market is changing to reflect the fast-paced digital age. The change isn’t just limited to the tech space. Hospitals and others in the healthcare industry, for example, are finding themselves having to shift their mindset to place an even greater emphasis on adaptability in order to keep up with fluctuating demands.

One of the contributors to this new mindset is the higher value that businesses are placing on innovation and specialty skills. Traditionally, many employers would take a one-size-fits-all approach to hiring and prioritize candidates with a well-rounded skillset who could meet a wider variety of needs over time within the organization.

This approach is being pushed aside as more businesses who are trying to keep up with rapidly shifting market trends are seeking out highly specialized expertise on a project basis. Improvements in telecommunications technology and the growth of online platforms have also made it easier for employers to immediately connect with talented workers with specific, hard-to-find skills.

Why Do Employers Hire Skilled Contract Workers?

Access to highly skilled contract workers is a huge asset to a business, especially during times of growth and change. For many employers, contract workers are highly valued for their contributions to specialty projects and for their ability to bring unique skills and perspectives to the table.

Here are some of the most common reasons that employers seek out highly skilled contract workers:

  • Interim Placements in Leadership Roles: When a high-level executive unexpectedly resigns or has to take time off, employers may hire an experienced contract worker to temporary fill the position.
  • Skilled Teams and Managers for Special Projects: For example, a large healthcare organization transitioning to a new computer system may need to hire contract workers with specialized IT and project management skills to oversee the change.
  • Startups and SMEs Seeking Support: Smaller businesses may want to hire experienced professionals and leaders on a contract basis to kickstart growth and provide guidance in specialized areas.
  • Variable Needs: Many industries experience fluctuations in their workloads throughout the year and rely on a network of contract workers with highly specialized skills to provide support during times of high demand.

Workers Seek Alternative Arrangements

The growing sector of the labor market made up of independent contractors and freelance workers is known as the gig economy. The rising gig economy in recent years has not just been driven by employer needs. Increasing numbers of workers are actively pursuing contract jobs and freelance work.

According to a recent survey released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 15.5 million workers in the U.S. consider their primary employment to be an alternative work arrangement such as contract work. This number excludes workers who have a traditional permanent job and take part in the gig economy on the side, as well as workers who do not consider their participation in the gig economy as a full-time job. Some economists estimate that a total of up to a third of U.S. workers may be taking part in the gig economy.

The consensus is that more and more skilled workers are recognizing the advantages of contract work and actively choosing to engage in this kind of alternative work instead of seeking a permanent position within an organization.

Advantages of Contract Employment

Freedom and Flexibility

Many workers seek out contract work because they want to have more control over their time and their professional choices. As a contract worker, you have a great deal of freedom to seek out positions that are a good match for your lifestyle and to negotiate the terms of your position.

Often contract workers are under less pressure than traditional employees to conform to the traditional 9-5 job structure, particularly since many contract jobs place a higher value on deliverables than hours worked.

Maybe you want to skip the commute and work from home. Maybe you would prefer to work longer hours certain days of the week and then take a three- or four-day weekend. Perhaps you would like to work full-time for three months in a row and then have the freedom to take time off and travel the world without first having to save up personal leave.

You could simply be in a place in your career where for one reason or another you don’t fit into the traditional hiring situation. For example, people coming out of the military or former stay-at-home parents looking to return to the workforce may find contract work a good fit for their unique experience and skillset.

Another great example of this is retired professionals with highly valued experience who would prefer to return to work on a project basis rather than committing to working long-term. This option allows retirees to engage in the workplace and share their unique skills and knowledge without sacrificing the freedom of retirement.

Travel and Explore New Experiences

Some people love the safety and stability that comes with permanent positions within an organization. Other people hate feeling tied-down and find that they quickly grow bored of the constraints that come with staying in one position for a long period of time.

Embracing contract work gives you the opportunity to follow your interests and always keep your career options open. You don’t have to feel tied down to a specific job title or even a specific location. Working on a contract basis, you have the freedom to find work in a totally new city, or to explore new directions in your career.

Grow Your Skillset

When you remain in the same position with the same company for a long period of time, you may start to feel like you are no longer growing in your career. Contract work will expose you to different demands and work environments and will jumpstart your growth in new areas.

For example, contract jobs can be a great path to increasing your technical knowledge in specialized areas. Navigating between projects will require you to develop extremely useful soft skills like time-management, interpersonal negotiation, and adaptability.

Expand Your Network

Contract work gives you a unique opportunity to connect with professionals in your industry. It’s no secret that networking is one of the most important steps in effective professional growth.

In addition, getting to work closely with industry-leaders will give you valuable insider knowledge and a unique perspective on your field. That kind of in-depth industry knowledge backed up by experience is extremely marketable.

Maybe Now’s the Time for You to Join the Gig Economy

Despite the rising popularity of the gig economy, contract and freelance work isn’t for everyone. Contract jobs often require you to be extremely adaptable and open to new experiences. You have to be willing to jump in and hit the ground running, especially if you are seeking out highly-skilled contract jobs or interim leadership positions.

However, for many, the advantages of contract work outweigh the challenges. Contract work broadens the definition of career development and allows you to shift your mindset to focus on lifelong professional growth.