Exploring Contractor Roles

It’s no surprise that more and more organisations engage workers in a more contingent arrangements. The instability of the global economy and the ongoing COVID pandemic would leave any employer reluctant to hire permanent staff. Hiring permanent staff also means more responsibility for the employer (although contingent workers have plenty of rights too!). As an educator of job seekers; it’s my role to provide my students with confidence and optimism but also a sense of reality as many of them will more than likely be working contingent roles. Contracting is almost a certainty in particular industries such as personal training in the fitness industry as well as trades. It is also prevalent in ‘gig’ industries such as ride-sharing (Uber etc) and logistics (Parcel delivery).

The implications for being in such roles can vary and depends a lot on the industry and personal circumstances. I have a personal connection to contracting work; up until recently, I was a contractor for a fitness facility. My job not only provided me with a source of income, it was very rewarding and on top of that, my contracting work allowed me to complete my business degree and teach me a lot of valuable lessons in running my own business. I wont lie: the job was HARD. When it was my only source of income, there were a lot of late nights and early mornings, very little holidays and a lot of working when not feeling well. Like many personal trainers, I paid a weekly lease to the facility that was comparable to renting an apartment which meant I would always need to earn a minimum amount every week to break even. To top it off, there was no sick or annual leave accrual and no super contributions were made (unless I made them myself). I managed myself like a business which meant organising finances, taxes, insurance and marketing. Although I managed to survive, I saw many brilliant trainers quit or change jobs because of some or all of the challenges I mentioned. I believe the turnover stemmed from a lack of education when they were completing their fitness qualifications on what the industry can be like but more importantly, the realities of being a contractor. My experience and education has taught me a few things that job-seekers should consider when exploring contracting as a job/career.

Personal training is a common industry that employs contractors

Sham contracting is an important concept to understand; job-seekers need to be careful about sham contracting as it is essentially a way for organisations to treat people like traditional employees without paying them correctly under the guise of being employed as a contractor. This can get quite complex so it’s worth researching to learn more about it, but I can highlight a few red flags:

  1. The organisation is treating you like an ’employee’ such as forcing meeting attendance (unpaid) or controlling the hours and locations that are worked. A contractor should have control of how and when they want to work and be paid for things such as meetings.

  2. The organisation doesn’t allow a contractor to sub-contract their work out to someone else. Contractors should be allowed to do this.

  3. The organisation withholds business/hours to contractors for refusing to comply with the two points above.

For more information on sham contracting, Fair Work has useful information for people to use to help figure out if it is happening to them.

Basic business management skills (and a good accountant) are a necessity when working as a contractor

With that in mind, I have a few pointers to pass on to job seekers when faced with roles that are temporary/contingent:

  1. What do you need to buy in order to start operating as a contractor? This includes uniforms, training, business cards and marketing tools.

  2. What is your role as a contractor? Read the position description and if possible.

  3. Will you earn a consistent living? Or do you need to have a stable job too?

  4. Do you need to build your own business up by marketing or is the work sourced out to you?

  5. Do you have a support network that will help navigate through tough periods?

  6. What are your ongoing costs? How often do you need to pay, how much and what grace do you get if you can’t physically perform your role? It is also worth checking the financial institution (if applicable) to see what terms and conditions apply as many businesses process transactions through a third-party (such as a direct debit company).

  7. Save, save, save – Think of this is a business and you will need to invest money back into the business but make sure you are doing your best to save it.

  8. Talk to someone already doing it – Get some honest insights into what contracting will look like.

For those that are speaking to job-seekers, it’s important to allow your audience to explore their employment options as everyone’s circumstance will be different and may allow this type of work. If you are unsure, make sure that you spend time researching and understanding what life as a contingent worker may be like. I have observed over the years that sometimes there is a disconnect between those that are advising job-seekers and the realities of working as a contingent employee. Even though the pay may seem attractive, there are can be many challenges that sometimes aren’t felt by someone that hasn’t worked like that recently (or ever) and I have witnessed frustration/bemusement from educators or managers over why job seekers are hesitant to take contractor roles. Personally, if I faced with the prospect of contingent work, I would be taking my time to make my decision before signing a contract.

This post isn’t meant to discourage contingent working as it has a lot of perks and is continually growing in popularity in use. It is to encourage honest conversations around the reality of working in these roles and to help educators understand what their cohort of job seekers may be facing. Developing a plan on how to manage the challenges will ensure better success.

Happy teaching!


#CareersAdvice #Contractors #Employability #JobReady

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