Inside views on the jobs market
Changing attitudes about contract labor
By Steven Bryan
For years, I clung to the “Leave it to Beaver” business model, in which the breadwinner worked at an office for 40-plus years before quietly retiring with a gold watch and pension. Unfortunately, the eroding American economy has made that particular fantasy more of a pipe dream than ever before.
But recent economic news isn’t all doom and gloom. For me and other working Americans, it took, as Jimmy Buffett is fond of singing, changes in latitudes plus changes in attitudes. After working 12 years for A.G. Edwards, a brokerage firm with headquarters in my hometown of St. Louis, I abandoned the security of a permanent position to become a contract employee at a new firm.
My hand was forced a bit. Wachovia Securities purchased A.G. Edwards and made massive staff cuts, including yours truly. My original “out date” was March 31, but I chose to leave early to become a contract employee at what is known as a “pharmacy benefit manager.” My co-workers and I like to joke that we are legal drug dealers, making sure that people who are injured on the job get the proper medications.
I was one of the first new contract employees to come into that firm. Within the past two months, at least seven technical specialists have joined our department, each with an employment contract.
Flying without the safety net of a salary and benefits is not all bad. I’m paid by the hour with a generous amount of overtime thrown my way; my monthly income has seen a sharp increase in recent months. I’m also constantly learning new things that look good on a resume.
Traditionally, contract employees have been the “paper towels” of the work force — use a few times and then get a new one. In 2009, though, I have seen the contract worker evolve from a disposable employee into more of a “Soldier of Fortune.” At my current job placement, I go where I’m needed, lending my expertise and talents to various managers.
For my efforts, I have money in the bank, credit cards with decent limits and enough spare cash to help out friends who need financial assistance.
For publicly traded companies, contract employees make good sense for the bottom line. We are listed as “variable expenses” and not fixed costs on the corporate books, which looks good to investors.
For me, it’s been an interesting experience. There’s a weird sense of detachment and of not fully belonging. But I’ll keep coming back as long as the paychecks clear.