BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

A Forever Changed Workforce

Posted by egehl on June 9, 2010

Just the other day I was having lunch with a friend who lost his job last year and for the past few months has lined up a number of contract gigs to bide time until he finds a full-time position.  He is not alone in this job market. 

Last month’s job report was seemingly positive however it had more bark than real bite.  The economy added 431,000 jobs in May, pushing the unemployment rate down a little, but the government was responsible for most of the new hires as it brought on temporary workers to complete U.S. Census efforts.  Unfortunately these federal government positions will evaporate this summer which raises the question what is happening with job creation and the millions of unemployed people in this country?

As we all know U.S. Census jobs, while giving a temporary boost to the economy, will end this summer.  Unfortunately only 41,000 of the new jobs in May were in the private sector which included jobs in manufacturing, mining, the service industry and temps, according to the Labor Department.

As the unemployed can tell you, what few jobs are coming back they aren’t what they used to be.  Many of the jobs employers are adding are temporary or contract positions, rather than traditional full-time positions with benefits.  The change is due to employers’ desire to limit their costs and because they can be picky with hiring. With unemployment remaining near 10%, employers have their pick of workers willing to accept less secure positions. 

Over the next 10 years, temporary and contract workers will grow significantly which will deny many future employees the ability to enjoy the benefits they have today.  It’s scary to think that full-time employees could eventually become the workforce minority leaving many people without traditional benefits such as health coverage, paid vacation and sick leave, and retirement plans.  Job benefits are one of the most important aspects to any position and often if they are exceptionally good they can make up for a weak or less desirable salary.

Over time more employers will increase their demand for contract workers so that they can afford to hire more people yet not be strapped with the high costs of benefits.  As a result, there will be a shift in the workforce with more people exploring their entrepreneurial goals and deciding if they want to establish themselves as a solo entity, or start their own small business.  The shift is already happening with the majority of positions being filled by employers being on a contractual basis.  This has its pluses and minuses. 

For those people who have been in the workforce for a significant amount of time, have built up their resumes and networks, are close to retirement, and desire a more flexible schedule contracting work can be very appealing and fulfilling.  As a contractor, you can seek out your desired clients, juggle a variety of different projects and not be confined to a traditional 9-5 workday. 

However for workers, especially younger ones in their first ten years after college, they will need to build up their resumes and may not be ready to work on their own.  Granted everyone is different, and I am sure there are many young workers out there open to the idea of contract work, but I can’t imagine doing that so early in my career.   Personally I needed the experience of my full-time positions over the past 13 years to hone my skills, build my networks and confidence, develop work ethic and reaffirm what I want do in my career. 

In addition, some contractors without full-time status may feel like “second-class citizens” and really miss the full-time benefits beyond just the paid vacation leave.  There are perks to working in an office that full-time workers are privy to which contractors may miss.

Unfortunately employment laws are behind the times and too slow in recognizing this shift toward contract work.  For example, independent contractors aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits and they have to pay both the employee and the employer match on their Social Security taxes, which adds up quickly.

At this point, many people don’t have a choice whether they want to be a contractor or not.  They have to follow the work and bide time until they can find a full-time job or decide they can survive on their own doing individual gigs.  Whether we like it or not, the workplace is changing and all of us have to be nimble to its evolution.

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