How I became a contractor
I’ve been contracting for years now, off and on. I tried going back permanent for a time during the depression, but it didn’t last. For me at least the satisfaction of being my own boss spoiled me for the career-minded politics of the permie world.
It wasn’t like that when I started though. I was scared stiff. I didn’t go contracting for the money, or the macho image, or the travel. I did it because I was terrified of the alternative.
It started about four years before, I had joined the DP department of a medium sized factory on the Snowy Industrial Estate. At the interview the DPM had explained to me that his department was being spun off as a separate consultancy within the group, and there would be a lot of prospects in a growing organisation.
“We’ve even picked the new offices,” he enthused, “It’s a big old house on the edge of town, near Penny Hassett.”
It sounded good, better than the disintegrating chaos I was currently working at, so I accepted.
The problem was, it never happened. The new offices were never cancelled, after a while they were just not mentioned, it was almost as if they never had been.
I was disappointed, but I wasn’t too upset. The work was interesting, and that was the most important thing for me. The department used an old batch based system, and the current major project was to put all these batch programs online. Yours truly had the job of providing the online expertise for the job.
After about four years I and three juior proggies had worked our way through the whole system, converting and rewriting everything to online. It was as I was approching the end that I began to think about the future.
If I stayed where I was, then I was fairly secure, I was also in a dead end. The DPM and his sidekick were both about the same age as me, or younger, so there was not much hope of promotion. What was worse, the edict had come down from on high, no more major DP investment. In the past couple of years the department had ‘expanded’ from eight people to five. The future didn’t look very good.
I made some tentative enquiries with a couple of agencies that I’d used before. That was when I began to worry.
“I’m sorry Mr Cerdd, we don’t really have anything, but we’ll keep looking.”
They said it with a bright professional smile, but I had a dark fear that what they really meant was “Don’t ring us, we’ll ring you”. Slowly the final aweful truth began to dawn.
All my working life I had been working on the same range of machines. I was probably one of the best qualified people in the country on that range. Unfortunately, in the four years I had been working at the Snowy Estate, the machine range that I had all my experience on had been superceded. Nobody wanted staff whose only experience was on out of date machines.
I tried more agencies, no go. They all agreed I was wonderfully qualified, had an excellent record, and was completely useless.
That was when I really began to panic. I was looking at my future and all I saw was a huge blank wall.
Then Not-A-Lot-Doing, one of the agencies, mentioned contracting. I wasn’t too keen. I’d seen contractors before, and they all seemed to have lots of money. But I was aware of the risks as well. No sick pay, no holiday pay, no pay at all if you can’t find work, not to mention all those books to keep.
It didn’t sound very promising, especially for someone whose physical body is mildly disabled, and (courtesy of the local NHS surgeons) somewhat reorganised. On the other hand, the alternatives looked even worse.
My wife and I talked to an accountant, and a pension’s advisor. The former said, “No problem, we can do all the paperwork for you.” The latter explained about pensions, and tax regimes, and left us breathless, but impressed.
Lastly we sat down and thought very hard.
I considered my abilities. Was I good at my job? In all honesty, yes I was, and better than my nominal superiors.
I considered my health. NHS rebuild job I might be, but I still had a better record for time off sick than most of my nominally fit and able collegues.
I asked my wife’s opinion. She said, “If that’s what you want, then go for it. I’ll back you.”
I rang up the agency before I could chicken out again. I said “Yes”.
It all happened rather fast after that. Not-A-Lot-Doing had already lined up the interview. The client had a new project to develop, on a brand-new platform, and couldn’t get anyone with the right skills. Not-A-Lot-Doing’s proposal was for them to take a bunch of experienced-but-not-on this-machine contractors, on the basis that we would be paid half rate for the first four weeks, then full rate for the rest of the year.
They sold it to the client, I sold it to my wife, hencefore the Financial Controller, and the next day I handed my notice in.
Did I ever regret it? Well sometimes the daily travel hasn’t been too good, but other times have been great. Twice I’ve been able to work from home. Twice I worked in Europe, and we’ve had a chance as a family to visit places we would never had dreamed of going, and making friendships we still treasure.
Sometimes the working away has been a strain on us as a family, but working together to run the company has brought us closer together. I can tell appalling jokes about having an affair with the company secretary, she says she gets a great kick from knowing that her contribution makes us even more of a partnership, and we get the chance to hold hands romantically as we fill in our VAT return together.
Do I regret it? No, not once. Especially not after last week, when I went back to the Snowy Estate to visit. The department had ‘expanded’ even further. There’s only two of them now.