I love learning new skills and making things happen… but it’s not all rosy

Millie* is a 60 year old Project Manager who has been contracting in the private and public sectors for more than 30 years.

In the second instalment of The Timesheet, our series of conversations with contractors IRL, Millie shares some of the things she’s learned on her contracting journey, from how to get renewed to when line managers go bad…

The world has moved on – people are working much harder now

My last permanent employment was in 1988. In the old days you’d all go to the pub at lunchtime, but that has been unthinkable for at least 15 years.

There’s been a natural move to people being more committed at work and my personal work ethic has kicked in much more over the last 30 years – contractors earn a very decent daily rate and employers expect a bang for their buck.

I work long hours to make the project happen…

If I have to work long hours on a job I haven’t got a problem with that. It’s not a firm rule, it’s just my usual short-term option for dealing with a lot to do in tight deadlines.

I believe I’m seen as an integral part of most of the teams I work in – I feel like I am one of the people who is making the project happen, so I’m happy to put the hours in. In fact, I’m working 12-hour days right now to cover the project during summer holiday absences.

… but I get recognised for pulling my weight

I have chosen to absorb additional hours into my day rate but going above and beyond the standard 8 hours does get recognised – and if the client is restructuring mid-project or releasing half of their contractors at year end, I want to be retained and get and renewed!

I find that there’s give and take at most places now – for example if I need to finish early for a medical appointment no one is going to complain, and if I’ve been smashing 12-hour days for weeks I will negotiate time or money in lieu.

Agencies track me down, but I’ve still not completed my Linkedin profile!

Applying online for roles direct has not yielded many contract placements for me over the years, but hitting a load of job sites and ensuring my latest CV is posted on relevant job boards seems to kick start the process behind the scenes. The end result is agencies, unrelated to anywhere I’ve actually applied to, tracking me down usually with excellent timely opportunities.

I also give agencies I’ve previously worked with some notice of my availability, so I can often have interviews lined up before my current contract has ended or I even think about updating LinkedIn. They process my timesheets and take their cut, but agencies earn their money as far as I’m concerned.

IR35 caused me to lose a lot of money – but my income is finally recovering

I now work exclusively inside IR35 through an umbrella company. IR35 costs me a lot of my income – 50% or more of what I earn. Along with the usual deductions for contractors, I’m getting hit by the higher tax bracket and of course the umbrella company takes a fee.

Consequently, I adjusted my day rate between my last two contracts and now I’m taking home just over what I was getting four or five years ago.

We’re getting over the pandemic and the post-Brexit skill shortage has been exposed so day rates are considerably higher than before IR35, but contractors aren’t really getting the benefit.

The quality of management is very important to me…

In financial services, mutuals and local authorities, you find that the governance is bang on. Managers need to be responsible, accountable and adhere to auditable processes for transparency.

However, in government organisations the approach is not always so transparent. Although the people who work there are generally decent hardworking individuals, projects are often remote from the powers that be. This can lead to decisions being made from above that are not easily “digestible” at ground level. I for one am very conscious of taxpayer’s money, and I’ve found the impact of those decisions can be quite demoralising.

…and it can make the difference between a contract being a fulfilling role or a grim slog

The majority of line managers are talented and committed – but I’ve come across some shocking exceptions.

In terms of individual line managers, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some fantastic people who get stuff done, take action and push the project on – this is what I really love about contracting, making things happen and contributing to a useful legacy. Others see meetings as just a talking shop, you’ll come across weak management and confusion as in every other walk of life.

At worst, you get very old-fashioned attitudes – I was shocked at the lack of respect towards female staff in a recent role in aeronautics.

You’re always learning new skills… and that’s built my confidence

You constantly learn so many ways of doing things as a contractor so you’re always picking up new skills. You see things that are common to all industries and you benefit from innovations at so many different workplaces.

I realise now how much I was winging it in my early days – 15 years ago I would not have been anywhere near as confident as I am now.

I want to have a purpose in work and I’d be happy to work part-time beyond retirement age

The end of my working life is not far away and I am maximising my earnings while I can.

I would like to stay full-time up to my retirement date but ideally carry on for a few years on two or three days a week. I really enjoy the work and I want to have a working purpose while it remains interesting.

*not her real name

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