Do contractors really have less job security in the life sciences industry?

Author: Peter Hogg
Posting date: 10/01/2018

In the continuously changing world of work, does job security mean the same thing it did 10 years ago? With a family to support and various expenses, a permanent role could seem like the obvious choice to ensure a steady income. But here’s why worries over job security shouldn’t stop you from enjoying higher wages, varied work and greater flexibility as a contractor in the life sciences industry.

This article is not an attempt to hide the risks of contract work, but instead an effort to counteract the belief that contractors can’t enjoy as much job security as permanent employees. Many shy away from contract roles, convinced that they will experience an ongoing struggle for work. While there are certainly some risks attached to contracting, it could be argued that, in today’s job climate, it is no less risky than having a permanent role. Not to mention the many advantages that come with being a contractor such as the chance to avoid tedious office politics!

Here are some reasons to dispel the myth that contractors don’t have job security:

  1. Changing definition of job security

Will job security soon be a thing of the past? Even today, the mindset of millennials is very different to that of Generation X and the Baby Boomers. Millennials are swapping life-long employment at the same company for a more fluid outlook, willing to take a risk for the chance to work for an innovative start-up or to take up a short-term contract abroad. While this may not be possible for everyone, the fact that attitudes towards work are changing cannot be ignored, and choosing to be a contractor could be an excellent way to prepare for and navigate an uncertain future.

The nature of the life sciences industry itself means that a clinical trial could fall through during any phase, rending both permanent employees and contract workers without a job. Similarly, another staple characteristic of the life science industry is the many mergers and acquisitions that take place each year. The inevitable company restructuring that follows often means that roles are likely to change or disappear. Who will be the most likely to bounce back, the adaptable contractor with a varied skillset, or the permanent employee who most likely has a wealth of experience but has to start their job search from scratch?

In fact, the uncertainty that is so common in the life science industry actually increases the demand for contract workers as employers are often not in a position to guarantee permanent employment.

Therefore, it’s more important than ever to avoid depending on a company to provide job security. Contract work allows individuals to take personal responsibility for their career, and they will not worry about job security for as long as their skillset remains relevant and in demand.

  1. Future-proofing exercise

Constant change has become an accepted part of the innovative world we live in, and the workplace is no exception. In the life sciences industry, companies are continuously looking for the most inventive, efficient and cost-effective ways to develop therapies and devices to improve patients’ quality of life. Companies must become increasingly agile to stay ahead of the competition, or even just survive. This often means implementing new technologies, automating processes or using artificial intelligence (AI) systems to make the path to discovery as rapid as possible.

As much as this is extremely positive in terms of progress, it can be difficult for the employees working in these types of industries to adjust and fit into the new structures. Contractors master the art of adaptability every time they enter a different place of work and must assimilate and thrive as quickly as possible, putting them in a strong position in the face of continuous change. It could be argued that contractors are ultimately more attractive to hire within the life science industry thanks to their experience of working with different systems on varied projects within multiple working environments and locations. 

Furthermore, with computers and systems constantly improving and expanding their cognitive capabilities, many will find their roles shifting or – in some instances – disappearing completely. In these circumstances, for all the perks that come with permanent employment, nothing can protect employees from being made redundant.

Contracting is, therefore, the perfect exercise in surviving the constant tides of change – which is great preparation for what the future inevitably holds. Permanent positions are unlikely to offer this fluidity and breadth of exposure, arguably putting contractors in a stronger position for what the workplace will look like in the future.

  1. Recruitment partners

Running a contracting business is not without its challenges, and there may always be a niggling worry near the end date of a contract. However, contractors have several options at their disposal to make it as straightforward and worry-free as possible. For example, contractors usually have a recruitment agency that they work with on an ongoing basis to help with trickier issues such as compliance, tax and payroll. In terms of job security, having a recruitment partner will help the contractor transition quickly and smoothly from one contract to another, so they are never without work.

Proclinical is a trusted partner for many contractors working in life sciences. Throughout an assignment, our consultants contact both contractor and client regularly before a contract expires to ensure there are no bumps in the road. More often than not, an initial contract will be extended at least once, with the average contract lasting 12 or 13 months. It is not uncommon for them to be extended past a year; the longest running contract on Proclinical’s books lasted 6 years! Therefore, contracting roles can often last longer than some permanent ones, deeming the job security of a contractor far less uncertain than widely believed.

Overall, it comes down to how individuals currently view job security vs. what job security will be like in the future. If our predictions for the future of the life sciences industry are accurate, permanent employees will undoubtedly face increasing competition as well as the ongoing risk of redundancy. Therefore, it can be argued that being a contractor may be the smartest career path for life sciences employees today.

Thinking of becoming a contractor but don’t know where to start? To find out about current contracting opportunities, upload your CV or browse through our most recent job listings. We also have a  great bank of career advice for contractors.