Most full-time employees would rather be contractors, data shows

Ask anyone who's been in the workforce long enough, and you'll learn that job security can be a tricky thing to come by. Sure, it might be relatively easy to hold down a job during a booming, or even moderate, economy, but the moment things turn sour, you could easily be out of luck. Such was the case during the Great Recession of 2008-2009, in which a whopping 8.7 million jobs were lost.

Given the somewhat precarious nature of employment, you'd think more people would be itching to snag the highest dose of job security possible. But instead, a growing number of workers are passing up opportunities to become full-time employees and are instead going the contractor route.

And it's not just millennials who prefer the contractor lifestyle. A surprising 63% of full-time executives say they'd switch to contractor status if given the opportunity, according to a new report by Mavenlink. And while those same people admit that job security is the primary factor holding them back, it may not be as large an issue as expected.

 

Contractors are taking the economy by storm

 

Being a contractor isn't the anomaly it once was. Contractors now make up 34% of the workforce, and that percentage is likely to climb over time – especially since 94% of business leaders plan to continue using, or increase their usage of, skilled contractors for specialized roles over the next 12 months.

How did contractors get so popular? Part of it boils down to the fact that they're frequently easier to hire. In fact, 77% of business professionals say that it's easier to get approval to add contractors to their teams than to bring in full-time, permanent employees. Similarly, contractors are also easier to fire when the need to retain them begins to wane. Whereas it's common practice to grant full-timers some sort of severance package upon termination, contractors can often be let go at a moment's notice, and without the need to offer up any form of consolatory compensation. Also, because contractors aren't eligible for benefits, they're often cheaper to employ than full-time or permanent workers.

Clearly, there are plenty of good reasons for companies to turn to contractors to fulfill their needs. But the question remains: Is it really advantageous to go from full-time worker to contractor?

RELATED: Check out the best after-hours jobs: 

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10 jobs that pay better after-hours
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10 jobs that pay better after-hours

1. Machine Operator

The lowest-paid 10 percent of metal and plastic machine workers earned less than $22,470 a year as of May 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But machine operators willing to work night shift jobs could boost their salaries. The average, annual, graveyard shift salary for a machine operator is $22,137.33 — according to the job search site ZipRecruiter — compared with the daytime shift average of $21,365.58.

2. Food Server

Servers who work the dinner rush might not make significantly higher wages than those who work during daylight hours, but bigger evening tips can add up fast. Respondents reported shelling out $11.14 on average for every midday meal they ate out, according to a November 2015 Visa survey, and the average dinner meal cost $36.30 per person, according to a January 2016 Zagat survey. In that same poll, respondents reported tipping an average of 18.9 percent.

man driving a forklift

4. Caregiver

Caregivers help clients take care of themselves and assist with everyday tasks. They might work as home health aides or in institutional settings like nursing homes, where evening jobs and weekend jobs are common. Part-time employment as a caregiver is also a possibility, but keep in mind that part-time jobs with benefits are hard to find.

Pay for personal care aides varies significantly. The lowest-compensated 10 percent of caregivers earned $17,310 annually and the highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $29,760 as of May 2016, according to the BLS. Night work could boost an entry-level caregiver’s salary: The graveyard shift annual earning average is $19,444.18.

5. Machinist

Machinists might work in machine shops, tool rooms or factories setting up and operating computer- and mechanically controlled machine tools to produce instruments, tools and precision metal parts. Many machinists work full-time jobs during regular business hours, but overtime, weekend and evening work is also common.

Signing up for the late shift could be a good way to land an apprenticeship or job in this potentially lucrative profession. The lowest-paid 10 percent of machinists earned less than $25,900 and the highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $62,590 a year as of May 2016, according to the BLS. Compare that with the typical salary — $36,188.69 — an employer pays a machinist to work the night shift.

6. Truck Driver

Typically, tractor-trailer drivers' routes span several states, so many spend significant periods of time making long road trips. The salary scale for drivers varies widely: The lowest-paid 10 percent earned an average annual paycheck of less than $26,920 and the highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $63,140 as of May 2016, according to the BLS. The graveyard shift annual compensation average for Class A truck driving positions is $51,879.54.

7. Material Handler

Material handlers typically spend shifts manually moving freight, stock or other materials around warehouses, grocery stores, storage facilities or similar sites — and their paychecks can vary significantly. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $18,510 per year and the highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $41,570 as of May 2016, according to the BLS.

Working overnight hours is common in this profession, however, particularly for those whose employers might be shipping goods around the clock. The average, annual, graveyard shift salary for material handlers is $22,629.21, compared with the daytime average of $22,310.43.

8. Customer Service Representative

Customer service workers handle customer complaints, process orders and provide information about products and services — and they often work weekend and holiday hours. Assuming they clocked in for 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, the lowest-paid 10 percent of customer service representatives earned around $20,020 or less per year as of May 2016, according to the BLS. Switching to the night shift would earn those workers an average annual salary of $21,162.26.

You might wonder, “Are there any night jobs near me?” If you want to assume a customer service representative role, the answer is yes. The need for customer service people is expected to rise by 10 percent until 2024, according to the BLS.

9. Security Officer

Many security officers are required to work at night, guarding secluded areas or keeping an eye out for rowdy patrons at crowded clubs and casinos. The lowest-paid 10 percent of workers in this field make $18,860 per year, according to the BLS. But the graveyard shift for security guards pays on average $21,693.85 per year, according to ZipRecruiter.

10. Federal Employee

Government employees whose salaries are dictated by the Federal Wage System are entitled to a night shift differential when the majority of their regularly scheduled, non-overtime hours fall between 3 p.m. and 8 a.m. The amount of that bonus depends on when the employee works the majority of their hours. For example, a shift that goes from 3 p.m. to midnight would earn them 7.5 percent on top of their base pay, and a shift that goes from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. would net them an extra 10 percent.

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A mixed bag

 

Though working as a contractor has its benefits, it also has its share of downsides. First, the positive. As a contractor, you can create your own schedule and work from home or the location of your choice. Want to take vacation? No need to get approval from a manager -- just tell your clients when you'll be gone, and enjoy your time away. Contractors also have the ability to claim business deductions, and if you're savvy in this regard, you can reduce your taxable income and shield more of your money from the IRS.

On the other hand, taxes are also one of the greatest drawbacks of being a contractor. That's because contractors are required to pay self-employment taxes, and shell out twice as much for Social Security as permanent, full-time employees. Not only that, but as a contractor, the burden is on you to figure out how much estimated tax to pay the IRS during the year. Get it wrong, and you may be hit with costly underpayment penalties.

Then there's job security, which we talked about earlier. Contractors are often (though not always) the first to be let go in a downsizing or restructuring situation, and unless you have a series of solid contracts in place, you may also be subjected to considerable fluctuations in income. This can make budgeting and financial planning a major challenge.

Finally, as a contractor, you don't get any workplace benefits, which means you'll have to pay for things like health insurance yourself. And while you're free to take vacation as you see fit, you won't actually get paid for the days you're not working.

Still, it's pretty clear that a large number of permanent employees are eager to experience the contractor lifestyle. If you're one of them, just be sure to have a financial safety net in place before you take the plunge. Until you've secured a steady stream of work, you'll likely see a drop in income. Also, talk to some people who have been doing the contractor thing for a bit, and get some insight on what it's really like to work for yourself. Being a contractor might seem like the ideal job situation, but you know what they say -- the grass is always greener on the other side of the employment status line.

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