Welcome to the first edition of The Contractor Corner: Building Insights from our Community, a blog series dedicated to exploring the world with contracting. In this blog series, we hope to provide valuable insights and first-hand experiences from contractors who have embarked on this journey. Our goal is to shed light on the benefits, challenges, and opportunities that come with being an independent professional, along with answering the most common questions and topics contractors have when starting and throughout their contracting journey!
In this edition, we have the privilege of hearing from Ben O'Brien, a dynamic and accomplished contractor who embarked on his contracting career shortly after graduating, and now is in the process of establishing his own business and brand! Ben's journey provides a perspective on the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for graduates and young professionals considering their future careers. Whether you're considering your first contract position or looking to progress in your contracting career, join us as we delve into the world of independent contracting and learn from Ben's personal experience.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got started in your contracting career?
I finished college in May of 2021. Wanting to do something a bit different, I decided to join a graduate program abroad working as a Junior Mechanical Engineer. After a few months I decided it wasn’t for me for a number of reasons and came home. Some of these reasons include: Company culture and how subcontractors were treated, location of the job, hours worked vs. what the salary was and in general the work involved.
You entered the contracting market at a young age? Was this a conscious decision you made?
Yes and No. If it wasn’t a contracting position, I still would’ve taken it because the type of position and company I am working for are brilliant and it would’ve still been a great step in my career. That said, the fact the fact that the position is a contracting set up was music to my ears…
What was your biggest reservation or concern about accepting your first contract opportunity? Do you still have this concern/reservation today?
My main concern was thinking that the level of help or training in the position wouldn’t be the of the same level as an employee position. I had the impression that I would be expected to know “know everything” about the role and how to do my job straight away. I was wrong about this. I have been provided plenty of help since I started my role, and this has made me feel comfortable asking questions which allowed me to learn and be proficient at the role a lot faster.
What do you feel is the biggest benefit/advantage of being an Independent Professional in Ireland today?
The biggest advantage, I think, is the flexibility. Generally, as a contractor, you will get paid a significant amount more than an employee and you will have your own company if you decide to change from an umbrella company set up to a Personal Limited Company set up. This allows you to keep a percentage of your pay in the company funds. Once your contract it up (usually 6, 12 or 24 months), you can take some time to travel or do with as you please and you can still pay yourself with the funds saved up in the company.
Many independent professional contractors gain greater exposure to learning against counterparts in full-time employment, has this been applicable to you?
Do you feel that operating as a contractor has increased your potential to accelerate your career?
Yes, as a contractor most of the time you are given plenty of work which means you must learn fast and pay attention to get all the work done and done on time. People around are generally very helpful, so you are never stuck. This is the perfect environment to learn.
When you began your career, what did you envision for your future?
Did you ever consider that it may be working as a self-employed contractor?
To be honest, I didn’t even know it was a thing until I was about 1 year out of college. When I heard about independent contracting I jumped at the opportunity.
What do you enjoy most about operating as a contractor?
The flexibility. With high rates this allows you to take some time off when the contract is finished without being short of cash. Depending on long the contract was and how much you left in the company and decided to save, this could mean taking months or even a year to travel which is brilliant while you’re young. In my point of view, contracting suits young people the most for this reason.
What do you enjoy least about working as an independent professional contractor?
I don’t think there is any downside, at least for me anyway.
What do you consider to be your biggest challenges as an independent professional?
Learning about taxes, expenses and more thing about having a small business.
Are there any networking groups, or key supporters who have helped your career progression?
I think people underestimate the importance of your first job out of college. 9 times out of 10 it sets the patch for the rest of your career, or at least a good portion of it. These people you for for/with you can use as steppingstones to your next step in your career. These people are great to network with and while you’re young, people want to give you opportunities.
What support, strategies or measures do you think can be introduced in your industry or to support contractors in the future?
One thing I think contractors like is getting the most out of having their own personal limited company. Since I became a contractor, I realised that there is no one person to go to top ask all these questions. These questions might be about tax or the best way to get the most out of a company vehicle or how to set up a side business so you can multiply the company funds instead just leaving it sit there losing value to inflation or even investing company funds and the best way to go about it. There isn’t one person to go to answer these questions
What advice would you give to someone that has recently graduated and is considering their first contract position?
As I said before, think about your first job well. Don’t always take the first job you’re offered. As a graduate its not difficult to get a role, especially at the moment. Your first role is probably the biggest part of setting your career path. The more you work in one sector, the more difficult it is to move to a different one. So if you’re thinking “This job in pipe design will do for the moment until I find the opportunity I’m looking for in Apple”, or whatever the preferred company is, you shouldn’t be.
What advice would you give to someone who has accepted a contract opportunity in your field?
Work hard, go the extra mile on everything
What are your hopes with progressing to the Personal Limited Company.
Why have you decided to make the move now?
Just to have the most I can possibly get out of a PLC in terms of saving money and having a side business.
Do you think that there is enough awareness of contracting opportunities in third-level education?
Definitely not – most people don’t know what it is.
As we wrap up the first edition of The Contractor Corner: Building Insights from our Community, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to Ben O'Brien for sharing his valuable experiences and shedding light on the world of independent contracting. Ben's journey serves as an inspiration for aspiring contractors, emphasizing the importance of careful consideration, networking, and seizing opportunities. We hope that this edition has ignited your curiosity and opened doors to new possibilities. Join us in the next instalment as we continue to explore the contractor community, gathering stories and insights that will empower and guide you on your own contracting journey.