It's Tough At The Top
They say that it's “Tough at the Top”, but let me tell you, it's pretty dam Tough at the Bottom as well. I should know, because you don't get much closer to the bottom than than me.I'm a Contract Engineer – currently between contracts. My area of experience - manufacturing
Six months ago life was good. I was working in a contract. Lots of paid hours, lots of work. Life was good. The company I was with had plenty of work in hand.
Then the Global Financial Crisis hit. The Capital Expenditure budget was cut back to virtually nothing and …..”Sorry, but we have to let you go”
Was I worried ? Of course not. When times are tough there's an old contractors saying which has carried me through, given me strength - “There's always work out there somewhere for good operators” - just need to find it.
Six months later I'm still looking, still between contracts. There have been a number of near misses.
But I'm still “between contracts”
Getting Work Being an Engineer, I'm not good with people. I'm much happier working with machines. Typically my previous contracts have been for 12 months plus, so I don't have a wide circle of contacts.
However, in the first days and weeks of my new found freedom I was fired up and convinced that once the word got out that I was available, I would have a line of companies knocking on my door to offer me work.
I do not have a big list and people move on but I picked up the phone and started to ring around.
Guess what ? - I was not the only Engineer out there looking for work. The feed back I was getting was not good. Companies releasing contractors or putting them on short weeks.
International companies where scouring the world for work in order to keep their permanent employees working. I know of one guy having to travel half way around the world to keep working. Four weeks on and one week off (to fly home).
I sat down and made a list of all the companies in my area who I thought might be looking for “a good operator”. I had no previous direct contact with them so did not have contact names, but what the heck – I addressed the flyers to “The Engineering Manager” and mailed out about 100. Surely there would be a company looking for a “good operator” for some contract work.
I was looking for anything, so as to keep working.
Guess what? Absolutely nothing.
I know that previously, when times where tough, contractors did quite well because because they could be employed short term with no strings attached. Job finished – out the door.
But the message I was getting from everyone I talked to was that companies where just not spending. There was no capital investment. Machine breakdowns and improvement work was being deferred or spread between existing employees.
I heard stories of large engineering projects being stopped, the existing work being mothballed and all workers on the project “let go”.
Keeping MotivatedSo what do I do all day if I'm not working?
Funnily enough, I find that just looking for work is a full time job. Except that I don't get paid for it. I live on the internet job sites and am constantly scanning them for that “Perfect Fit” job ad. There have been plenty which I thought where written just for me and a lot which fall into the category of “I can do that' but I need to rework my resume. It's surprising how time consuming it can be, reworking a resume and writing covering letters which detail why you are a perfect fit for the position.
And the best part of all, is communicating with the job agency people who are always sweet, positive, helpful and are certain that even if you don't get this job, they will find you a position.
It's their job to screen prospective applicants, to make sure that only the “best qualified” people are put forward to a company to be considered for that vacancy.
You've sent in your application and follow up with a personal call to make sure that they have received it, to verbally make contact, to sell yourself and to glean any other crumbs of information which they might let slip.
You often have a few questions and maybe try to qualify or justify some points in order to demonstrate your technical suitability for the job and it always makes you feel really good when they say something like “ let me stop you, I'm not a technical person, I don't understand any of the technical aspects of this job”
But that's the system and that's what you need to work with. You can't buck the system. Manage it.
The Wrong SkillsWhat really gets to me, is that there is lots of work out there, courtesy of the government stimulus package. But its not in my skills area and even though I believe that I could do some of the jobs, the employers want to see previous experience. It's the old chicken and egg story – which comes first.
The AnswerSo what is the answer ?
- Keep doing the same thing ? It hasn't worked so far, but maybe the economy is coming out of recession and there will be a lot of opportunities in the new year. Yes, in the new year. That means a pretty lean Christmas and a lot of HOPE.
- Retrain for new skills which are currently in demand. Yeah, great idea, spend 2 years with no income to get skills for work which might not be there in 2 years – there are no guarantees
- Dumb down, maybe I could drive a forklift, stack pallets, stack supermarket shelves, drive a cab. It might not be very stimulating and it might not pay very well, but hey, its a job, money coming in, which is more than I have now.
- Move interstate. The newspapers are telling me that there is more chance of finding work in other areas of the country, or maybe overseas. That's a pretty radical concept, but, looking at the other options, it might not be that radical.
Where to from here ? –
Lets have another coffee and ponder those options again.
Lets check those internet job sites again, maybe that perfect job has just been listed.!!!!!!!
That's pretty much the morning gone and I've written more than I intended to. I also wanted to look at the psychological side of being between contracts.
If anyone has stayed with me this far down, you deserve a break and I'll comeback to this aspect in another ramble.
Regards --- JohnW