Project Management Career Pathways: Contract or Permanent

At Arras People we are always recruiting for a number of roles across a variety of industries. However, despite all the different variations of roles, there are two main types of employment: Permanent and Contract. Both offer different things and are likely to suit one person better than the other.

But What is the difference? – Contract work usually involves a set time frame, with the employer only agreeing to hire a worker for the duration of a project. Permanent employment is open-ended, with no formal end date. Permanent employees tend to form the core of the workforce and contract workers are there to fill in the gaps. Like a new project for example.

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Working in Permanent Roles

People who work in permanent roles as mentioned above will have an open-ended contract where they will be working for a specific employer indefinitely.

Of course, workers are not expected to spend their entire working life in one place. You can leave the company at any given time as long as the correct notice period is given or if the employer legally decides to end the contract of employment.

Advantages of Permanent Work

The main draw to permanent project management is the stability it provides. Having the ease of mind that you will remain fixed in one location (unless your work requires you to travel) with a steady income is a must for some people.

Staying in one workplace for a long period of time will also allow you to develop and specialise your skills in a certain industry.

As permanent employment is seen as more long-term, recruiters will look at the bigger picture when hiring you. You are more likely to be in a place where you fit into the culture and have space for growth and development, in other terms the employer will be more likely to invest in you.

Your salary is also likely to come with benefits.

All the standard perks will be there like sick pay, paid holiday etc. Depending on the size of the company they may also offer things like: pension schemes, private healthcare, car allowances, professional development funds, to name a few.

Disadvantages to Permanent Work

Staying in the same industry for a long time and developing your skills in that industry is certainly a positive however permanent work can become stale.

Barry Hodge wrote about his experience of permanent roles and said “My favourite roles have been where I have joined a company and given a project. They have said ‘Here is your project and team off you go, make it happen.’ But I found that once I had completed it the projects that followed were always not as good. They were often lower down the priority order. Sometimes it feels like you are waiting around for the next big thing to happen”

The pay (pro rata) will be less than those doing the same job on a contract basis. The thing you need to weigh up is stability vs higher pay.

Let’s not forget a contractor may earn more than you for doing the same job over a 3 month period but then they may spend the 3 months after that searching for work. Assessing the current job climate is useful before deciding to make the switch one way or another.

Working as a Contractor

Being a Project Management contractor is when you are in a role for a fixed period of time, this typically ranges from 3 months up to a year.

As mentioned already you can earn more as a contractor than you could as a permanent employee, but it’s not a given either. As a contract worker you will be expected to come in and get the job done as efficiently as possible.


Aside from the higher pay rates that can be achieved contract work also provides more flexibility. Both in terms of choosing when you work as well as where (industry and location).

When searching for contract roles you are able to choose the industry in which you work, not being tied down to one industry for a long period will allow you to take work in different sectors.

Changing projects on a regular basis gives you a chance to update and further your skills and to learn from the best. By working on shorter contracts you will gain more varied experience faster.

You will also be able to build a strong network of contacts as a result which (if you impress) could lead to further job offers.

Once a contract comes to an end you can choose if you want to take a break or not. If you have come off of a good contract and want to take some time off then you are able to do so, this is something permanent workers cannot do.

Giving yourself a break after working a hard project will allow you to come into your next contract fresh and ready. So when you do decide to work again you are at your best. Our Project Management Benchmark report showed us that 31% of contract workers were either resting or between assignments.

Challenges of Being a Contractor

The work-life balance is one of the common challenges a contractor will face. Giving yourself a break is nice (especially if you’re coming off the back of a particularly fruitful job), however considering those breaks won’t be paid how many people would be in a financial position to do so?

Applying for jobs has to be full time in itself and you can’t be guaranteed of work exactly when you want it.

Having a paid holiday or even sick pay are things that will not come included in your contract. Ensuring you make provisions for any eventuality is important.

When you are away from work there will also be admin to do. You will need to set up your own company (which can be done via an accountant) as well as supplying your own health insurance, retirement savings plans and savings for time off or periods of unemployment.

There’s also IR35 to consider, this topic is worthy of a blog on its own (you will find a link to it below).

>>IR35 in the Private Sector


Things to consider

If you are willing to leave stability behind and take the jump into contracting then the rewards are certainly there to be gained, but rewards don’t come without risk. If you are up to the challenge of spending 1/3 of the year (maybe more) job hunting as well as taking on all the extra admin then you will thrive as a contractor.

Ultimately it all boils down to different personalities and priorities suiting different types of work.


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