Why Do Contractors Contract? The Experience of Highly Skilled Technical Professionals in a Contingent Labor Market

Posted: 18 Jan 2002

See all articles by Gideon Kunda

Gideon Kunda

Tel Aviv University - Department of Labor Studies

Stephen R. Barley

Stanford University - Department of Management Science & Engineering

James A. Evans

Stanford University - Department of Sociology

Abstract

This study examines 52 highly skilled technical contractors' explanations, in 1998, of why they entered the contingent labor force and how their subsequent experiences altered their viewpoint. The authors report three general implications of their examination of the little-studied high-skill side of contingent labor. First, current depictions of contingent work are inaccurate. For example, contrary to the pessimistic "employment relations" perspective, most of these interviewees found contracting better-paying than permanent employment; and contrary to optimistic "free agent" views, many reported feeling anxiety and estrangement. Second, occupational networks arose to satisfy needs (such as training and wage-setting) that employing organizations satisfy for non-contingent workers. Third, regarding their place in the labor market, high-skilled and well-paid technical contractors cannot be called - as contingent workers usually are - "secondary sector" workers; and their market is not dyadic, with individuals selling labor and firms buying it, but triadic, involving intermediaries such as staffing firms.

Keywords: contingent labor, contract labor, temporary work, employment relations, labor market, labor market choices, mobility, unemployment, occupation, interviews

JEL Classification: J4, J6

Suggested Citation

Kunda, Gideon and Barley, Stephen R. and Evans, James A., Why Do Contractors Contract? The Experience of Highly Skilled Technical Professionals in a Contingent Labor Market. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=287304

Gideon Kunda

Tel Aviv University - Department of Labor Studies ( email )

Tel-Aviv
Israel

Stephen R. Barley (Contact Author)

Stanford University - Department of Management Science & Engineering ( email )

473 Via Ortega
Stanford, CA 94305-9025
United States
(650) 723-0519 (Phone)
(650) 723-2826 (Fax)

James A. Evans

Stanford University - Department of Sociology ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States
(650) 723-0263 (Phone)

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