Contract versus Staff

Posted Jul 8, 2016

With the war on talent escalating there has never been more opportunities available for experienced life science professionals in the Pharmaceutical, Biopharma & Medical Device sector. We are often asked by contractors whether now is the right time to consider a staff role and vice versa. This is a difficult question to answer.

There are many advantages to being a professional contractor in the current market; high demand, increasing rates, interesting projects to work on. On the staff side the current growth and development of the Biopharma sector in Ireland is offering a lot more opportunities and career advancement. At the moment in Ireland there are more than 25,500 people directly employed in the Pharma-Biotech sector. Of these more than 70% are staff. In the next two years the IDA predicts more than 2,000 new roles in the sector. This increase is placing a strain on the available skilled resources within the market and traditionally in a constrained market companies will move towards offering staff roles in order to secure talent for the longer term. This points to a lot more staff opportunities across the industry in coming years.

Let’s try to compare both options:


It is difficult to directly compare the contractor financial package versus a staff salary and benefits package. A contractor is typically paid for every hour worked or an agreed daily rate. The rate offered will depend on the level of experience, specific key skills and the complexity and length of the project. There are allowable expenses and it can facilitate a more flexible lifestyle choice with opportunities to travel and take breaks between contracts. A staff employee is paid a salary and benefits package which may include pension, health insurance, income protection, holidays, bonuses, share schemes etc.

Getting the job done

Most contractors have a clear and unambiguous job spec, which states what they are required to do. The contractor’s performance is measured on the tasks completed, typically in line with project goals. Successful contractors are experts in their fields, they have a reputation for being strong team players and ensuring project completion while adhering to aggressive timelines.

Staff roles tend to be more diverse, wide ranging and the expectation of the company is different. Most employees, will tell you that their job description and day to day activities don’t often match. Staff are expected to be more flexible and prepared to take on roles and responsibilities outside of their core job, for example participating on continuous improvement teams, health &; safety initiatives, employee feedback forums, culture and team building workshops, mentoring etc. These non-core activities can lead to a more rounded and fulfilling job and a greater sense of belonging in the company. Staff employees will be measured on the tasks completed, but also on non-core/unplanned activities as well as the “soft” side of the company’s expectations i.e. cultural fit, team participation, social factors etc.


Most contractors will have a clear reporting relationship and their engagement with other departments and teams tend to be limited to the particular project they are working on. Staff roles tend to offer a greater opportunity to engage with multiple stakeholders and to participate in a more complex team environment. This has the advantage of allowing greater visibility and input into the overall business direction. While contractors play a vital role on project teams and day to day business they rarely get involved in this level of corporate decision making. This of course has its advantages!

Career advancement

Contractors are hired to do a job. It is expected that they know what to do and how to do it when they start on site. Most companies don’t invest in training and career development of contractors. Contractors need to invest time and effort in keeping their skills and technical understanding up to speed. If contractors don’t grow their knowledge, they may find their skill-set becomes less marketable. Career advancement beyond a certain level can be difficult to achieve as a contractor.

If you are looking to grow your career and expand your knowledge base then staff roles offer greater opportunities. Companies have career development as part of their HR management processes. This will include training and education budgets and a chance to apply for new and expanded roles as opportunities arise.


Staff vs Contract in most cases comes down to a lifestyle choice. Contracting is an excellent way for young professionals to grow their knowledge and industry experience quickly. Every project leads to new challenges and new skills learned. The contractor community in Ireland is made up of extremely knowledgeable individuals who continue to play key roles on leading projects both in Ireland and overseas. Experienced contractors are in high demand and have the opportunity to work on high profile projects globally.

With 8 of the top 10 global pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies now having manufacturing operations in Ireland we are seeing a lot of change in the type of staff positions becoming available. Since 2012 Ireland has seen a strong and significant increase in new start-ups. A highly skilled workforce, support infrastructure (NIBRT & SSPC), an outstanding reputation for innovation & continuous improvement and excellence in regulation & compliance have played key roles in maintaining this growth. The industry has moved on from being primarily API & product finishing 20 years ago to being focused on research and product/process development. Global supply chains now based in Ireland are delivering finished products to every corner of the globe. This change has led to Ireland having an increased strategic importance within the product life-cycle and global footprint of the company and offers a whole range of new opportunities for staff employees.

The current market has fantastic opportunities for both staff & contractors to explore. Whichever path you choose LSC can guide you and help to find the right job for you.